Recent studies conclude that 97% of consumers aged 18-34 read reviews and 85% of all consumers trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation from friends.

All of us business owners know that feeling of dread, the dull empty clunk in the pit of your stomach, when you see the notification that an online review has been posted up. And then the fumbling, shaky fingers as you log into your account to view, seems like an eternity. I love great, gushing reviews, but it strikes to the heart, when someone is less than complimentary. The ability of social media platforms to permeate your personal life, home and head, 24/7, I find intrusive and disquieting.

So, although it’s positive that we care so much about our business, and want to provide the best service possible, we need to relax and treat the less positive reviews in a way that can turn it around.

That being said, I think reviewers need to be nice, practice genuine humanity, and realise how much damage they can do to a small business, and ensure they do a fair and honest critique. Reviews, given in the correct manner, can help fellow consumers decide if they want to buy from the company involved. Also, it gives the company reviewed valuable client insight, so they can take action to improve on what they are doing.

Small business is particularly susceptible to the negative rantings of the reviewer, they don’t have the resources to fight, neither the knowledge of what to do about a bad review. And these days there is so much potential for false reviewing, with sour grapes from competitors being a motivation for an online onslaught.  The small business may also work in a small niche or geographical market where word of mouth and peer reviews hold so much sway, as is the case in the chauffeur industry.

Chances are that most of your business reviews will be great, but how do you deal with an attack of the nasty review, the serial nit-picker, or the legitimate gripe?

You need to have a process in place so that your customers can contact you, and not resort to airing their grievance online.  Don’t ignore it as it will make you look bad, and the problem won’t go away.  Instead face it head on in an honest and direct manner, and this will minimise the impact while hopefully winning you business by your professionalism.  Use the situation as an opportunity to exhibit your slick customer relations skills.  We all need the odd negative review, as the public won’t believe your reviews if they are all 5 stars.  It will make you look more human and present a true picture of your business and how you handle yourself.

Get to the bottom of the issue, try to see the problem from your customers’ perspective even if you disagree.  But act quickly if it looks like the dialogue will deteriorate to an online tirade and take the communication offline.  Don’t lie, make excuses or try to avoid taking responsibility, this will infuriate your reviewer and make them even more disgruntled. You need to make the dissatisfied customer reassured that they are heard, if you respond appropriately you could turn them into your biggest fan. And most of all, a positive interaction with a dissatisfied customer can give you valuable insight into what you are doing less well, and you need to fix the problem, act on it and emphasise that it will never happen again.

But what if you are being dogged by fake reviews by your competitors trying to besmirch your brand name?

There are various ways to deal with this growing phenomenon.  Get it removed if possible, contact the review site and find out if it is a genuine customer. The review site should have details of the login used for the account, then you can see if it is one of your customers. If necessary, you might have to offer the rogue reviewer compensation such as a free offer, to make them go away. But it should be obvious if it is a fake reviewer, as they often use a pseudonym and not a real name, such as McToerag4ever. They won’t have a profile picture, or if they do, you can search it on google which may turn up the same images with many different names. Also, if the account was created moments before the review was made, this can flag up that it is a fake. Take a moment to see if the reviewer has turned up on the site of your competitor posting a rave review, this will seem a bit suspicious!

To call your reviewer trolls out publicly, so that your customers will know the reality of the situation, will send the message out that you won’t tolerate fake reviews, or allow them to misrepresent your business.

You need to put in place a comprehensive customer feedback policy, to log every interaction with your client, building up as much knowledge about them as you can. This way you can better your service at every interaction, and really keep them on your side.

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