We don’t live in a 5-star world. Think about it: Even your favorite restaurant messes up sometimes. Even your favorite doctor, grocery store, or book store has a bad day. We all do.
So why do small business owners think that negative reviews are the kiss of death online? Why do retailers, manufacturers, and local service providers live in fear of just one bad review on their Google Maps Local Business Listing, or on Yahoo Local, Yelp, and so forth? I’m sure it’s human nature to dislike getting negative reviews, but disliking them doesn’t mean they’re a Bad Thing; it actually means you don’t understand the benefits of a negative review.
How Negative Reviews are Good for Business
1.) They create trust. Admit it: When you’re on the web site of a business you’ve never heard of, and you see nothing but 5-star testimonials and reviews, you start to wonder, Are these real or fake? It’s natural. We all do it. When we see a product or business with nothing but glowing reviews, we don’t trust it. At the Internet Retailer conference last week, a speaker from evogear.com put it this way:
“We solicit negative information and make it highly visible. People seek out negative information and omission erodes trust.”
Negative reviews provide balance. No one expects a product or service to be perfect for every person. Negative reviews help customers confirm they can live with the product’s faults and/or the company’s faults.
2.) They provide honest feedback. Reviews of your product or service are a focus group of sorts; honest reviews tell you what you’re doing right and wrong. Rather than avoid negative reviews, use them to improve your products, services, or business processes. If a customer is legitimately reporting a problem, the smart business owner should want to fix that problem, not brush it under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.
3.) They can improve your SEO. You’ve probably heard that good keyword research and good copywriting involves targeting the terms that your customers use. Well, negative reviews offer a peak into how your customers talk about your business or products — the terms they use, the concerns they have, the places where there’s friction between what you advertised and what you delivered. There may be good keyword research and copywriting ideas in those negative reviews. Read this old (June 2008) article by Linda Bustos, Improving Product Descriptions Using Competitor Customer Reviews, for more ideas along these lines.
4.) They help you make better business decisions. If one of your products or services continually gets negative feedback from customers, that’s a strong hint that you should either make dramatic improvements in the product/service or just get rid of it altogether. If customers consistently don’t like the Chicken Curry, take it off the menu. If patients love how you take care of them, but repeatedly say your waiting room is too small or too loud, it’s probably time to make some facility improvements.
5.) They offer a golden opportunity. The saying is something like, Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. I believe that. A negative review is an opportunity for you to shine, to show you care about making things better — not only for the customer who left the negative review, but also for the countless others that are reading. There are plenty of negative reviews out there, but far fewer stories about how the small business turned the negative review into a positive. If you can do that, people will notice. They’ll tell their friends what you did, how you turned a bad experience into something good. And you’ll be better off in the long term because of it.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
This is a topic I addressed almost a year ago in my article Why Reputation Management Matters for Small Businesses. I asked Andy Beal for a couple quick tips on how small businesses should deal with bad reviews online. His answers:
- Try to identify unhappy customers before they finish their transaction with you.
- Respond to negative comments with sincerity, transparency, and consistency. Apologize for the incident. Explain how it happened, why it’s not the normal way you treat customers, and how you’re working to ensure it never happens again.
- Encourage your happy customers to post their reviews too.
I’d add a fourth item: Learn from your negative reviews. Turn them into opportunity, as I touch on above. And read this post about responding to reviews, in which Miriam Ellis details which local sites allow business owners to reply to negative reviews.
There’s no doubt that positive reviews are a Good Thing. And small business owners should be active in encouraging happy customers to review you on Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Yelp, and other local/social sites. But it’s unlikely that you’ll go your whole business life without a negative review. Poop happens, and people sometimes write about it.
Negative reviews for small/local businesses are a bigger problem when they’re the only review(s) of your business to be found online. But they don’t have to be a kiss of death for your business. The occasional negative review creates balance and trust because people tend to be skeptical when they see nothing but 5-star reviews. Negative reviews also offer an opportunity to make things right and show you care.
Don’t be afraid of a negative review. Use it for your own benefit. Turn it into something that’s good for your business.
(photo courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography via Creative Commons)