How to defuse damaging online reviews

Hostile online attacks, or simply unhappy client reviews, mean trouble. How we manage online engagement is critical to our reputation, and our reputation is critical to our success.

Fewer than 30 per cent of us know how to handle negative online reviews. The old way was to ignore public criticism, with the belief that any comment given would only draw more attention to the complaint.

Not so online. Just deleting and blocking unhappy customers will damage our business. Some 88 per cent of our future clients will research us online, and 57 per cent will make a decision before making contact with us. A negative review handled badly will see us fall to the bottom of their shortlist.

Here are a few simple guidelines that might help:

1. Respond immediately

Respond to the post with a public message alongside their complaint that says you care. E.g. “I am so sorry you have had a bad experience, but thank you for letting us know. We pride ourselves on our 98 per cent customer satisfaction rating, so this is important to us. I have reached out to you privately and look forward to putting this right.”

A bomb set to a timerNext, send them a private message asking them for their phone number and a convenient time to call. Alternatively, provide your office number and email address, and ask them to write to you in more detail about their complaint so that you can look into it.

2. Find out why

Communicate however you can, via online messaging or email, if that’s all the contact details you have. Otherwise, make a phone call or invite them to meet with you at the office. Find out what actually happened in the situation, which will give you some insight into the situation, but more importantly will allow them to feel heard and important.

3. Be professional

Criticism is hard to take, especially if it is unfounded but do not react emotionally. It’s important to be human and genuine, not officious. Do not get angry, personal or dismissive. It is recommended that someone more neutral than the ‘complainee’ make the initial contact.

4. Fix the problem

If you or one of your team members have done something wrong or could have improved somewhere, admit it and make steps to rectify the situation where you can.

5. Apologise

Whether you have been able to fix what is done or not, once the situation has been resolved, send a gift with a handwritten note. In most cases, there is going to be some element of truth to whatever the complaint is. So, apologise for it. You have more to lose than they do.

6. Do not delete or block

Do not delete the complaint or block the person who has made it unless you have to. The customer has the ability to edit their post, plus they will hopefully comment on how well their complaint was handled. On the odd occasion the person has a personal agenda with no intention of reaching a solution or if they become abusive, then block them from the page and delete their comments or posts.

7. Appoint a champion

Irene Green, HarcourtsIdentify someone on your team skilled to handle online reviews, someone who you trust not to be emotionally reactive and who will be responsible for finding and responding to all online reviews.

Irene Green is the head of academy for real estate agency Harcourts.

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