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Dealing with bad reviews thumbs down

Dealing with bad reviews? Relish the opportunity

When you’re not a business owner, bad reviews can serve as a good source of entertainment. That said, no one likes being on the receiving end of someone’s ire. As a marketing professional, I’ve been dealing with bad reviews for a while now, and it makes me loathe to write them. I know that people are far more likely to complain than to praise, so I generally try to be understanding if I feel like I’ve received bad service. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t given a bad review in over half a decade.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon without a cloud in the sky. I was attending a conference and had 15 minutes to spare in between talks, so I decided to treat myself to an iced long black. The conference was being held in a residential area, so my options were limited. My choices were a bustling Irish pub, and an Italian restaurant with only one table seated. No brainer, right?

Standing at the entrance to the restaurant, I signed the COVID-19 register, and waited to be served. I wasn’t greeted when I entered, but the waitress and the bartender were occupied, so at first, I didn’t think much of it. They both had clear sightlines to where I was standing, and I reasoned that once the waitress was ready, I could place my order.

I stood there for five minutes and neither of the staff so much as grunted at me. Instead, they chatted amongst themselves until I walked out. As you can probably guess, I was furious.

I stood outside and gave the restaurant a one-star review, in which I explained exactly what had happened. I then emailed the restaurant, explained the situation, and invited an explanation. Like I said, I don’t like giving bad reviews, and I was willing to retract it. If there was a reason behind my experience, if the door had been left open and it was a private event, I would have been at fault and would have accepted that. I received no reply from the restaurant, either to my review or my email. That review now has fifty likes. fifty potential customers lost.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself: “That would never happen in my business. I place customer experience above all else, and I’m constantly upskilling my employees so they can deliver the best service”. In a perfect world, you’d be right, but the world is chaotic and human beings are fallible creatures. Even if your business operates perfectly, I can guarantee that you will end up dealing with bad reviews.

So how DO you go about dealing with bad reviews?

Step One: Identify Your Locus of Control

There are only two perfect beings in this universe; my mother and Nigella Lawson (don’t fight me on this one). For the rest of us mere mortals, the best we can hope for is to do the right thing most of the time.

The first step in dealing with bad reviews is identifying whether the cause of the complaint could have reasonably avoided. Any factors that could have been predicted and nullified in advance are said to be within your ‘locus of control’. Therefore, these are legitimate complaints. In the case of the pasta restaurant, they could have trained their employees to greet guests upon arrival, which would have allowed them to avoid insult. Essentially a legitimate bad review is feedback on how you can improve, and you should work to correct these mistakes in the future.

Of course, if the restaurant had ended up dealing with a bad review because I walked in just as the chef had set himself on fire, that would have been outside their locus of control. If you’re running a business well, bad reviews will, more often than not, be illegitimate. Whether it be caused by unreasonably high expectations, a bad day, or a few too many beers, the human ability to blame other people is phenomenal.  In this case, you have to practice the art of Zen and accept that this will happen from time to time.

Step Two: Respond Publicly and Swiftly

Whether the complaint was legitimate or not: if you’re dealing with bad reviews, you always want your initial responses to be public, and for it to come within 24 hours. This indicates to other potential customers that you are not trying to sidestep the issue, that you care about customer experience, and that you are attentive.

When you respond, address the person by their first name, express that you are sorry that they had an issue with your business, and offer a remedy. This remedy could take the form of a commitment to fixing the problem in the future, or offering a gift of some kind (the restaurant could have offered a free meal).

Finally, invite any further comments to be sent to you directly in order to take the conversation out of the public eye and further within your locus of control.

Step Three: Remember What’s Important

Hey, look at you. You’re an expert. Now you’ll know what to do next time you find yourself dealing with a bad review. If you’re still worried about future disgruntled customers, just go back to your locus of control. If you’re providing the best experience possible for customers, then you’re going to avoid 99% of bad reviews. For the other one percent, just remember:

You’re going to get bad reviews, it’s part of doing business. The only goal is having more good reviews than bad ones.

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