It’s clear how much power reviews can hold.
Potential customers use them as a key part of their decision-making process when choosing where to buy… especially when it comes to small businesses that haven’t yet built up a huge amount of brand recognition.
It’s called social proof, and it’s super powerful.
The opinion of other customers is often trusted by a potential customer as though it was written by a friend. If they can see that others like them have had a good experience with a business, they’re likely to feel they can too.
But, equally, the opposite is true – a bad review is as powerful as a good one… potentially even more so.
And it’s not just the negative review itself that’s the concern here; the way you handle the review also plays a huge part in how it’s perceived… potentially turning a negative review into a win for your business.
Which makes it so important to ensure that any negative reviews you receive are handled well and resolved.
But how exactly should you respond to these bad reviews?
How do you turn unhappy customers into happy ones?
And, just as importantly, how do you know if the negative reviews are genuine?
We turned to the people in the small business community to find out!
Responding to customer complaints
One of the first thoughts that you may have had after receiving a negative review about a product or service you’ve provided – whether it comes via social media, email, in person, or on a review website such as Trustpilot – is: ”How do I respond?”. Or perhaps even, “Should I respond?”
You might also start to think of the tone that you need to use to ensure not to exacerbate the situation, and, at the end of the day, reach the best solution for the customer.
But please try to remember: if people are being honest, almost all businesses, no matter what kind they are, have received negative feedback. And this is simply because people have different opinions and you sadly can’t make a product or offer a service that all people love.
We first asked Ash, founder of Yena, how he responds to customer complaints and how he works to tailor them to the different needs of the customer. Ash told us he does so ‘with honesty, humility, always in their place of origin and in a timely manner.’
He highlights how important it is for a business to be human when replying. ‘If you're wrong. Admit defeat.’
He goes onto say that if a customer seems to be overreacting, business owners should attempt to disarm the conversation with logic and patience and to not ever match their level of anger.
As a business, Yena rarely receives complaints (and we aren’t surprised... they ’re an incredible business!) But on the few occasions they have, it’s been when people get frustrated and seem to take it out on them, Ash tells us. But Ash takes it in his stride and says ‘That's ok! We're here to help.’ After all, it’s what they do as a business.
He points out that if he isn’t able to handle the complaint, then how is he supposed to know how to handle peoples business challenges? ‘Any complaint is an opportunity to improve. So that's what we do.’, he adds.
That’s such an interesting viewpoint. We should flip the ideas of complaints as a negative thing on its head and instead look at the positives that we can glean from them. It’s a way for us to grow as a business, and an outside pair of eyes allow us to spot things we would have missed alone… enabling us as business owners to thank people for pointing them out and for helping us to improve.
We then asked Ash how to stay level headed if a review is particularly rude. Many business owners may find it’s hard not to take them personally – but it’s important to learn how to not let them get to you so you can stay as calm as possible when responding.
‘Logic and self-awareness are vital.' Ash stated.
He then went on to tell us about a morning where they had to cancel a call scheduled with someone that afternoon. Ash describes that the reasons for the reschedule was unavoidable and would enable them to give their full attention during the call. However, the potential client was outraged by the rescheduling and complained that they felt that they were undermining their core values by not sticking to the originally scheduled time.
So how did Ash deal with this situation? He told us, ‘Instead of reacting with aggression, we took a logical, placid approach, explaining the situation, understanding that they may not be happy, apologising that they feel that way, offering a reasonable resolution and then leaving the ball in their court, once we set out the terms.’
This is the best approach to take – rather than argue with the person complaining (potentially resulting in them getting more annoyed and frustrated with you), it can be better to take an overly nice manner and defuse the situation in the way Ash has described.
It’s also important to look at how you deal with rude negative comments that aren’t trying to be helpful but are simply attacking a business – which is something that Ash sadly has also had to deal with in the past.
He shared, ‘Whether they're correct or not (the work of trolls, for example) is a different question. What we do is genuinely, we hope, positively impactful due to the nature of our business.’
Ash explains that Yena has had bouts of false reviews left online and they deal with this in a few different ways, adding: ‘Emotionally – we don't take it personally and see it as a sign of our own success; this is happening because we're proving ourselves in a market!’
We then asked Stuart Burns, account manager at Compare My Move – an online comparison website connecting users with removal companies, licensed conveyancers, and chartered surveyors. They collect user reviews about their service and partners, and they also utilise third-party review sites such as Trustpilot.
Stuart’s opening piece of advice for when you receive a negative review, especially when it comes through Trustpilot, is to respond as soon as possible and always lead with an apology for any misunderstandings or inconvenience caused.
Then, depending on the review, there’s usually additional information that can be provided to help the customer further understand any issues, which also informs any potential customers reading the reviews.
He then goes on to say that, if the comments are particularly rude, you must take a professional approach, as it’s always needed when you’re dealing with any kind of negative feedback. ‘I try to appreciate the frame of mind of someone who has felt aggrieved by our service and try to be as helpful as possible with a response.’
Stuart says that, ultimately, as a business, they want customers to leave with no ill will toward Compare My Move to ensure the potential for further business.
We then asked Stuart if he’s ever had to deal with the situation in the past. He said that he’s rarely involved personally with online comments but has had to contact a removal partner who left a negative comment on one of their Facebook adverts as he misunderstood their policies and, in the long run, he benefited greatly from a further conversation about specific matters. This resulted in him feeling happier about a particular situation and they ended on far better terms – which shows the positive outcome that can come from reaching out nicely when a negative review is left.
How to check reviews are genuine
As mentioned by Ash earlier in the blog, some people can attack business with negative reviews and comments even though they’ve never actually bought from or interacted with a business. So it’s super important to do your research to try to work out if the review is genuine if you’re unsure.
This is something that Farillio has experience with, and it was actually the inspiration for this blog post. In 2018, ‘two Farillio users’ left negative 1-star reviews on our TrustPilot account. The first red flag for us was that the comments didn’t seem to relate any way to our platform, and they spoke about features that we didn’t have. So we decided to check our records, searched through the customer database and looked for the names listed on their reviews. Neither seemed to be users of the account and didn’t appear on any of our records... meaning they had never used the platform.
With this information, we sent a message to TrustPilot who was quick to look over our case. They rang us and talked us through the whole process and gave us lots of advice on how to deal with the situation. They really helped to instil confidence in us and helped us to stay calm during this difficult situation.
We first left comments on the negative reviews and, after 2 weeks with no contact from the pair, TrustPilot removed the reviews as they were clearly fake.
This shows why the investigation is so important and reaching out to the site in which the comment is hosted means they can work with you to find the best resolution. TrustPilot in this situation worked so quickly with us, and their help was so valuable – and, thankfully, we’re back to our high score on Trustpilot!
Similarly to us, Compare Your Move also use Trustpilot, with the vast majority of reviews coming from a verified source.
‘They are quite good at reacting to any reviews we flag as being inappropriate or from an unverified account.’
This again shows how simple it can be if you’re able to provide the correct information to get false reviews removed. So don’t be disheartened if one pops up.
Ash had some very similar advice on how to deal with reviews that clearly aren't genuine. ‘There are a number of ways but usually false reviews are based on outlandish statements. Often these aren't in the review pinned to a particular customer, event delegate or service we offer.’
He says that they simply, publicly, logically and calmly dispute the claim while assuring, if true, they’ll do everything in their power to fix it.
They make sure to ask for details of the mishap – for example, when it happened, where it happened, etc. – which they then check this against their records and whether it’s likely to be false.
Ash then advised that once it’s clear a review is false, they address it as a brand, publicly, in the forum that it was posted in. They respond and ask for proof/legitimacy, ‘which they won’t be able to provide, due to the false review.’
Then, often without even asking, their genuine customers will react to this by providing strong, validated reviews that balance everything out. ‘Humans are generally smart. If they see a number of 5* reviews from real faces attached to real accounts and a few 1* reviews with outlandish language attached to profiles with no photo or prior activity, then they can usually decipher that they aren't real.’, Ash adds.
How to handle an upset customer
We asked Ash to share some advice on dealing with upset customers, and he said that they’d first apologise and do everything they can to fix the problem. ‘If we can't fix it then simply our product or service isn't good enough and so we improve.’ They look at this kind of feedback as a learning experience and grow from there.
Ash added, ‘Companies are run by people. Sometimes people make mistakes. So customers will sometimes be upset. It's frankly a numbers game.’ He also highlights the power of good customer service and how it can help to resolve or even prevent most complaints – and Yena pride themselves on bringing genuine, good people into the company, and the rest is much easier as a result.
Similar to Yena, the team at Compare My Move tries to empathise with any customer that hasn’t had the service they expect. And if the customer is particularly upset, the team will go the extra mile to help alleviate any issues that they are able to.
The nature of their business means they tend to be dealing with customers who are already going through a stressful move, which involves a lot of money – so this is always considered to help understand their frustrations. ‘It’s simply a case of taking things slowly, listening to their concerns and helping where possible.’ He also says to remember that all issues can’t be solved instantly, and a customer will often appreciate the effort put in if they feel you and your team are working to their best interests.
Ensuring customer satisfaction
Why is customer satisfaction so important for a business? Firstly, it helps you to stand out to new customers if your current clients are praising and shouting about you online; potential customers are more likely to shop with you or use your platform if they know other people are happy.
It also helps you to promote your core values if they're reflected in the reviews; having social proof of your values is far more impactful than simply writing them on your about page (although that's still valuable too!)
But how can you help a customer to be satisfied after they've left a negative review? We asked Ash and Simon how they ensure customer satisfaction in their businesses.
‘Overdeliver wherever possible.’, highlights Ash. He adds, ‘Today I spent 2 hours with a client whose subscription only allows for an hour of time. That's fine.’
Even though it’s not scalable for Ash to spend this extra time with the client, customer loyalty, positive experience, future referrals and their success will be much greater by spending that extra 60 minutes with them.
Stuart quickly reminded us that, sadly, with all the best will in the world, not every complaint will result in a conclusion that’s positive for the customer. However, if you, as a business, are seen to be open and responsive to all feedback this often helps a customer feel that you’re taking them seriously.
His aim is always to reassure the customer and let them know that they’ve been heard and that their thoughts will be taken into consideration in the future. ‘We have a record of making changes to some elements of our service based on feedback and I’m sure this will continue in the future.’
It’s clear from speaking with Ash and Stuart that it’s important to make the customer feel they’ve been taken seriously and that their review and experience has been taken on board. Sometimes though, as Ash said, when people are leaving dishonest reviews and just being rude, it can be sensible to shut down the conversation, as you wouldn’t gain anything as a business by communicating with them.
But, even though the customer might not always be right, it’s advisable to always be polite and focus on the route to helping them to feel calm and get their complaint resolved.
We’d like to say a big thanks to Ash and Stuart for sharing their tips and knowledge here. It’s been so wonderful getting an insight into their experiences dealing with negative comments and (even though we hope you never have to experience or use any of the advice!) it’s good to know that we can all be prepared!