How To Handle Negative Online Reviews: Keep Calm, Monitor And Act

Online reviews can be a real hornet’s nest sometimes, can’t they? While they can be so helpful when building a reputation for your business, it’s tough at first to know how to handle negative online reviews.

It’s actually really great that people can leave us feedback publicly and online. Great because it helps us stay accountable to our customers.  Great in the sense that a vast amount of the feedback is useful and actionable and great because positive social proof is the number one best way to get people to trust in your brand. But look: there will always be some folks who are a bit tough to reach and so I actually laughed out loud when I read this week’s cartoon from Tom Fishburne:




When these situations arise it’s really tempting to get our backs up, isn’t it?  But this is when it’s so important to remember how valuable the open Internet is to making the world a better place.  It connects and gives a voice to so many people and causes, and – from our perspective as product marketers – gives product makers a scalable opportunity to connect with actual product users. So, next time somebody scorches your company on an online reviewing platform such as Yelp, don’t overreact. Keep these principles in mind and turn online lemons into online lemonade – there is way too much downside to doing it wrong.

Keep Calm, Monitor And Act:

It is inevitable: someone at some time, somewhere will have a negative experience which may lead to that person sharing with millions of Internet users. What steps have you taken to ensure that you are monitoring your brand’s online reputation? Being in the spiff and rebate fulfillment business, our work is processing and paying out sales incentives claims every day and so the feedback we receive tends to be very real time and direct – people want to know where their money is! If you are more in the consumer goods side of things, however, your relationship with your customers can turn sour at any time if you haven’t stayed properly connected.  Make sure that you have a strategy in place for monitoring your online reputation and make sure you are taking actions, ideally within minutes or hours – not days – of the negative material being posted.  Research conducted in 2012 shows that 42% of consumers expect a brand to respond to an online complaint within 60 minutes. So get moving.

Get The Facts:

Dig deeply. If the person has left their complaint on a reputable platform that verifies its user base, it should be easy to track the person down and reach out to them to make sure you understand their side of the story properly. With that information, you should be able to get the rest of the facts in place from your end and decide what to do.

Be Truthful:

Nobody’s perfect. It’s very possible that somewhere along the line, your company has failed this customer and if you sell via an indirect model, there are even further opportunities for things to break down.  Whether the complaint has to do with a failure of physical goods or it’s an issue of bad service, it’s important to own your end of the situation. Ideally, you should be first in pointing out the extent of your own culpability.

Be Solution-Minded:

Always offer a positive, problem-solving and solution-seeking response. There will be people who just want to complain and who will disappear after you respond to them and that’s fine: remember that this is your opportunity to build a positive PR event out of an otherwise negative situation. In fact, a 2013 study showed that simply having the company acknowledge the complaint satisfies 83% of consumers who publish online complaints.  So the bar to building happiness is actually pretty low: you might start by simply asking how you can make it better.

I believe there are some important questions that we will need to answer for ourselves as this phenomenon grows:

  • With the proliferation of online review sites and other consumer review platforms and opportunities, will these reviews continue to be considered weighty and valid social proof or will there be a watering-down effect?
  • How important is it that consumers be held accountable for negative reviews?
  • How can this be done constructively? 

I would love to hear your comments and answers to these questions.


Jason King 360incentivesJason is the Content and Community guy at Connect with Jason on Twitter @JayKing71LinkedIn or Google+  360 is changing the world of incentives.  To find out how, book a call with us now!