Retailers today know online reputation management is vital. After all, nearly 95 percent of consumers read online reviews before they make a purchase. Understanding the importance of online reputation is one thing for businesses, but knowing how to manage it is usually another.
Negative customer reviews are particularly worrisome for retailers as they can linger online and threaten both a company’s reputation and its bottom line. As overbearing or defeating as complaining customers can be, retailers should remember they're still empowered. While they can’t control what customers say online, they can control how their companies respond. And by controlling their responses to negative reviews, retailers also influence how potential customers will perceive their businesses online.
What’s more, retailers don’t have to face complaining customers unprepared. In fact, online reputation management software is available for companies that want a dedicated customer complaint management system. Businesses that want or need to tackle negative customer feedback on their own can also develop their own processes.
Whatever the approach, retailers should make sure their online reputation management incorporates these nine best practices for negative customer reviews:
- Don’t delete. Some companies might be surprised to learn that negative reviews actually reveal an authenticity that today's consumers expect. This means retailers should resist the urge to delete customer complaints, even when they seem unfair.
- Act quickly. In today’s digital age, there’s no excuse for not acting on customer complaints quickly, particularly with online reputation management technology available.
- Apologize, show empathy and admit mistakes. When retailers apologize for the customer’s experience, show empathy, and admit to any mistakes, they reassure the customer and help to build and repair trust. Remember the customer’s perceived experience is their reality.
- Highlight key messages. A response to a negative review should weave in important key messages, such as a company’s commitment to customer service. Retailers can then frame the customer experience in question as a one-off experience and show potential customers the negative review they’re reading doesn’t accurately portray their business.
- Transition the conversation. To prevent drawn-out, back-and-forth exchanges with complaining customers that others could see, try to transition the conversation to a private channel by offering a direct means of contact, such as a phone number or an email address.
- Determine a solution and execute it. Once the conversation with the customer has been moved offline, retailers need to get more detail on the complaint, determine a solution, and then execute upon it.
- Be polite and authentic. Customers who take the time to leave a negative review often want to feel heard and valued. As such, it’s important retailers communicate with them politely and authentically as they work to get to the bottom of the complaint.
- Send personalized responses. Because authenticity is important, retailers should send personalized responses to complaining customers and resist any temptation to automate. While companies often employ automation for positive review responses, vague or canned responses to negative reviews could inflame the situation. Recent research indicates 90 percent of businesses understand the importance of personalization and respond to reviews manually.
- Follow up. Finally, don’t forget to follow up with customers who leave negative reviews. Following up to ensure the problem has been resolved might inspire the customer to update the original review or perhaps delete it entirely.
Customer complaints are a given in retail, and negative online reviews are inevitable for any company with a digital footprint. Retailers don’t need to fear this feedback though. Even negative customer experiences are opportunities for retailers to shine if they have the right online reputation management.
Jay Hinman is the head of corporate marketing at Birdeye. He has over 25 years of B2B marketing leadership experience at global companies, such as Opera Software and MobiTV, and helped lead two startups to acquisition as vice president of marketing at Neumob and Skyfire. He earned an MBA in marketing from the University of Washington and is a regular guest speaker on B2B marketing at the Hult International School of Business.