Responding to online reviews
Kent Online published an article last week about a pub landlord who took aim - 'metaphorically speaking' - and hit back at a customer who gave his pub a one star review on TripAdvisor about their disappointing service and food experience at his pub.
As a PR consultant, whose role is to help organisations build great reputations by managing their communications and relationships with their stakeholders, the article naturally piqued my interest. My first piece of advice to this landlord would have been that on reading the customer review he should have stepped away from his computer or mobile phone, inhaled deeply, counted to 20 - and then some - and not even have attempted to respond until he was feeling less emotional. Unfortunately, the red mist got the better of him and he hit back with an emotionally charged riposte. This exchange was reported in the local paper and now it's potentially become a PR issue for that pub. Maybe, he views all publicity as good publicity. He's almost certainly lost that customer's business for good and likely made other potential new customers think twice about visiting, fearing that they too may find themselves on the end of hostilities.
When I was an agency PR account director for a brewery with a pub estate, we often drafted statements on the brewery's behalf for the local or even national press - or even occasionally an online comment (it wasn't that long ago!) - in response to negative news stories affecting the client's pubs or brands. The journalist would alert us to a complaint or a situation with a disgruntled third party that had been brought to their attention and they would duly give the brewery a chance to respond. We would then draft up a response for the client to approve in time for the journalist to print their piece. This third party PR consultancy process meant that the client ended up with a considered comment and avoided any emotionally charged responses, which may have painted them in a less than favourable light.
Negative consumer experiences are part and parcel of life. As a business, you are not going to get everything just right all the time and as consumers, we've all had disappointing experiences from time to time. The difference nowadays is that our frustrations are largely played out online on social media or review forums. Disgruntled customers no longer have to contact the local media to get some attention, they can get on their mobile phone or laptop and punch out a vitriolic report to vent their frustration and let off some steam. It's so immediate and as the landlord rightly pointed out in his response it's easy to be a 'keyboard warrior' instead of raising your concerns with the staff at the time and giving them a chance to rectify things. It must be so tempting when you're a business owner and someone attacks your business - your pride and joy - not to sound off online.
So, how can business owners best deal with negative reviews? Well, remember the paying customer is always right, even if they're not! So telling them that they should or shouldn't have done this and that is just not going to cut it. They did what they did and they feel how they feel. So, how can you turn this around and make something positive out of? Always acknowledge how your customer is feeling and your disappointment that they are feeling like this. Examine why this might be and look for ways to improve their experience. Maybe invite them to come back and try again. Focus on an aspect of the experience where you might be able to take some constructive action and turn things around. Don't shy away from turning a critical eye on your procedures and your offer. Be honest. If the customer expected something else, then is this something that other customers have thought too but maybe not voiced? Is this an aspect you can communicate more clearly to avoid future misunderstandings? In general, online feedback whether positive or negative should be a way of improving your business where possible or at the very least bringing clarity to a situation.
In the end, if you do nothing else, the golden rule is don't let emotion colour your responses, always be responsive, as saying nothing looks like you don't care, and try to keep an open dialogue with your customers.
Clare Pope, always has her head in a book - current read Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore