Reviews Unvarnished: How to Deal With Negative Customer Reviews

April 17, 2014

Dealing with Negative ReviewsFrom the corner store to the largest multinational corporations, businesses are setting their eyes ever closer on how people are talking about and recommending their products and services – as they should be. Ninety-two percent of consumers say that a recommendation from someone they trust is the number one influencer of their purchase decision.

Recent research from Zócalo Group’s Recommendation Study, showed that people trust consumers who are like them, i.e., friends, family members and knowledgeable, passionate consumers. Peer-to-peer recommendations were shown to be 20 times more valuable than a celebrity endorsement (click to tweet).

While people are talking about brands everywhere – offline and across the Web via social media – one very explicit way people recommend (and reject) brands is through the ubiquitous “review.”

On Amazon, customers write and read reviews for everything from mascara to televisions. People are reading reviews on their smartphones while making decisions in the store aisle. They’re checking Yelp to decide where to eat dinner or get their cars fixed.

And people are taking these peer reviews very seriously. One study showed 67 percent of customers will move on to another brand if they see just one to three negative reviews (click to tweet).

If you’re a small business owner or brand marketer, your palms may be sweating about now. This makes a lot of people very nervous, even to the point of not wanting to integrate reviews into their marketing efforts. But here’s the unvarnished truth about reviews: Some negative reviews are okay; in fact, they’re good. At a recent MarketingProfs seminar I hosted,  Jennifer Kelly, MarketingProf’s moderator, and I talked about how negative reviews can sometimes help people self-select your product.

For instance, a bad review on a professional-grade camera from an amateur photographer that says, “This is too complicated” may signal to more serious photographers that this product is the right camera for them.

A negative review can also be an opportunity to reach out and turn a brand detractor into a potential advocate. A simple act of thoughtful, personalized customer service can often do this.

My advice would be to answer the detractor with a brief public apology and then take the conversation offline by asking them to direct message you. When the issue is resolved, more often than not you’ll have an impressed customer likely to recommend you, and maybe even remove or add on to their initial review.

You may also be tempted to polish up reviews or correct customers that aren’t talking about your brand in exactly the way you want them to. Don’t. Where there are misspellings or colorful customer experiences, there’s authenticity. (I hope it also goes without saying that falsifying reviews should never happen.) Having a small number of negative reviews also shows consumers that the reviews are real. Even with an incredible product or service, a customer may have a bad experience due to a fluke or just their own bad day.

At Ketchum and Zócalo Group, we’re seeing and helping more and more clients integrate review functions into their websites and social media channels. The truth is, in our age of social media, people can see right through advertising. Authentic consumer voices are the most valuable thing a marketer can hope for.

Marketers who succeed in the next era will understand this: Our job is to foster reviews. The old adage says, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In the age of social media, this isn’t exactly true – but maybe there’s no such thing as a bad review.

Paul is the President and CEO of the Zócalo Group, Ketchum’s Word of Mouth and Brand Evangelism division.