Managing Your Business's Online Reviews

Learn all you need to know about promoting a positive online presence and how to handle negative reviews.

Think of online reviews as word of mouth—with one big difference. If a customer tells a friend about a bad experience with your company, a handful of people might hear about it. But word of the bad experience will spread to hundreds or even thousands if it is posted online.

Why Online Reviews Matter

Most of your potential customers today are going online to gather information about the services and products they want to buy. They are checking company websites along with sites like Facebook, Google, and Yelp to learn more about what your company does and how well it performs. They read the online reviews posted by other customers, and they are more likely to trust those reviews because they come from people like themselves.

Good reviews can be part of your strategy to build your business. Bad reviews can cost you customers. But whether it is good or bad, the review shouldn't be the end of the story. Responding to good reviews can help you get more customers, and responding to a negative review can even repair your reputation.

Online Review Management Starts with Social Media

Social media websites like Google and Yelp have become the go-to sites for customers to learn about nearly every type of consumer business from restaurants to handymen. Customers can search for businesses by location, and they can post reviews of the businesses listed at no charge. Even if you never signed up on one of these sites, you might find that your business is listed there because these sites use sophisticated techniques to locate and post business information.

Facebook is another social media site where customers can review your business, but unlike Google or Yelp, you must first set up a business profile there.

Some websites are online platforms geared to helping customers find service providers and helping businesses find customers. These platforms usually specialize in particular types of businesses. HomeAdvisor, for instance, helps customers find home repair and improvement services like contractors, plumbers, and painters, and TripAdvisor specializes in vacation and travel like bed-and-breakfast operators and sightseeing companies.

These types of platforms require you to sign up, usually for a fee, in order to be listed, get reviewed, and respond to reviews.

Managing Social Media Reviews

Once your business appears on Google or Yelp, customers can post reviews about you. But as a business owner, you are required to sign up on these sites in order to respond to reviews. Yelp calls this process "claiming your business," and provides a "Yelp for Business" website with instructions for signing up. If your business has multiple locations, you will need to claim each one.

Google has a two-step process that asks you to claim your business and then verify it using a website called "Google My Business." Instructions are also available online. Basic business profiles are free, but Google and Yelp also offer other services like advertising once you are registered.

Setting up a business profile on Facebook is also free to users and Facebook provides instructions on its website.

Managing Online Platform Reviews

Online platforms like HomeAdvisor take a more active approach to business listings because they also usually rate service providers. Depending on the platform they might require you to submit proof of applicable licenses and certifications, and some charge a fee for even a basic business profile. Once you have signed up with these platforms, you have the ability to respond to reviews, and a few also help manage that process for you by contacting you with any complaints received.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

By carefully crafting a response to a negative review you can:

  • Change the reviewer's opinion of your company.
  • Deter others who have had similar problems from posting their own reviews because they see that the problem has been addressed.
  • Spread good will to all who are reading the posts because you are showing a willingness to solve problems and putting a priority on customer service.

When you respond to a negative review keep in mind that you are sending your message to anyone reading the posts and not just the person who wrote the review. Reviews and responses often remain online for months so your response can shape opinions well into the future.

Always take a breath before writing your response so that you don't sound emotional or defensive. If in the course of resolving the issue you have taken the conversation offline, you might also want to ask your customer to update the review once the problem is solved.

Your response should:

Be prompt. You want to show customers that you are on top of your business, and you want to solve problems before they become more serious.

Use the reviewer's name. Personalized responses show you take each review seriously and value your customers.

Thank the reviewer. Show appreciation that the reviewer took the time to provide feedback.

Be specific. Your response should address the problems raised specifically rather than, for example, stating your goal of providing good customer service. If your hair salon customer posts a review about a long wait for service, for example, you might say, "We were sorry to hear about the wait time you experienced at the salon yesterday. We know how valuable your time is, and we are adjusting our scheduling to make sure it doesn't happen in the future."

Admit mistakes. If you or your team made a mistake, be forthright about it. Customers know that mistakes happen and admitting mistakes shows your willingness to improve.

Offer solutions. Include any steps you can take to fix the problem. If the complaint is more complex or it is unclear, ask the reviewer to contact a specific person at the company to discuss ways to correct problems.

Include a personal signature. Don't just use the company name. Include the name of the owner or team member and contact information if applicable.

What Not to Do When Responding to Negative Reviews

Types of responses you should avoid include:

Don't contact the reviewer instead of an online response. Always respond online first, even if you know the customer who has posted the review and are able to contact them by phone or email. If you take the conversation offline others won't know that you addressed the problem. You can always ask to speak to the reviewer directly in your online communication, but it should not substitute for an online response.

Don't get defensive. Lengthy explanations about why something happened are likely to anger your customer even further, or worse, validate the complaint. Instead, acknowledge the problem and empathize with the inconvenience or disappointment it caused.

Don't deny the problem. Even if you feel a review is unreasonable, you should not share your opinion online.

How to Respond to Good Reviews

Don't overlook the benefits of responding to all reviews, even the positive ones. Responding to good reviews gives you the opportunity to build relationships with your customers and shows others that you take customer service seriously.

Just like responses to negative reviews, you should answer positive reviews promptly using the reviewer's name. Begin by thanking the reviewer for taking the time to contact you and include a personal signature. Your response should also:

Avoid promoting your company. Your response should be about the customer, and it shouldn't be used as an opportunity for advertising or promotion. If you are a restaurant owner you might say, "We are always happy to hear from our customers and especially glad to know you had a great experience at our restaurant."

Offer a perk if possible. Restaurant owners might want to consider offering a free dessert on the reviewer's next visit. A shop owner might offer to put the reviewer on a mailing list for exclusive deals. A cabinet maker might offer a discount on an upgrade. Adding a perk helps build relationships and keeps customers coming back.

Ask for permission to share. Reviews with lots of great details about the customer's experience can be helpful additions to your social media program or your website, so you might want to include a sentence asking if the reviewer would allow you to share it. Make sure you explain where and how you would include the review.

More Things to Know About Google and Yelp Reviews

Removing reviews. Google and Yelp have formal policies about removing false reviews or those that violate the company's review policies. But social media sites won't take sides if you and the reviewer have a difference of opinion, and they won't remove a review just because it is negative. Check the site's review policy before deciding whether you want to request a review be removed and for instructions on how to request removal.

Encouraging reviews. It's a good idea to link your Google or Yelp page to your email signature, website, and other electronic communications to encourage customers to write a review. Rather than directly asking customers to submit a review, you might say, "Please let us know how we did."

You should not try to fill your social media page with reviews you have written yourself or reviews you paid others to write. If these sites discover that you have used these methods – and they use sophisticated algorithms to uncover these deceptive reviews --your page might be flagged or removed.

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