In today’s ever-evolving digital world, information travels lightning fast. One bad review, tweet, or Facebook post can create a PR nightmare. If mishandled, a company’s response to negative online reviews can create even more damage, or worse, go viral. Here are some tips to overcome a bad review and keep your business’ reputation intact.

Be Proactive

As with most things in life, playing ostrich will not solve this problem. Negative reviews tend to stick in consumers’ minds more than positive ones, so it is imperative to address bad press swiftly and directly. While you cannot remove negative reviews from Google+, Yelp, Amazon, or other public forums, any type of review can be spun in your favor if you display authenticity and diplomacy in your response. Taking the time to thoughtfully respond to a complaint shows that your business not only cares about the quality of the experience or service you are providing, but also that there are human beings working there.

Respond Carefully

For review sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor, never craft a response the same day that you read a bad review. It is important to address it within a reasonable amount of time, but also in a way that leaves your emotions out of it. When it comes to protecting your brand on social media, however, time is of the essence. If a staff member cannot respond within an hour, ask the customer to contact your regular customer service email or phone number with more details.

Here are some basic guidelines for a one-time response on your review sites:

  • First, thank the reviewer for taking the time to write a review. Remember that even a bad review is an opportunity to show people what sets your business apart.
  • Be authentic and avoid those oft-memorized, talk-you-off-the-ledge customer service phrases that tend to further enrage people, such as, “I apologize for the inconvenience,” “We followed our policies on this matter,” or any similar sentiment. Even if you are truly sorry for their inconvenience, surely you can find a way to make it sound genuine!
  •  Accept responsibility for any mistakes that were made, but avoid throwing your employees under the bus. Blaming an individual employee is a cop-out, and if there’s a valid concern about a particular staff member, the conversation should not happen online.
  •  Offer a token of your appreciation for their business or make amends if possible – a free meal at your restaurant, a coupon, or the same service for free, for instance. While you might be out the cost of a service, making an attempt to retain a customer and displaying your willingness to correct a mistake will be well worth it in the eyes of the public.

Ask for More Reviews

The easiest way to bury a negative review? With an influx of positive reviews, of course – but from legitimate customers. Consumers can spot a fake a mile away, so having all of your family and friends write canned one-liners about how much they love your business isn’t the way to do this. Offer a coupon or small giveaway for reviewing your business on Yelp, Google+, Facebook, or wherever the negative review is currently lurking. This encourages a broader fan base as well as presents an opportunity for regular marketing and interaction with your prime demographic.

Reputation Management

Depending on how popular your brand is, it might be time to call in the big guns. There are several brand reputation tracking tools available in the marketplace that will allow you to not only monitor your company name, but also keywords associated with your brand. These social media tools can be used to not only monitor and respond to negative reviews or comments online, but also to identify opportunities for reaching out to potential new customers. The price of these tools vary, but typically the number of trackable social media profiles as well as the total number of trackable keywords per month are some factors to consider.

A Great Local Example – The Flying Biscuit

So, let’s take a look at a local business that has done a great job of addressing some bad reviews. As most of my fellow Cardinals know, I love The Flying Biscuit Cafe. Their legendary biscuits are a game changer and those creamy grits are second to none. If you haven’t already checked out the Norcross location, I recommend putting everything else on hold while you get yourself over there.

Delicious food aside, The Flying Biscuit found itself in hot water over some extremely low health inspection scores in September, 2013. They took this situation seriously, however, by hiring a third party to monitor and retrain all of their employees on proper food safety procedures. They have since made a comeback with a perfect 100 on their latest inspection.

But how did they weather the resulting PR storm? By remaining transparent throughout the process, addressing criticism head-on, as well as thanking and acknowledging their loyal fan base. Below is an example of some of the poor online reviews that resulted from the health inspection scare. These comments are taken from their Yelp page:

As you can see, the General Manager commented on this review directly and within a reasonable timeframe (without jumping the gun and shooting out a rapid-fire, emotional reply). He thanked the customer for her review and was authentic, clear and concise in his response. I am a fan of The Flying Biscuit’s Facebook page as well and noted that their posts and comments corresponded with users in a similarly graceful, honest manner. Their direct approach paid off as they were able to retain loyal customers.

How Not to Respond

And now, let’s take a look at the many glistening examples of failure when it comes to responding to negative reviews. I stumbled upon one such gem in the Search Engine Journal’s similarly themed piece, How NOT to Respond to Negative Reviews Online. Apparently UK celebrity chef, Claude Bosi, serves up his food with a heaping side of sarcasm, as seen in his seething tweets to amateur food critic, James Isherwood:

>The lesson here? The chef’s juvenile response created the resulting firestorm, not the mediocre food review. That outburst could have been avoided if he had stepped back and cooled down before responding.

 Have an Established Plan

As any business owner knows, a few bad reviews are inevitable. Negative reviews can also be turned into a positive for your company, depending on how you handle them. Taking the time to craft a thoughtful response to an online complaint will not only show users that your directory or social profile is legitimate, it also displays a company dedicated to authentic human interaction.

Smartphones have given us the ability to compare prices, shop around and read reviews all in the time it takes to stand in line at the store. Use this technology to your advantage by regularly monitoring your social media channels and encouraging brand interaction.