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How to Deal With A Bad Review

Some unpleasant things, like death and taxes, are certain. Others are less certain, but still more common than we’d like. One of these are bad reviews.

In my 20’s, I wrote for a few independent music magazines, and often reviewed albums. One decision I made early on was to not give a bad review of any young band. I figured that if they were bad, they’d get no review, thus the possibility of my readers hearing bad music was lessened without me breaking the hearts of 3-5 young people who had been working hard, even if to make mediocre tunes. One reason I did this is because I often saw how up-and-coming writers often gave horrible reviews to up-and-coming bands in a manner that suggested the reviewer was working out their own baggage and ego issues. Often, a bad review speaks at least as much about the reviewer as the subject of the review.

That said, when you get a bad review, it hurts. It may hurt because it rings true, it may hurt because it seems vengeful and unrelated to you; I’ve even seen bad reviews where the reviewer admits never actually interacting with the business. You may recall the reviewer specifically or have no idea where this comes from. But still, a bad review hurts.

So, my first bit of advice, if you get a bad review, is to stop and breathe. Meditate, pray, vent, commiserate with others; whatever you need to do to deal with the emotional hurt. Whatever you do, do NOT take action on the review until you are able to do so in a calm and focused way.

The worst time to make decisions is when you are upset, a bad review is best dealt with when you can approach the situation looking at the long-term big picture. It’s not about winning, or hiding, or having a fight with a reviewer, it’s about improving your overall business reputation.

Google Places Listings currently rank as one of the most popular directories online, which means that these are the listings most of our clients check in on, and so these are the ones where a bad review seems to hurt the most. Sometimes this is a review added directly to the listing, sometimes this is a link on the listing to another review site.

When you first see a negative review on your listing, your first inclination might be to try and shut the listing down. This will likely exacerbate matters. While some directories make it easy to close a listing just because the business owner doesn’t want it online, Google is decidedly more focused on putting things up than taking things down; if there is information to be added, Google tries to find it and add it. Google’s mentality seems about totality; as much information provided as possible.

Google wants a listing for every business it knows about. Business owners are best off creating and managing Google Places themselves, unless they have a professional service, such as a website company (that’s us!) to manage it for them. Otherwise, Google may hodgepodge a listing with the wrong information. When you sign up with our service, our listings team searches Google Places to see if you already have a listing. If we do not find one, we create a listing for you in Google Places, as part of our Directory Listings service. I have written additional information on Google Places Listings in a previous article.

If the listing is claimed by the business owner, they may delete it from their personal account, but not Google Maps or other public forums- they have just lost what control they may have had. This can start a spiral of contradictory information, which complicates the situation.

The solution? Respond! Google Places allows you to write responses to reviews. If we’ve created and maintain the listing for you, we’d be happy to relay the responses, or show you how to claim the listing yourself.

How you respond varies on the situation, the details of the review and if the person is writing under their own name, an online handle or anonymously. Make sure that you ADDRESS a bad review publicly, but RESOLVE it privately- you want the public forum to show that you care about your clients and are proactive, but you can leave the details to more direct activity. Every article I’ve ever read about reviews on directory listings agrees that a good response to a negative review can end up as good publicity.

For example, a few years ago, a chef burned my entrée…setting the initial tone for a bad experience. The waitress informed me the meal was delayed and being re-made; presented it as a quality control issue so that I would only get the best food when it arrived, told me that our current round of drinks was on the house, and suggested a few ready-to-bring appetizers I could get for free while I waited. Aha! What began as a problem is now a fond memory and an outright endorsement; the short delay ended up with me getting several freebies.

A more direct example is the Vagabond Lodge in Hood River, Oregon. I was contemplating staying there, and so looked up their Google Places Listing: http://g.co/maps/9krq9

The listing may have changed since when I first saw it, but it includes some bad reviews. However, the responses to the reviews show several things:

1) That the owners consider bad reviews to be feedback, not attacks.
2) The owners seemingly have addressed these issues.
3) That the owners are plugged in and paying attention to their customers.

There were enough good reviews to show that most people liked the place, and precedent showed that any complaints I might have would be addressed. I went and had a great time even though I didn’t expect perfection.

One way to avoid bad reviews on your listings is to make it easy for your clientele to bring complaints directly to you. To use restaurant metaphors again, if I go out to eat and the waitstaff seems to care about my experience, I’d rather complain to them than later online; it’s faster, easier and more likely to address my complaint. This is why many businesses seek out client or customer feedback via comment cards, follow-up emails, surveys, etc. If you allow a client to openly and honestly voice a complaint or a concern TO YOU, either in person or via a direct method, in a way where they believe you will respond in a helpful manner, they are less likely to put a bad review on a public forum.

Consider that it’s easier to deal with a bad review on a forum you have some feedback — such as your own listing — than a forum such as your irate ex-client’s Facebook, blog, or twitter feed. The closer to “home” you can deal with problems, the simpler it can be to deal with such problems. If clients feel like they can bring their complaints to you, they’ll likely do so, but if they don’t think you’ll care, they may take their complaint and make it a public venting.

Of course, one way to beat negative reviews is to try and get good reviews!

If you are good at what you do, clients will like you, and will tell you so. When they do, request that they repeat their praise publicly. Time magazine gave Casablanca a bad review in 1942. Even now, it gets 4/5 stars. Not a perfect score. However, with all the praise and love it’s earned over the years, the complaints are buried. Ask several people you know about the film, and I bet nobody will mention the plot holes which have been pointed out.(1)

I recently participated in a webinar put on by Local Search gurus from Localeze, comScore and 15miles. It was mentioned that while roughly ⅓ of people surveyed make decisions based on reviews, only about ⅕ actually read all the reviews. It seems the trend is more to “skim” reviews for general opinion, and any themes. So, the aggregate opinion of reviewers in general seems to be more important than the specifics in any reviews.

You’ve probably heard how the Chinese word for “crisis” includes the character for “opportunity.” This may not be entirely true, but it’s still possible that a crisis can be an opportunity. If you handle bad reviews with a touch of class and professionalism, they can end up showing your communication skills and problem solving abilities.

For another professional’s opinion on this, I invite you to read this blog by Mike Blumenthal, who is considered the foremost Local Search expert in North America.

Rich is CoachingWebsites’ Directory Listings Specialist. In a past life, he also was a music reviewer for several magazines.

(1) Harmetz, Aljean (1992). Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca — Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. Hyperion. ISBN 1-56282-761-8.

Rich M – CoachingWebsites’ Directory Listings
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