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Managing Your Online Reputation

How many times have you received bad service from a local cafe, a package you ordered online didn't arrive on time or worse... it did not arrive at all, or a hairdresser forgets to book your appointment?

As you know these kinds of errors can lead to negative reviews. Whether your negative reviews are well-deserved or unfairly given is beside the point: your online reputation suffers either way.

And while you cannot control a person’s review, you can control how you as a local business owner response. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that when businesses respond to customer reviews -- even negative ones -- their ratings subsequently increased. Said the study … "analyses suggested that improved ratings can be directly linked to management responses. And, perhaps surprisingly, we also found that when managers respond to positive reviews, it has the same benefits as when they respond to negative reviews."

The increase is due, at least in part, to how little people like confrontation. According to the study, customers who see previous business owners responses decide not to leave trivial or unsubstantiated negative reviews to avoid a potentially uncomfortable online interaction with you, the owner.

That said, here is a simple tip on how to respond to negative reviews: "Acknowledge and Apologize"

Yes, an apology is appropriate — even if you don’t think you did anything wrong.

The reviewer’s experience is their own. You may argue with the facts of the situation, but you can’t argue with how they feel. It’s how they feel. A little sympathy goes a long way toward defusing the situation. If the reviewer is complaining about bad service, you can still apologize that they had a bad experience without supporting their criticism of your attention to detail. A simple “We’re sorry to hear about your experience” will do. Add a Touch of Specificity A public and anonymous review platform is not the place to mount a serious defense.

Google, Amazon, etc isn’t a court of law; you are not going to be awarded justice simply because you proved a reviewer wrong and effectively stated your case.

Even so, it’s often a good idea to briefly speak to the reviewer’s primary concern. Doing so shows that you’re paying attention to their review — that you hear them and care enough to tailor your response to their unique situation. If possible, this is also a good opportunity to contrast the reviewer’s bad experience with your business policy or what customers usually experience when they visit your establishment.

Consider it a way to address the reviewer’s concern while delivering a compliment: “We’re usually known for our exceptional customer service and we regret that we didn’t live up to those expectations in your case.” Very rarely will you be able to completely resolve a reviewer’s bad experience so moving the situation offline is always a good idea. In my humble opinion, trying to fix everything in an online response can often do more harm than good. So, it's always best to move the conversation offline by providing contact information.

This will demonstrate your receptiveness to feedback and gives you a competitive advantage over your competition while turning your business establishment into a personable one. It also shows that your business takes customer satisfaction seriously enough to have you the owner personally addressing issues.

No matter how unfair a negative review, resist the urge to defend every point and prove your case. It may sound counter productive, but long-winded responses can legitimize the complaint as if the review needed defending in the first place. Going into detail can sound defensive. You want to avoid saying anything that could further incite an upset customer and encourage them to add more detail and negativity to their review.

While your response certainly matters for the individual who left the review in the first place, it’s much more impactful for the 89 percent of other customers who will be reading it for weeks or months to come. Keep that in mind as you’re responding to negative reviews and you’ll be much less likely to let your emotions get the best of you. And, if you're tired of letting a small number of negative reviews represent your business, there's always room for improvement.

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