Bad reviews – the bane of existence for many business owners. They happen to us all, and unfortunately, there often isn’t much we can do about them. There is a reason the old adage ‘you can’t please everyone’ exists, and the same goes for clients in the beauty, aesthetics and hair industries. You will always have clients you cannot please, no matter what you do. And while the 21st century’s rights to freedom of speech and opportunities to plaster our viewpoints across the internet has many perks, bad reviews is the opposite side of this coin. A couple of one star Google reviews can plummet a previously 5-star rating in seconds, so it’s no wonder that any bad review can feel completely devastating to most business owners or managers.
While negative reviews are an unfortunate inevitability of business, here are some of our recommendations on how to approach things when that bad review notification hits your inbox.
Resist the urge to fight back
We know, the urge is strong. The awful things this person is writing about your business simply aren’t true, and you want the world to know it. But you need to trust that your prospective clients, the ones reading these reviews and considering visiting you, are savvy. Most of them take reviews with a grain of salt, and are only glancing over them in the first place to get a general sense of the experience you provide. And most of these readers, if they’re going to be put off by anything, it won’t be the negative thing that someone wrote about their experience with you – it will be the way in which you respond. The number one rule when it comes to handling online reviews is – do not argue back with your reviewer. Don’t sink to their level. Don’t be petty. It’s good practice to respond to your online reviewers, but when responding to negative ones, be mature and gracious. Avoid saying things like ‘that’s not what happened’ or ‘my staff tell a different story’ or ‘this isn’t correct’. Prospective clients reading these reviews want to see that you can handle ALL customers in a kind and mature way – even if those customers are in the wrong.
Truth vs lie
Some negative reviews are left with malicious intent. It’s an incredibly sad fact that some people use the internet to tear down others as a tactic to better their own position – including as a business owner. For example, either the business owner themselves, or their friends, may create fake profiles in order to leave negative reviews online and ultimately damage the business. While this is rare, it does happen, and it is illegal. This is just one motivation among many. So, you may on occasion receive a false review from someone who has seemingly never visited your business before. You have a couple of options here. Firstly, you could respond (kindly and neutrally) to the reviewing saying “thank you for sharing this with us, we are very sorry to hear about your negative experience. I can’t find your name in our system. Please contact us directly as we would love to discuss this further with you and come up with a solution together”. This type of response does a number of things – it shows readers that you handle conflict maturely and kindly, but also covers you if the reviewer is in fact a client of yours but for whatever reason has a different name displayed on their account. The other option is to contact Google or Facebook directly to have it removed. If you know for 100% certain that the review is false or contains incorrect information that defames your business, this goes against review policies and can be taken down. It’s important to remember that, regarding defamation law, it is only illegal to publish damaging comments if they are untrue. If someone leaves you a nasty review but the things they say contain truth, or sentiments containing their personal feelings (such as “the receptionist made me feel unwelcome”) they are within their rights to do so.
So, what can I say in response?
If you would like to respond to your reviewers; the genuine, honest ones who are actually your clients who have had a bad experience, there are a few things to keep in mind. First – stay objective. Don’t bring your personal feelings into it. Be professional and diplomatic. Second – the old-fashioned rule about “never say sorry” is completely outdated and unreasonable. Apologising does not indicate that you admit you’ve done something wrong. It shows you feel remorse that they have not had a positive experience with you, irrespective of whose ‘fault’ that was (why does someone have to be at fault anyway??) This brings us to the third point – do not invalidate their feelings. This is what psychologists will teach you when dealing with anyone in life, whether it be your partner, a friend, or a stranger. Our feelings are our reality, and we as individuals experience every scenario differently. Therefore, what right do we have to tell someone ‘you’re overreacting’ or ‘you’re being sensitive’ or ‘I doubt my staff were rude to you, that’s not who they are’? This is referred to as invalidation. If a client feels a certain way, that’s all that matters, you cannot argue with them about whether or not you think it’s reasonable for them to feel that way. The correct approach when dealing with conflict is therefore ‘validation’ which simply means letting the other person know that you hear them, you hear their concerns, you acknowledge that they feel a certain way, and that that’s okay. Validating their feelings doesn’t have to mean agreeing with them either, or even understanding why they feel the way they feel. Here’s an example – saying “I’m so sorry to hear you felt unwelcome during your visit with us” is not the same thing as “I’m so sorry my staff were not welcoming”. It isn’t about blame, or finding fault, or figuring out the ‘truth’ about what happened. It’s about acknowledging the customer’s feelings.
Find a solution
As we mentioned earlier, it’s good practice to show that you are willing to address things directly and also provide solutions. After addressing a reviewer with something like “I’m sorry to hear you found your visit with us to be an unpleasant one!” follow it up with “I’d love to chat with you about this and hear more from your perspective, and maybe come up with a solution together. Let me know the best way to get in touch with you.”
Remember, even if you suspect the review to be, put frankly, complete bull***t, resist the urge to retaliate or justify. You never know what people are dealing with in their personal lives, and you never truly know what they might say about their interactions with your staff and your business until you speak to them directly. Give them the benefit of the doubt. In many cases, if you kill them with kindness, lend them an understanding ear, and give them a platform to get things off their chest in a judgement-free environment, AND give them a solution – they will remove the review themselves.