How to respond to negative reviews online

09 February 2011
How to respond to negative reviews online

Duncan Bannatyne's campaign to remove critical and "dishonest" reviews online comparing his Somerset hotel to Fawlty Towers has shone a light upon a fraught issue among hoteliers - how best to respond to customer reviews in an increasingly dominant online world.

Review websites have become a vital part of holiday planning - TripAdvisor alone attracts 40 million unique monthly visitors and has 40 million reviews, making it the largest travel community in the world.

However, negative reviews do not need to be detrimental to business if handled, and responded to, in the right way. It may be a minefield, but by engaging positively with your customer, it's possible to turn around the situation.

five steps to take after receiving a negative online review

1 Investigate the issue then "get your house in order" Is what the customer writes correct - is there an issue with your service? If you find out there is, it is key to face it head on.

2 Rectify the issue and put measures in place to prevent it from happening again You cannot cover up poor service, even with the best PR campaign. Deal with these issues quickly and appropriately or set in place a plan to do so and engage with customers so they can see the positive steps you are taking. Rather than trying to stifle negative reviews or ignoring them, take them on board then work at offering customer service that inspires positive reviews.

3 Respond to the criticism directly, fairly and in a timely manner Judge each point of criticism individually. If it is one negative comment in a sea of positive praise then it's worth taking with a pinch of salt - users of these sites tend to be pretty astute and will see the comment for what it is. However, if you spot a trend of increasingly negative criticism or similar issues being highlighted, then respond to them online and offer to rectify the issue. Never get into an argument or inflame the situation. Your reply should always be polite and professional, just as you would handle any other customer service complaint - remember that your reply remains online indefinitely and your own response can say more than any negative review can. Apologise if you need to and communicate improvements you've made to your business. If you have addressed an issue that has generated comments from customers, it's important to state that their feedback has been taken seriously and positive changes have been made. You should not under any circumstances write bogus positive comments to "drown out" the criticism.

4 If the review goes beyond criticism and is libellous or abusive, examine your legal position There may be an occasion when the comment is best left unanswered and dealt with more formally. Inform the website itself and ask them to remove or edit the comment and consult lawyers over your legal position. There are rules and guidelines that reviewers have to follow and you are within your rights to challenge incorrect and inaccurate comments.

5 In all cases, minimise the impact and galvanise supporters Every business faces criticism at some point; the response to it is what marks out the best from the rest. By providing all customers with service that is deserving of a positive review and then responding to and addressing negative comments to improve your hotel or restaurant, you will create an army of loyal fans. Ultimately, the best course of action is to have a crisis communications plan in place that addresses how to respond to social media. With negative reviews, it's not a case of "if" but "when", so a detailed and well-considered approach will provide you with a process to follow to minimise impact.

Sally Hetherington, Director, Lucre Public Relations" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">here

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