The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks once remarked, “I don’t read reviews. I refuse to have my ego inflated or deflated by someone I don’t know.”
However, many businesses are not able to share Parks’ attitude, especially when customers take to popular online review sites and leave cruel comments that excoriate a company, its products and services.
The concept of letting consumers leave online reviews can be traced back to eBay in the late 1990s, where buyers and sellers were given the option of leaving “positive,” “neutral” and “negative” feedback regarding on-site transaction. Today, there are a seemingly endless number of online review pages, ranging from general interest sites like Amazon, Facebook and Google to industry- and geographic-specific sites.
While the unpleasant surprise of receiving a negative review leaves an immediate sting, local marketing experts advise business owners to approach any unexpected thumbs-down in a professional manner.
“The first thing to do is not freak out,” said Sharon Arena, owner and creative director of Salty Red Dog Marketing LLC in Norwalk. “It’s going to happen sooner or later.”
Arena recommended initially giving the reviewer the benefit of the doubt regarding the unfavorable comments. “Look at the review,” she said. “Is there an issue with customer service or product?”
If the business owner decides to respond to comments, the response should be carefully phrased before being published.
“Avoid knee-jerk reactions,” said Linda Kavanagh, founder of Stamford-based MaxEx Public Relations LLC. “You never want to be defensive and you don’t want to come across as being intimidated by the customer.”
Mia Schipani, principal at Schipani PR in Stamford, warned against trying to call the reviewer’s motives into question. “Show empathy,” she advised. “Make sure the response is professional and make sure the response is authentic. It should be 100 percent no emotion.”
Schipani added that readers on the review sites will be particularly interested in how a company reacts, not just to a single review but to a possible multitude of poor write-ups. “When you are on social media, you are broadcasting to everybody,” she said. “Respond in a consistent manner — you cannot respond one time and not another.”
Christopher Salem, a Danbury-based business and personal development consultant, said if the company determines that the consumer’s negative review is justified, then the response should be one of proper acknowledgement. “Don’t try to put this thing under cover,” he said. “You should be honest and transparent and approach this with transparency.”
Of course, that’s assuming the grievance is legitimate. Kavanagh, whose agency focuses on the hospitality industry, wondered about the visceral tone of some harshly negative restaurant reviews. “A poor experience in a restaurant should never be so catastrophic,” she said.
“Most people just want to be heard, unless it is a troll trying to get attention,” said Lisa Clair, principal at Fairfield-based ClairStone Communications. “Some people are just trying to stir things up. Either they have too much time on their hands or they have a past issue.”
But Clair also pointed out that if a business has a strong customer base, these satisfied individuals often take it upon themselves to challenge an excessively bad review. “Other followers on the site will step in and shoot the troll down,” she said. “I have found that 99.9 percent of the time someone else will come to your defense.”
Ronald R. Magas, president of Magas Media Consultants LLC in Monroe, pointed to another line of defense — review monitors. Companies can hire monitors to keep track of reviews and, where applicable, work with either the review writer or the website administrator to have the reviews removed.
“You may want to consider this if you have the money for this and if you have a service-oriented business where people are looking for reviews for a service,” he said.
Arena recommended that businesses take a proactive approach to review generation.
“If customers had a great experience with your company or service, don’t be afraid to ask for a review,” she said. “A lot of times, companies don’t ask out of fear of getting negative review.”
And Kavanagh offered a reminder that a bad review is not the end of the world.
“Good old word of mouth and local bloggers do a good job of keeping people up to date on what you’re offering,” she said.