Eight Tried and True Tips for Responding to Online Reviews

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Guest Post by Chris Campbell, Chief Tracking Officer of online review monitoring startup Review Trackers.

Online reviews can make or break your business. Seriously.

According to strategy and communications firm Cone, four out of five customers reverse their purchase decisions about a recommended product based solely on negative reviews. In another study – this time from Harvard Business School – results showed that a one-star rating increase on leading review aggregator Yelp leads to a 5 to 9 percent revenue increase.

In an age when online reviews – on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+ Local, Angie’s List, etc. – have proven to increasingly influence offline consumer behavior, what’s a business to do? How do you respond in ways that maximize a glowing review’s word-of-mouth potential, while also thwarting the impact that a negative review can make on your bottom line?

To help you get started, check out these eight tried and true tips for responding to online reviews (good or bad):

1. Monitor review sites where your business is listed.

You’re not likely to hear and participate in online conversations about your business if you’re not listening in. Running a hotel? Make sure you’re monitoring reviews on TripAdvisor. Managing a restaurant? Keep an eye on what’s being said about your business on Yelp and Google+ Local.

This is one way to respond to a negative review…

2. Take ownership and have a game plan.

Online reviews won’t go away. (Unless of course they’ve been labeled and filtered as spam or fake.) They’ll stay there on your business page or listing, waiting to be read by potential customers. They’re going to either drive in or drive away new business, depending on whether the reviewers’ words are glowing or scathing.

As a business owner, you might as well handle these reviews, right? Take ownership and determine which reviews warrant your response. It’s a great way to build goodwill with both your most loyal supporters and harshest critics. Remember: responding to a good review can reinforce a positive customer experience, while responding to a bad review can help resolve a customer issue and change people’s minds.

3.  Say thank you.

“Thank you”: these two words are so powerful that you wonder why not enough business owners utter them. By saying thank you – to five-star reviews, one-star reviews, and everything in-between – you show that your business values feedback, that you take customers’ opinions seriously, that you care.

4. Don’t be generic. Humanize your response.

Customers rant and criticize and gripe for a bunch of reasons: the order took too long to arrive, a gift certificate expired and your business didn’t honor it, the entrée serving was deemed too small.

Regardless of the issue being raised in the review, write out your response in a way that shows a human voice behind the words. Indeed, it’s best not to appear too generic or robotic, like your business is being run by PR firms, image consultants, or your sales staff.

Simple phrases like “We’re thrilled that you liked our dessert cheesecakes, Sophie!” or “Hey, Martin, I’m Alex and I run the business with my wife Leona, and we’re sorry to hear you had a bad experience in our bed-and-breakfast place” – note the use of first names – can go a long way in humanizing your brand. And it helps create the impression that your business is trying to get to know customers on a more personal level, so that you can create and engage in a wide range of conversations with them.

5. Keep it short, simple, and sweet.

As a business owner responding to an online review, you don’t always have to explain your side of the story. Doing so may overwhelm not only the person to whom you’re responding – but also the potential customers scanning your business page or listing for reviews. So keep it short, simple, and sweet – and resist the urge to always have the last say.

6. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

Receiving a negative review can be akin to taking a punch in the gut – especially if you’re the kind of business owner who’s very passionate about what you do.

But while it’s normal to feel angry or hurt or disappointed that someone can say unpleasant things about your business, it’s always best to take a deep breath first before writing out your response. You don’t want to write something that may reflect poorly on your business and further damage your online reputation.

7. Tailor your response to a specific problem.

Many business owners make the mistake of writing out responses that don’t really address the complaint or issue that the customer raised. Remember: to have a truly effective review response is to offer a viable solution to a specific problem. So if a customer has deemed some aspect of your product or service to be unsatisfactory, let him or her know that you’re working on making improvements and creating better experiences.

8. Don’t offer gifts.

Did your business receive a stinking online review? Resist the temptation to offer a freebie or gift certificate as a way of changing the customer’s opinion. This would read like bribery, which is definitely not something that you would want potential customers to think.

Have you got any tips and tricks to share when responding to online reviews of your business? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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