"Oops, I got a bad review!" - John Lawson's 7 Rules for Responding to Negative Feedback

It happens to the best of us.   You work hard everyday to keep your customers or clients happy.   You have policies in place, your employees are trained, and you have good working relationships with your suppliers.   Despite all of this, some orders go disastrously wrong..and you do everything you can to fix it, but your customer is still peeved.   Or it could be that you are trying to simply follow a fair policy, like a return or cancellation, but the customer wants more than you are prepared to give.   Whatever the origination of the problem, the result is predictable…a bad review.    

To help us navigate the treacherous waters of how to respond to bad reviews, we have turned to our #1 AddShoppers Fan, John Lawson.  John is an social media e-commerce personality, nationally recognized for his practical expertise in all areas of the digital economy.   In our last webinar, “How Social Is Your Tribe?”, John gave us seven great rules on how to respond to negative reviews, and turn them into positive, learning experiences.   It's such an expansive topic, we are breaking it into two parts.  So without further ado, here are our Seven Rules for Responding to Negative Feedback, Part I.

Rule #1:  Step away from the computer

It's your business, and you are emotionally invested in it, as are your employees and stakeholders.  So it's perfectly natural to over-react to a bad review, whether justified or not, since it often feels like a personal attack.  Like any heated discussion, our emotions can get the best of us in this situation, and so the first, best reaction is to step away from the computer.  Simply walk away.....physically push yourself away from your desk, get up, and walk around.   Go grab a cup of tea or coffee.   Think about the big picture, about all the good things your business has done, and your long-term goals.  Remember that everyone gets bad reviews and pat yourself on the back for coming this far.   If you have pets in your office, go visit one (scientific evidence exists on the calming effect of having animals around).   Then, return to your desk in you newly-acquired zen-like state, and start to address the issue, but not after reading Rules #2-#4 in this week's post.

Rule #2: It's business, not personal.  Keep it that way

Remember the context in which the bad review was written....probably in a state of extreme frustration.   Your customer is angry, upset, and is going to want to mention names (maybe yours).    If he or she does, you actually have two very good options to keep the review about business, and not make it a personal counter-attack.   Option 1 is requesting that the review be deleted.    Many review sites have policies restricting the use of personal names to protect the privacy of the individual.  Google, for example, specifically states that they will "remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others".   You can, with good reason, request that a review be removed if it is too personal.   Option 2 is to take the high road, and respond in a professional, third-party tone that does not reference or comment on a particular employee or individual in your organization.    If the bad review states "Joe Shlabotnik did nothing to resolve my shipping issue and acted like he just didn't care", your high road response would be "We do everything in our power to assure that our third party shipping partners work closely with our customers to resolve the issue, but sometimes these resolutions take time, despite our staff's committed efforts".   Leaving Joe out of the dialogue tells the customer, and others reading the review, that you function as an entire organization, and de-personalizes what is, in fact, a business situation.

Rule #3: Stick to the facts

In the same spirit as Rule #2, it's important that you be somewhat robotic in your response by sticking only to what you know.   This means documented, factual events, as evidenced by order confirmations, follow-up emails, notes in your CRM system, and shipping documentation. This also demonstrates why every customer conversation should either be recorded or notated in your CRM system.   If you are too small or stretched for resources and you cannot do either of those, simply keep notes in the order itself (almost all platforms allow this).  Or at a minimum, maintain a shared Google Doc that allows you to write notes next to exported customer orders.  In this way, you can always reference factual information when responding to a customer.   It allows you to keep it on a professional, documented basis and relate that to the customer in a non-confrontational manner.   Remember, it is not just your customer watching your response, which conveniently brings us to Rule #4....

Rule #4: The whole world is watching

Unless it's a members-only site, your reviews are going to get pushed out for the whole world to see.   So will your response to those reviews.   Fair or not, the tone of your response and the manner in which you resolve the issue will be watched by hundreds or thousands of potential customers.   You are writing as much to them as you are to the source of the complaint or bad review.  Again, this is why your response needs to be de-personalized, professional, and factual.  Addressing the complaint shows the world that you care about your customers' happiness with your company, and that if a problems arises when they order, you will handle it in a similar fashion.   So be consistent, even-toned, and remember your audience is much greater than you might think.   That doesn't mean you have to give away the store!   You just need to be fair, which is as much as anyone can ask of a merchant.

Rule #5: Take it "off-line" as quickly as possible

Remember our Rule #1? ("step away from the computer").  Our fifth rule for responding to negative feedback is to make sure the dialogue does not escalate online.  In other words, take the conversation offline as soon as your initial response has been posted.    In our previous rule, we emphasized that "the whole world is watching"....so prospective customers are going to want to see some kind of response.  They are not going to appreciate an escalation of words, however, so your best bet is to move the dialogue into another channel.   If the customer has left a phone number, then you should go ahead and call them (as uncomfortable as it may be).  Anything you send to the customer in writing could be re-posted, with or without your permission, so even if you elect to communicate via e-mail, chat, or some other medium, keep in mind the context of your words.   Besides, calling a customer can disarm them a little and will certainly warm them up to you!

Rule #6: Think win-win

Put yourself in your customer's position, or better yet, think about the last time you were a consumer and felt wronged.  All you, or they, are looking for is a fair resolution.  Their perception of "fair" may not be spelled out in your terms and conditions, but you've gone past that now.  You already have a bad review from a frustrated customer!  But you can still pull out a win!  Go beyond your policies or perception of who is right and who is wrong.  Invest in your customer's happiness, and there is a good chance a negative review could go away.  Or at least go from a one-star review to a three-star review.   That's a win for you and a win for your customer, because ultimately, you both want to avoid the cost of a bad review.  

Rule #7: Learn something

Following Rule #6, if you can learn something from the experience, then it's more likely to be a win-win situation.   You have been given an opportunity to learn where your organization may have failed, or where you have weaknesses in your supply chain.  In fact, a negative review can be just the impetus you need to initiate a top-to-bottom assessment of your company, giving employees and suppliers a new sense of urgency in correcting mistakes.   Take the negative review and circulate it around in your company.  Ask employees where they think the ball was dropped, and more importantly, how it can be avoided in the future.  Take the initiative to establish an internal quality control process, if you don't already have one.  Remember that any negative occurrence is a learning opportunity, and ultimately, you may find that the cost of the negative review is far outweighed by the positive changes it wrought.