What Can Businesses Do About Negative Online Reviews?
Who remembers the Amy’s Baking Company viral? In case you missed this classic example of how not to handle negative online reviews, here’s a quick recap, and some great lessons we learned.
Amy’s Baking Company Meltdown
If you’re going to appear on a high visibility platform, such as Kitchen Nightmares, you really need to get your ducks in a row first. Amy and Samy Bouzaglo decided they wanted their restaurant to have its fifteen minutes of fame, but didn’t bargain on the backlash they would get via social media for their dreadful food and shocking customer relations. The Internet is an unforgiving place at the best of times. Reddit is perhaps the least forgiving place of all. After seeing what thoroughly unpleasant people the Bouzaglos were, Reddit let rip. As did Yelp. And Facebook. And Twitter. Naturally, Amy and Samy wanted to defend themselves.
Lesson One: Don’t Feed the Trolls
It’s a tired old trope, but it happens to be absolutely true. Negative online criticism sometimes comes from those who simply want you to lose your temper, and by responding, you encourage them. Amy and Samy responded to every negative comment, often very rudely. They set up fake accounts to respond too, but this just fanned the flames. Not only did they confirm people’s perception of them as rude and unreasonable, but they also set up a viral that had trolls queuing up. Ignore trolls. Their power increases exponentially the more you respond.
One approach to a barrage of negative criticism is to make one over-arching comment, clarifying the situation and answering all negative feedback in one hit. Then withdraw.
Lesson Two: Breathe
Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to defend ourselves. When we read a negative review, having worked a 13-hour day, it is understandable that we get angry. This is the precise moment to walk away from your desk. Wait. Breathe. And calm down. Sit and think carefully about the best way to respond to criticism. Should you respond at all of it? (See Lesson One). And, if you do respond, ask yourself whether in fact there are some valid criticisms contained within a negative review. Be dispassionate. Nobody’s perfect. Not even you. What could you have done better, and how can you address the complaint effectively?
Lesson Three: A Measured Response Is Essential
Amy and Samy failed to grasp the fact that insulting your customers is not a winning marketing strategy. Amy called one of her negative reviewers a moron. Don’t do this. Seriously. It makes a bad situation ten times worse. Valid, non-trolling criticism should be responded to calmly and in a personal manner. The best responses use a counselling technique called ‘mirroring’. You hear the complaint and acknowledge the speakers emotion. For example, “Hi Chris, I understand you’re really disappointed with the visit you had to Amy’s” or “Hi Chris, I’m sorry to hear you were frustrated you had to wait longer than is usual for your meal to arrive…”. Go on to give an explanation, if there is one – power cut, staff illness maybe – but don’t appear to be making excuses. Take responsibility for what went wrong, and apologise sincerely. If you can afford to make an offer, such as a free meal or a drink to make up for a bad customer experience, then do. These personal, sincere replies get the best customer response. Often you will win over a disgruntled customer, who will go on to write a good review later, or thank you on the same forum. You appear responsive, reasonable to others reading the reviews, and show you really do care about your customers’ experience.
Lesson Three: Don’t Lie
Amy and Samy finally made an ‘official statement’. They told their customers that they had been hacked and weren’t responsible for the abusive comments they had left. Insulting your customers includes insulting their intelligence. If you are going to respond, be truthful. Don’t fob customers off with a bland sentence or two. Use it as an opportunity to improve your relationship with existing customers, and build on loyalty. Turn a negative into a positive. Wording and approach needs careful thought. (See Lesson Two)
In the end, Amy’s Baking Company recovered. Their Internet notoriety led to more custom, as people who had seen them on TV came to see whether the restaurant was as bad as it sounded. Amy and Samy hired a PR company, who helped to get them back on track. Their reviews are still mixed, but you don’t see anyone being called a moron, and there are some really outstanding five star reviews in there too. They learned valuable lessons, and passed them on to the wider world.
Read Amy and Samy’s eyewatering original replies to negative online criticism on Buzzfeed, to see how not to respond to customers complaints.
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