Consumer reviews are pretty much a fact of life in modern business, but some companies take the wrong approach to managing their online reputations, actually hurting themselves in the long run.
Business journalists frequently ask me about this topic and I’m only too happy to share what we at Angie’s List have learned over 19 years. I got the chance to talk earlier today (Aug. 5) with ABC News reporter Rebecca Jarvis, for her “Real Biz” show.
One of the things I told her is that how a business owner responds to reviews, particularly negative ones, tells other consumers a lot about the company. It’s when things go wrong that we really find out what people, and companies, are made of.
I told Rebecca that the companies that do a good job with their online reputations take time to read what consumers say and to learn from it.
I work with small business owners all the time, and I often tell them not to fear reviews. They are a great feedback mechanism and can help you adjust your business. Perspective is important. Nobody can please everybody all the time. One bad review won’t break you, but a bad response to that review might keep customers away.
Here’s my reverse-order list of the top mistakes companies make when trying to manage their online reputations:
6. Playing ostrich. It’s important to pay attention to what people are saying about you. If you don’t take time to read reviews, you’re missing out on ideas to better your business as well as learn what’s going right.
5. Faking it. Don’t give in to the temptation to plant or fake reviews, either for yourself or against others. A. It's wrong to lie. B. You’re going to get caught. And C. The repercussions are worse than any short-term benefit.
4. Staying silent. It’s better to take a thoughtful approach to responding to a negative review than to ignore it. If you’re in the wrong, apologize and offer an explanation. Say you want to make it right. If the customer won’t accept your efforts, say that. But don't let the negative comment linger without a response. Also, a simple thank you to a positive review is a great way to show you’re paying attention and that you care about customers.
3. Reacting in anger. Criticism is hard to hear. But if the truth is a harsh mistress, it’s also a great mirror. Never respond to a negative review in anger. Take a walk. Have some coffee. Settle down. Find out what really happened and make it right if that’s appropriate. Once you know all the facts, work on your response. A thoughtful response tells potential customers a lot about the kind of company you run.
2. Stifling consumers. Some companies are trying to get customers to waive their right to post online reviews. And some companies make it worse by hiding the waiver in fine print. Trying to stifle free expression is, plain and simple, wrong, as I've said before in commentary on this site and in other venues.
1. Threatening legal action. The worst reputation management mistake is to sue your customer. There are a few situations that might justify legal action, but generally, going to court should be what you resort to after you’ve used your last resort to no avail.
Photo of Angie Hicks by Brandon Smith of Angie's List