How to combat negative Google reviews

Reputation is everything. Well, alright, it’s not everything. But it means a lot. It doesn’t matter how hard you work at a business, how motivated everyone is or even how consistently good your output is… If people don’t think much of you – you aren’t much.

Establishing and maintaining a positive online reputation is now more important than ever. There are very few businesses out there that are capable of marketing to and dealing with customers completely sans internet. At one point or another, search engines are going to get involved and their input can make or break the relationship. And potentially even your company.

You may well have put endless man hours and a significant amount of budget into your digital marketing, content writing, social media management and search engine optimisation. You might have done an excellent job too. But all it takes are a few negative Google reviews and your good name can be sullied. Potential customers see the feedback and it muddies the water and affects the way they see you. In many cases, it frightens people off completely.

Recent research suggests that 88% of consumers treat an online review as a personal recommendation. Some stranger ranting online is, nine times out of ten, believed as strongly as a close friend whispering in their ear. It’s a frightening statistic, but an important one nonetheless. It says this:

Do NOT underestimate the impact that negative reviews can have on your business!

With that brief bit of yelling out of the way, let’s assume you have an issue with poor write-ups lurking on Google. There could be a few reasons behind them. Let’s quickly explore them, shall we?

  • You’ve fallen out with one or more slightly vindictive customers – It happens. A disagreement can turn ugly when certain types of personalities are involved.
  • Your management of customer expectations needs improving – The product or service you provide your clients with is of a good quality. Yet your customers expect more. More quantity. More luxury. Just more. Why? Well, not necessarily because they’re greedy or unrealistic. But because they genuinely thought they were due to get more. Perhaps you aren’t managing your customers’ expectations effectively enough.
  • There’s some dirty work afoot from a rival – Not everyone plays the game fairly. Sometimes, there are nefarious explanations behind negative reviews. Unscrupulous competition could be behind some or all of the feedback.
  • Frankly, well, you’re not good enough! – No one wants to hear this, but it may be true. Sure, you work hard and so do your staff. But if you’re poorly organised or there’s dead weight somewhere, you may be letting your customers down. You have to face up to the chance that these negative reviews are actually pretty accurate.

Whatever the reason or reasons behind these off-putting online reviews, you need to act. Facing up to the problem is the first step in fixing it – though not the last. More needs to be done. But the good news? It’s eminently amendable.

Here are a few golden tips:

  • Respond! – Sound simple? Well, it is. Don’t ignore negative feedback. Address it. Leaving it makes you look scared or appear too arrogant to reply. It can suggest to some that you agree with the point and have no reply.
  • Try and make it a private conversation – Airing dirty laundry can paint you as honest and open. But sometimes there are issues you’d prefer to keep locked down a little. See if the complainant will move the conversation to email.
  • Don’t argue – Very often the feedback may be inaccurate to some degree. But while you mustn’t roll over and hand out vouchers and refunds like confetti, you should seek to avoid stoking the fire with an overly vociferous response. Stand your ground, by all means. But always be respectful, polite and friendly. Remember, your dialogue is public. This conversation is every bit as much for potential future customers as it is for you and the complaining party.
  • Avoid stock phrases and copy n’ paste responses – People can smell them a mile off. Mostly because they stink. Dealing with negative feedback isn’t a box-ticking exercise. It’s actually quite valuable in terms of gaining customer insight, business evolution and PR.
  • Apologise! – If an apology is warranted, dish one out. Without reservation or proviso.
  • Listen – Sometimes a rant is all that’s needed. Ask the complainant to elaborate. Again, this is preferably done ‘offline’. Often a little venting is all that’s needed to clear the air.
  • Seek a resolution – You’d be surprised at the number of people who adamantly state they ‘will NEVER use you again!’ but are actually more than happy to use you again once the issue has been satisfactorily dealt with. Resolve the issue, win the customer over and you can turn the situation around with minimal damage incurred.
  • Request a withdrawal of the complaint – If the customer is now happy with your response and action and is back ‘on side’, an explanation of how important customer feedback can be online may even see them suggest deleting their Google review. If not, you can suggest it to them. Perhaps some form of incentive can be offered.

Now, these tips rely on the review being genuine and accurate. If the feedback is malicious, damaging or inaccurate, you can attempt to contact the complainant directly. Or speak with Google (beware, this isn’t isn’t always very easy). Failing this, you can – if you think it’s important enough – seek legal advice.

So that’s existing negative reviews fixed. The challenge now? Well, a fairly obvious one… You need to prevent this whole sorry situation from happening again.

Take heed of previous feedback. Improve on your processes, products, services and customer interactions. Behave proactively. Request private feedback. Respond quickly and positively to any future negativity online. Be open, honest and plain speaking. People respect and appreciate businesses who listen and react constructively.

For more information on dealing with less-than-positive feedback, check out our advice on how to handle negative social media comments.

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