You already know responding to negative reviews is the first step to handling them well. But what if you've got a slew of them? What if you're watching your ranking slip from five stars to four, from four to three?
Don't panic. You can still bounce back! You can even continue to get business while you do it.
Make Sure They're Real
You also know there are entire weird conspiracies of review rings that try to tear some businesses down to build others up. And that there are clues that you (or, more likely, an expert like Fisher or Brown) can use to ferret out these reviews.
Every fake bad review you can get rid of is one less bad review to worry about.
Pinpointing the fakes also means you don't spend time and energy responding to problems that aren't really indicative of problems in your organization.
Look for New Ways to Get People Through Your Door
It's time to get creative with your marketing. When you work for a small business, while you might be limited in marketing and advertising budget, you have more flexibility to get creating and try some tactics that would generate new customers. The more new people you see, the more chances you'll get to earn great reviews and offset those bad ones.
Restaurant or hotel? Consider launching a fun event.
Don't fall prey to the idea that you've got bad reviews now, so you're on your way out of business. That's only true if you let it be true. You may have to work harder for awhile, but you have options.
Obviously, if you take the time to do these things, be sure you blow these customers out of the water with how awesome your service is. Otherwise you'll just waste your time and your money.
Find Your Sense of Humor
Well, now I want to know what that sub tastes like. Don't you? Not only do I have to admire this restaurant owner's sense of humor and moxie, but I bet the sandwich isn't even that bad.
We all know some reviewers are just trolls, even if they are actual customers of the actual place. Might as well share a laugh about that with people who love you.
Even if some reviewers weren't trolls, you just can't please everyone all the time.
That's a good thing.
If I look up a business and it doesn't at least have a smattering of 1 and 2 star reviews, I wonder whether the rest of them are real.
So if you can't find your sense of humor (or your business doesn't really allow for snark) you can at least remind yourself having some negative reviews help you more than it hurts you.
Make Sure All Your Customers See It
Michael Liner is a disability attorney in Cleveland, Ohio, who decided to publicize his 1-star review to his entire mailing list of clients and referral partners. His monthly newsletter goes to about 6500 people.
"I wrote about how I turned the negative review into a positive learning experience for me. It was one of our most shared articles ever, and I received dozens of emails from people disagreeing with me being a 'one star' lawyer. I even got a few people who left 5-star reviews."
It's a good strategy. It instantly demonstrates to people who do think highly of you that you're willing to admit your mistakes and learn from them. And if it inspires some customers to publicly leap to your honor by leaving 5-star reviews of their own? You've just won.
Liner published the article on his website, too.
Just Fix the Ever-Loving-Crap Out of It and Let People Know
Sometimes the issues are fixable. Like this restaurateur who got bad reviews about portion sizes and prices, so changed them. But he didn't stop there. He also emailed every reviewer personally to let them know he'd made a shift. Invited them back to see if they liked the new offerings better.
No need to spend a whole lot of time here: every article about bad reviews beats the "just fix it already" drum. But in this case, the step where you're using the same customers to tweak and fine-tune the offering into a 5-star one is a good impulse. Stronger and smarter, than, say, just "deciding to provide better service."
Respond With a Little Heart
In one Hospitality.net article, author Doug Kennedy suggested most failures of service in the hospitality industry are really failures of heart.
"More specifically, I am referring to the failure to understand the true heart of hospitality, which is 'caring about others as well as caring for others.'"
"When we care 'for' others, we provide the minimal requirements of a positive guest stay, the foundation of which is a clean, well-maintained 'physical product,' (the accommodation and public facilities), delivered promptly and efficiently. Yet when we care 'about' others, we understand the hospitality business is truly centered on personally providing 'human travel experiences,' which is why it is not called 'the room rental industry.'"
Kennedy goes on to say that empathizing about the problem, providing validation, and apologizing is often about 100 times more powerful than simply "fixing" the problem. And while his article is laser-focused on the hospitality industry, I think it really applies to any industry.
But empathizing goes beyond (way beyond) "we're sorry for your inconvenience."
Or, "We're sorry our service wasn't up to its usual standards," a response which tends to make me roll my eyes every time I read it. Dude, by the time you've made this response to ten different reviewers? The crap experience looks like it 100% is the usual standard. Don't go there.
Angry customers tend to tell the entire story in their review, start-to-finish. That gives you plenty of specific information to respond to and empathize with. Starting there, then moving on to solutions, is a powerful move.
Develop a Talk Trigger
The idea is you deliberately bake something into your way of doing business that gives people, "something to talk about."
Something intriguing. Something that makes people stop and go, "That's really cool." Something that inspires people to leave a review because it's just different. Every business has to develop their own. You'll have to exercise some creativity (and maybe read both interviews and the book) to really get a sense of how to do it. But if you can, bouncing back from bad reviews is almost an inevitability.
Most of All: Don't Panic
Panicking is the worst mistake you can possibly make. Panicking is what causes business owners to lash out at people who write bad reviews. To start suing. It inspires them to create self-fulfilling prophecies by telling news outlets Yelp and Google and all the others are killing their business.
Yes, if you leave the situation unaddressed for too long you could see your business enter a world of hurt. But it doesn't have to be that way. Take a breath and start thinking about how you can turn the 1-star review to your advantage. It may just be easier than you think.