“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is pretty good – if cliched – advice to keep in mind when the bad stuff happens in our lives, but it can be pretty hard to find the potential for lemonade when the lemon that life forks over comes in the form of a negative online review of your business. After all, you work hard and your employees work hard, and it’s never fun to be told that all your hard work is actually no good. And it’s doubly hard to stomach it when the negative opinion is just out there on the Internet for all the world to see.

But while negative reviews can really take the wind out of your sails as a business owner, they certainly aren’t the end of the world – and if you’re careful about how you handle them, you can actually turn it into a somewhat positive learning experience (or at least prevent it from snowballing into a huge smudge on your company’s character). To that end, we want to take a look at ways to turn that negative review around, and use it to create a more positive experience for you, the customer that made the review in the first place, and all of the potential new customers that may run across that review in the future.

Steps to Take to Handle Negative Reviews in Internet Marketing

  1. Determine if a response is really needed. Upon first seeing a negative review of your business, you might be tempted to immediately wade in and start pointing out exactly how that customer is wrong, wrong, wrong (and did you mention wrong?) – but that usually doesn’t end well for anyone. Instead, first determine if you even need to respond in the first place. Does the customer have a legitimate beef about your products or services (for example, you cancelled five appointments in a row, or your product broke five minutes out of the box)? Are they spreading misinformation about your company? Has the review managed to snowball or “grow legs”? If any of these things are true, then you need to speak up. If, however, the comment is obviously just someone having a bad day and saying nonsense, then you can likely let it go without a response.

  2. Take ownership and responsibility. If you’ve determined that you do indeed need to make a response, then the response you make should be taking ownership and responsibility, not trying to somehow make it out to be the customer’s fault (even if it really is). Individuals may be able to write whatever they want in a review of your company, but you, as a business owner, do not have the same luxury – not if you want to keep your customers and still get new ones, that is. Remain polite and courteous at all times, really listen to what the complaint is, and then respond appropriately. If you made the mistake, own up to it and offer to fix it. If you didn’t make the mistake, then explain what happened without trying to pass blame or point fingers.

  3. Apologize sincerely. Say you’re sorry like you mean it, not using a lot of corporate jargon or apologies that aren’t actually apologies. This is especially important because negative reviews tend to take place in the more social areas of the Internet, so you need to act like a real person and not a faceless corporation (even if you’re actually only a three-person operation). Sincerity and acting “real” goes a long way. And remember – keep it polite, courteous and professional.

  4. State clearly how you’ll fix it, and how future customers won’t have the same problem. This is important – you must show how you’ll fix it (refund? discount? free puppy?) and then drive home the point that future customers won’t have the same experience, because you’ve learned from the experience and you’ve fixed it.

Negative reviews are probably similar to death and taxes in that they can’t be entirely avoided, but keeping these tips in mind will help you make the most of a negative review by turning it into a learning experience instead of a PR disaster.

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