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For owners and managers of hospitality and tourism businesses, social network reviews are now a major part of our earned media. Trip Adviser, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, Facebook and Wotif are among the most popular of this ever-growing list of platforms where you may find chatter about your products and services. Sometimes dealing with reviews about your business can become a personal, stressful and emotional roller-coaster ride. Here are 5 important rules to remember when handling a negative online review.

1. Don’t ignore them

Ignoring a bad review on social media doesn’t make it go away. In this day and age we cannot afford to not see every review written about our business, nor can we pretend that we haven’t seen them. Both are as bad for our reputation as each other. Ignoring a review (no matter how ridiculous) will inevitably lead to either bad chatter in the social sphere, or the reputation with you current and future customers that you do not care enough to address complaints. It would be the social media equivalent of turning your back on a customer at your counter, sticking your finger in your ears, closing your eyes and screaming “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH!” in front of millions of other customers.

2. Don’t offer excuses

Although you often feel compelled to defend the accusations leveled at your business in front of millions of social users, it is not worth it. Excuses sound incredibly feeble in the social sphere and will do you absolutely no favours what-so-ever. Your loyal customers know that you deliver a great product and service, and will very rarely refuse you their custom based on the rantings of a stranger. They will however expect you to apologise, offer a solution and lend an ear to all those who have taken the time to post a review. For those reviews that completely lack truth and substance (and lets face it, you will get some) most readers can see straight through falsities, and you will actually win respect by dealing with them consistently and fairly. Of course, if the complaint is raised due to something completely out of your control then you should alert the customer to this and direct them accordingly.

3. Apologise

No matter how wrong you think this particular customer has got things, or how much what they are saying is hurting you inside, you need to offer an apology. They have obviously felt so strongly about their experience that they feel the need to spend 5 minutes of their busy life letting everyone else know. You can structure your apology according to the situation, but you should stick to a handful of consistent spiels that are genuine, and not too sycophantic. At the end of the day you are genuinely sorry that they had a bad experience, and you need to sell that to them. It is also what will endear you to prospective customers reading about this experience, and hopefully dismiss it from their thoughts when making their decision.

4. Offer a solution

People who leave a bad review do it for 2 main reasons; they want other people to read it, and they want you to do something about it. A good majority of these reviewers want to come back, and you need to give them a good reason. Even the “…I will not be going back” line is not always final. Offer to have them back on you, so you can prove that it was a one-off. Even if they don’t take you up on the offer, the average reader does not know whether they have or not, and it proves that you have faith in your products and services to put them on the line again.

5. Get the conversation out of the public eye

There’s nothing worse than an argument with a customer that takes place in front of a whole heap of other customers. A string of comments below the review between you and a bad reviewer comes across like an argument. A bank of comments is also much more likely to draw the eye of a potential customer, something that is better to avoid with a bad review. Check out this as an extremely bad example. The conversation should be continued in a private environment, ie via email, phone or in person and not in front of everyone else. If you have made an apology, asked no other questions or made any excuses, and offered a fair solution then there should be no reason for the conversation to continue in that forum.

A great example of a good reply

An excellent example of replying to a negative review