BrainTrust Query: Responding to Negative Customer Reviews

Discussion
May 30, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Doc blog.

Customers gripe for a lot of reasons. Maybe they didn’t get waited on fast enough, or maybe a coupon expired and your assistant didn’t honor it.

The good news is you can have automated alerts sent to you whenever your business is reviewed or mentioned on the ‘net. That way, when a customer lashes out with a negative comment, you can respond with an online message that prospective customers can see — and thwart their impact.

Posting a response shows you are listening to your customers and taking action. Write your post in words that directly address the complaining customers’ concerns.

You should also personalize your message with words such as, "I own the business with my wife Mary and we are sorry to hear you had a bad experience, Joe.’"

Your post should also note that you thank them for their feedback and tell them how you are improving wherever the reviewer deemed you fell down. If it is really serious, invite the customer to contact you and include your e-mail address or phone number. It shows you are trying.

Just like in your store, a carefully written response can turn a negative situation into a positive one. You can even turn an angry customer into a raving fan.

Yes, there are "haters" out there who just love to vent online. Since they have a free forum, they love to tell everyone they were wronged. When you respond to them, just tell those negative reviewers that you took their comments seriously and are working to make your business even better.

When you look at negative reviews as informal customer surveys that help you identify and rectify business problems, you can welcome the chance to respond rather than sweat the review. Make sense?

Another issue is "bogus" reviews. Let’s face it, some reviews could be coming from a competitor or someone looking to get a discount on their next item. That’s why you need to respond.

But be polite, like one owner I know who ended his comment with, "I encourage viewers to read the other 100+ reviews who gave us five stars."

Some customers will give you a bad review in hopes that you will contact them with deals such as half off a future purchase. Don’t take the bait or you’ll be riddled with negative comments looking for the same deal. Instead, post a reasonable response that conveys the actions you are taking to provide an exceptional experience.

Discussion Questions: How should stores respond to negative online reviews? How proactive should independents as well as larger chains be in monitoring and responding to negative reviews?

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19 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Responding to Negative Customer Reviews"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The article does a great job of suggesting ways that retailers can respond to negative reviews. Independents need to be more responsive than chains because negative reviews can have more impact on their business.

Retailers should also give customers reasons to say positive things about their stores. This can be done by inviting user generated content and asking customers to submit recipes or fashion tips. Don’t let customer feedback pages be filled with only negative comments.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

How should stores respond? Just like Bob laid out. Customers know we aren’t perfect, but they do want to know how much we care. (Of course that can’t overcome a deluge of bad reviews.)

When traveling, I’m much more likely to stay in a hotel where the hotel manager has responded to comments on TripAdvisor.com. It tells me the management team is engaged and listening to their customers. I especially like managers who also respond to positive reviews by thanking their customers and inviting them back.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Why only respond to negative comments? For the internet group, a response from the company for both negative and positive comments makes sense. It shows the company is listening.

The real problem is that a company is only seeing negative comments from a fraction of their customers. Most people don’t write reviews and many people don’t use the internet. The questions are, what consumer segment are these comments coming from and is this providing a skewed perspective?

Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

In today’s viral world, it is critical that stores actively monitor online reviews and comments. Formal feedback programs can provide customers with a regular vehicle to provide feedback and hopefully resolution to problems. But in the absence (or neglect) of these programs, shoppers will not hesitate to share their poor experience (and hopefully their kudos) with their friends and neighbors.

Independents should be just as focused on paying close attention to negative reviews and online comments as the chains. And oftentimes, the independent retailer can respond in a more personal and agile way as compared to the larger chains. By quickly and personally responding, independents have the opportunity to differentiate themselves.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Great point. The original post covered how to handle negative reviews and positive reviews along with the “haters.” I encourage you to visit the blog this was condensed from.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Customer reviews online should be monitored diligently while retailers and consumer goods brands need to put someone in charge that has the right tact, the right experience, and the right common sense to respond appropriately and above all, effectively. An inappropriate or ineffective response will do more harm than good. Do not ignore consumer comments in the social media and do not treat it lightly. Like it or not people are influenced greatly by reviews and by what other people say.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Retailers should respond quickly, politely, honestly and in a non-defensive manner. Sorry Bob, I don’t like the, “Too bad you didn’t like it the other 100 sheep never complained,” approach. That’s like going into a restaurant and asking the waiter how the soup is and being told, “Everyone who ordered it seemed to like it.” It may be accurate but it begs the question since I don’t know how to evaluate my fellow diners’ palates.

Ditto with the notion of, “not taking the bait.” Democracy is the essence of service recovery. Think of the cliched story, (no doubt apocryphal,) of Nordstrom taking back a tire.

I think it’s also critical to remember to write without nuance. As all RetailWireistas know, what seems clever to you is often lost on the reader. So, let’s add straightforward and concise to my initial list.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The Internet has made it easier for grumblers (telling everyone except the offending company) to broadcast their complaints. Organizations need to engage with grumblers and turn them into complainers. Complainers direct their issue to the offending companies, enabling a dialog (which in itself is valuable) and allowing the companies to respond and address the problem.

Therefor, it is critical to monitor and proactively respond to complaints to limit the potential negative impact of viral grumblers.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 11 months ago
While it’s important to monitor online reviews (and all other customer feedback), it’s also important to know when to respond. Remember, the individual consumer defines what is quality customer service, and that will differ from one consumer to another. Where one customer has a complaint, another may not. Trying to address every negative review could be perceived by potential customers as meaningless excuses for poor products/services, or as the brand’s attempt to control what is supposed to be a conversation among consumers. At a minimum, if the brand is receiving a large number of negative reviews, then it’s likely a more serious issue than can be addressed in an online written response. While most brands would prefer glowing praise, most consumers are more inclined to complain when something goes wrong vs. praise when everything goes right. Still, a negative complaint can be an opportunity to improve the brand’s operations. Yes, monitor online reviews, take them all seriously and respond to select complaints. But also remember that hitting “Send” isn’t the end of the issue. It’s… Read more »
Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
9 years 11 months ago

In some recent research we did, consumers said that reviews were more influential than store associates on their purchasing decisions (and with a smart phone in hand, they are often easier to find than many store associates).

Personally I will check the large sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com for ratings and reviews prior to purchasing. If the feedback is not in the 3.5-5 star range there is zero chance I will buy the item.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 11 months ago

It is vitally important for any retailer to courteously and quickly respond to any complaint, but, since the article seems to focus on independent retailers, it especially important since the one edge that an independent has on the major chains is the ability to reach shoppers and make them family. Given that many store associates, even among independents, are less than committed to their jobs, the online complaint program should be a strong supplement to higher standards of courtesy training in-store. It’s not just an online issue, which is fixing a problem; in-store is the most important since it provides a positive and prevents the problem.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Sorry you feel that way Ryan, but using the old cliche Nordstrom tire story as proof doesn’t work as Snopes.com covers here.

The story I was relating actually happened on TripAdvisor when a guest said the hotel had bedbugs, while his wife, sleeping next to him didn’t get them — or anyone else before or after never reported it. Yet he went on for several paragraphs heaping derision on the brand. It was important the owner called him on it and encouraged readers to look at the 100s of people who said it was a 5 star experience. If anything, I think that was the democratic thing to do. We can agree on straightforward and precise.

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
9 years 11 months ago
Couldn’t agree more regarding the necessity of monitoring public social media and the rest of the approach presented here. But negative online comments are far from the full picture. Privately or publicly thanking those who make positive comments is important to encourage more of the same and to further spread the word. We also need to be careful not to assume that public social media is presenting a full and balanced picture of what customers are writing and telling others about their product and service experience with a brand. While Twitter, Facebook and the review sites are getting all the publicity, millions of other customers are communicating about brands to family, friends, co-workers and others through “private social media” such as text messages, phone calls, emails and face-to-face conversations. We encourage clients to consider a customer research process that periodically digs into those private social media channels as well as the public channels to provide a more representative and objective view and to identify the key positive messages that a brand should be leveraging, and… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Worth remembering too: Not every negative review gets widely read, so don’t over-react, and don’t sink undue time into exchanges that only highlight a few squeaky wheels. A simple acknowledgement may be enough. Handle the rare grievous instances directly and off-line before posting a response. People who read reviews are generally savvy enough to discount the outliers and crazies. I guess my fundamental advice is to be alert and responsive, but don’t obsess.

Lee Kent
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I would just like to add that my loyalty to a brand is boosted every time I hear back from the brand. It shows me that they care, they are watching, and they appreciate my business. Every time I check in on Foursquare @Cheeseburgerinparadise, I get a message asking how my visit was. They even make comments like “Sorry we haven’t seen you in a while” when I haven’t checked in recently. I spread that message everywhere I go. Kudos to them!

Robert DiPietro
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Stores should be honest and reply to negative reviews quickly. It’s an opportunity to learn from customers and to demonstrate your willingness to right a wrong. The article gives good advice on how to deal with deal hunters and chronic complainers. Stores should embrace the feedback.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Don’t be afraid of the seemingly unmanageable social chatter out there. Depending upon the size of your audience (followers, etc.), as opposed to the size of your company, staff the primary social channels with responsive, motivated and properly incentivised people to quickly respond to to less than satisfactory sentiment coming from consumers… globally. I know a brand that although it is 98% sold in one country, social posts have occurred in 38 languages around the world.

Elly Valas
Guest
Elly Valas
9 years 11 months ago

It could be the single most important way owners/managers spend their time. For the most part, customers who bother to write a review–either positive or negative–are giving you the opportunity to hear from them. Accept their gifts with grace, respond respectfully and give them credit for helping you improve your store(s).

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I was in a discussion yesterday with another branding expert and we were talking about the value of satisfaction surveys for a particular promotion. It was agreed that the unfortunate truth to a bad response rate to a survey request may be the result of attendees not liking or caring enough about the event to fix it. Unsolicited response from customers should be viewed as extremely valuable feedback and should be responded to sincerely and promptly.

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