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Don’t feed the trolls! How to respond to online reviews

04 Nov 2011
By Kris

Until recently, an unhappy customer was fairly limited in how loudly they could voice their negative opinion about a company; but since the arrival of popular review sites, it has become increasingly easy for a customer to be heard. A quick glance online can now reveal scores of well-meaning business owners who, in an effort to protect their company’s reputation, have inadvertently caused a PR disaster by engaging in arguments with unhappy customers.

The four types of reviewer and how to respond to them

Instead of having a highly public row, it’s a good idea to try and resolve issues offline, before responding to customers online. Once the issue is resolved, this often makes a public response easier and naturally more flattering to your company as it shows that you help unhappy customers quickly. With this in mind, here are the four classic reviewer types, and how to deal with them effectively.

The honest reviewer

This type of reviewer has legitimately used the company’s product or service and found it to have fallen short of the standard that they expected.
How to respond: Honestly state that a mistake has been made, and to thank the customer for bringing the issue to light. A simple apology and sometimes a gesture of goodwill can go a long way to not only appeasing the customer, but also making your company look good to potential customers reading the response.

The mistaken reviewer

This type of reviewer has used the company’s product or service, but due to an incorrect assumption or a misunderstanding, has expected something which was never promised by the company in the first place.
How to respond: The best approach here is to thank the customer for leaving feedback and politely explain the misunderstanding. Then outline the measures (if any) which are being put in place to avoid customers being confused in the future.
NB: Leaving this type of review unanswered can make your business seem prone to making false promises.

The mystery reviewer

This type of reviewer is sometimes quite vague – almost to the point that they seem to have never been a customer at all. This is sometimes because they’ve genuinely never been a customer!

How to respond: Be wary of competitors leaving unfounded or even slanderous reviews. We always advise our clients to avoid responding to ‘trolls’, and instead to simply report the review as being in violation of the site’s terms of service.Never feed the ‘trolls’ by accusing them of being dishonest – it only makes your company seem equally dishonest.

The unreasonable reviewer

This can be the hardest type of review to deal with, as it sometimes seems that’ no matter how reasonable you are with this past customer, they will never be satisfied. They often won’t be happy until your company’s brand has been denounced live on national television.

How to respond: It’s sometimes worth apologising to this type of customer, and explaining what measures have been taken to resolve the issue.
However, we do occasionally see that a response will only further provoke this type of unhappy reviewer. If so, you could respond simply by outlining the facts from your point of view and the steps taken to resolve the issue. This message is more for the benefit of future customers to see that the company is reasonable and logical, and that the reviewer is simply being unreasonable.

Taking feedback on board

People who leave negative reviews online are often very impassioned. They tend to be the unhappy minority of your customer base, so it’s important to keep this in mind when you respond to reviewers by mentioning that poor customer service is unusual.

The other side of dealing with negative customer reviews is to take their comments on board and use them to actually improve your customer service. This is always the best way to address negative customer reviews – by preventing them in the first place!

It seems like new company review sites are popping up every week, and in such an openly opinionated review landscape, it’s important to remember that the voice you choose to use when responding to negative reviews should be one you’d be proud to use not only to unhappy customers, but to future customers as well.

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