A new Uprise RI exclusive for Rhode Island small business owners.
I have been a small business owner and consultant here in Rhode Island for the better part of 20 years. Having worked with hundreds of businesses, I’ve witnessed some great success stories, and some avoidable failures. Every week right here in this column on Uprise RI, I will do my best to help local small business owners like you learn best practices, uncover new tricks, and quite simply outsmart your competition. As America slowly reopens over the coming months, I hope to include helpful advice on recovering from the pandemic and getting your business back on track.
The Best Way to Respond to Online Reviews
Nearly every business receives reviews on Google and sites like Yelp, whether they want them or not. You should want them – lots of them. For most businesses, there is no better seal of approval than positive reviews on popular 3rd party websites. But what happens when you receive a negative review?
There are generally three ways in which I have seen businesses respond to negative customer reviews:
- Respond with a defensive posture, indicating the customer was wrong.
- Briefly apologize and ask the customer to call or email them to discuss further.
- Respond in detail with a sincere explanation for what might have happened, that the business takes responsibility, and how they’re going to make it right.
Look, we all know customers can exaggerate and/or invent a harm they suffered that was entirely of their own doing. Every business that has ever existed has had customers like this. I am not going to tell you that the customer is always right, because anyone that owns a business knows this is not true. But, and this is important – the customer should always feel like they are right. Apologizing to them in front of “everyone” online is always the best avenue and I will explain why with a common example.
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You are a restaurant owner, and a customer eats at your establishment, does not say a word to the server about their bad experience, but instead goes home and fires off a one-star review on Trip Advisor and OpenTable. It reads: “Ordered the filet – tasted like cardboard. Low grade beef. Server never even bothered to come over and ask how everything was. Awful!”
Yikes! You try to do everything right and yet, this still happened. Does the customer have bad taste? Did the server get sidetracked? It doesn’t matter. It’s showtime. Your response to this review is both an attempt to correct the problem for that customer, and a performance for everyone else. Your response should acknowledge that the complaint happened, that this is not your standard of service, and include an over-the-top offer to make it right. Here is a sample response:
“[Name], first off I am so sorry this happened to you and thank you for bringing this to my attention. We pride ourselves on carefully selected beef and a waitstaff that is highly attentive. Clearly, this is not what you experienced and it is not at all acceptable. I have discussed your complaint with my lead cook and our entire waitstaff to determine why this happened and to ensure that this never happens again. I’d be humbled if you would allow us an opportunity to provide you with the 5-star service we’re known for. My name is [name], please ask for me on your next visit and your first round of drinks is on us. I hope to see you soon. And, thanks again for letting us know about your visit.”
The response hits on 5 key elements:
- An apology that this occurred.
- Appreciation for raising the issue.
- Taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
- Ask them to return.
- Give them an incentive to return.
While the example I used was for a restaurant, the same principles apply to nearly any business. Are you a landscaper and one of your guys messed up a lawn? An example response might be: “Thank you so much for letting us know about this. After reviewing your complaint, we’ve thoroughly reviewed proper cutting procedure with our entire staff, and I assure you that this will not happen again. We’re coming by to patch the area tomorrow and your next cut will be complimentary.” Would your faith be restored in a business that responded that way? Pretty likely.
Earlier I explained that your response to a negative review is not just a way to make things right with the customer, but also a performance – every single person reading your reviews (your “audience”) wants to see how you respond when things go wrong. Human beings are naturally risk-averse and want to be assured that if an issue does arise, it will be handled professionally – thereby removing the risk. Your polite, detailed response with an enticing offer assures everyone reading that bad experiences are not the norm and that if one were to occur, they will make it right.
As a business owner, it can sometimes be hard to respond politely to mean customers, especially when you are aware of the incident and feel your business did nothing wrong. I invite you to look at negative reviews as an opportunity. Consider this, which business would you trust more: a) A business with no reviews, or b) A business with one review – a negative one – in which the business responded as above? Most would choose the latter – it’s better knowing a business takes care of its customers when things go wrong than the complete unknown. And it’s always important to think long-term. Sure, short-term you had to swallow your ego, apologize, and offer the customer something they [may not] deserve. But long-term, you’ve saved the customer (and if not, then you didn’t spend any money on their free drinks) and showed everyone reading your reviews from now until forever that when things go wrong, you will make them right.
Quick Tip of the Week
Often businesses help raise money for various causes, usually with a jar/can at the point of sale or via staff asking customers directly. With COVID-19 peaking, some small businesses that are open are helping with relief by collecting donations. Here’s a scientifically proven way to get more donations:
Instead of saying, for example, “Would you like to donate to COVID-19 relief to assist those in need?”, say “Would you like to donate to COVID-19 relief to assist those in need? Even a dollar will be very helpful.”
A scientific study showed that when the phrase “Even a dollar will be very helpful” was added to the end of the request, people were nearly twice as likely to donate as those who were asked without the extra phrase at the end. In future columns, I’ll be discussing more about how little tweaks can have a huge impact on results. Stay tuned.
Coronavirus Recovery Tip of the Week
One of the most popular ways both open and closed businesses have been trying to raise cash has been to sell gift certificates. Offering gift certificates/cards is an excellent way to bring in revenue that does not have to be repaid in product/services until later, when more government aid has (hopefully) made its way to the small business community. But until then, if you want to sell more gift certificates – a lot more – offer them at a discount for a limited time. That is exactly what Panera Bread recently did, and their sales of GCs skyrocketed. It’s not hard to see why – 20% off from one of your favorite restaurants is hard to pass up, and comes at a time when many are trying to save money wherever they can. Sure, 20% is a hit to your margins, but again – long-term thinking is the key here. Customers often spend more than the amount of the GC (at full price) and 4% of gift cards are never redeemed at all. Plus, if the cards are given away by the purchaser, it has the potential to bring in entirely new customers who otherwise would never have come.