updated 3/8/13… Google recently announced that Businesses with verified Google Place Pages (Google+ Local) can respond to their reviews like can be done on other review sites. This is a long-requested feature, especially by businesses that feel they were wrongly accused of something or that just want to offer a public “thank you” for a compliment. Yelp has long allowed responses in this manner, and I’ve seen many small businesses respond with jabs and poorly considered comments. With customers using online reviews as a part of the purchase decision, it’s more important than ever that you actively solicit reviews and manage them well.
Responding to reviews should be done with care, however. Here are some tips for businesses who are going to begin responding to these reviews so you can avoid embarrassment and maximize the positive effect on your brand.
- Never be defensive about negative reviews. Even if the reviewer was completely wrong and is acting like a jerk. You are going to be writing what amounts to public relations content in this reply and it needs to be your best work. Everyone has a bad day, and this may have been theirs, so it’s worth it to try to rise above the fight or flight response.
- Never write responses to negative reviews when you’re mad. Sleep on it. Save it in notepad on your desktop and re-read it in a few days. There’s no rush and things written in emotional moments are rarely what you want in public view.
- Remember that the response will be read by more than just the reviewer. Over the months and years, your place page may be reviewed hundreds or thousands of times by potential customers making buying decisions based on others’ reviews. It’s arguable that the content you put on this response is more important than most content you put on your website – and it deserves some thought.
- Thank reviewers for their gift. It takes time to leave comments. Doing so means they are doing you a favor and it is your chance to shine by responding with skill rather than duck and cover. Sometimes reviews are just useless rants, but most people who read them realize this and you have a chance to show your stuff in the replies.
- Short and Sweet. Don’t write an novel, just capture the sentiment, transfer the emotion and move on.
- Don’t just take the issue offline. Don’t respond telling them to call you to discuss. Give some form of response on the web in public view, even if you end up continuing the conversation later. Taking it offline has the feeling of whispering in front of dinner guests – it’s a bit rude.
- Don’t get personal, even if they did. Sometimes reviewers write when they’re ticked off, and they attack specific employees of your company. Simply mark these as inappropriate and use the established editorial process to remove them. Google doesn’t want that type of review on there either.
- Set Ground Rules with Employees. I recommend that you establish ground rules for who and how responses are created. You may want to delegate review response, but not until you have a sense that your staff understand the importance of taking some time to get it right.
- No Gifts. Don’t provide any freebies in your responses, such as gift certificates, etc. This reads like bribery. Just a public thank you is all you should do.
- Take Ownership. You are responsible for your company, and sometimes business is just not fair. You own both the issue and the response to it. Many times reviewers just want to be listened to.
- Nobody’s perfect, people know that. But most importantly, you are speaking to future customers at this moment. It’s okay to humanize the situation and admit that you just made a mistake and apologize.
- Consider Having Someone review your response. Run it by someone (neutral, preferably) before you post it. Ask them to put the reviewer’s and future customers’ shoes on and see how they feel.
- Have some supporting content ready. If you frequently refer to policies make them easy to find. An easy-to-navigate FAQ page can be a wonderful library to refer to.
- There’s not always a good response. Sometimes, there is no response that will make the customer happy. That’s life. You should still tell the customer you appreciate them and wish things had turned out differently. Remember, you’re speaking to future customers as well.
- Ask customers who feel the issue was resolved to go edit their review. You shouldn’t ask them to remove what they wrote, but perhaps append a resolution to the end and consider re-rating your company. This is a slippery slope – as you don’t want it to feel like they are in debt somehow. But if an entire review is based on a misunderstanding, or a special case that is unlikely to happen again, many customers will be willing to give you another chance.
(Image by Art Comments on Flickr used under Creative Commons Attribution License)