The old expression “everybody’s a critic” has never been more true. And in a world where there’s no shortage of ways to publicly share your opinion, online customer reviews have unprecedented power to make or break a business.
Most shoppers say they read online reviews before making a purchase. A 2019 study found that 92% of B2B buyers say that they trust customer reviews and other forms of user-generated feedback more than anything else they read about a product or service.
With customer criticism now so crucial, the threat of a negative review looms larger than ever before. But looking at negative reviews purely as the enemy can blind you to their true potential. Believe it or not, there are some advantages to the occasional lousy online rating. And if you’re able to reach out and resolve the customer’s issue, you have an opportunity to win them back and enhance your brand’s reputation.
The upside of negative reviews
It may seem like there’s nothing good about bad word-of-mouth, but every negative review does come with a silver lining.
For starters, negative reviews contribute to the total number of reviews that a company has. Building a large number of online reviews gives a business more credibility and improves its search ranking. Negative reviews count just the same as positive ones in terms of increasing the sheer volume of reviews and boosting SEO.
Of course, you don’t want a large number of negative reviews. But this is one case in which a few bad apples can actually improve the bunch. Research shows that online shoppers are more likely to buy products with an average rating of 4 to 4.7 stars than products with a 4.8 to 5-star rating. The latter seems too good to be true to shoppers, so they trust the mostly positive rating with a few negative reviews.
Most importantly, negative reviews provide significant insights into the customer experience. A complaint can alert you to a genuine problem with the product or service that needs fixing. Multiple angry comments that center on a specific part of the buyer’s journey may highlight an area of improvement for sales or support. Take these complaints seriously, and you may be able to restore the trust of unhappy customers and win back their business.
3 steps to turning a negative review around
Rebuilding trust is never easy, and with unhappy customers, it’s no exception. You have to genuinely care—customers have seen enough cut-and-paste apologies to know when they’re being ignored. And you have to do everything in your power to win them back, even if it means making concessions or calling in backup.
1. Promptly send an empathetic response
Support agents need to respond quickly and apologetically to negative reviews, both to ensure that angry customers know they’ve been heard and to minimize the potential damage it can do to the company’s image.
The worst thing you can do with a negative review is ignore it or react to it with an insincere, canned response. Don’t use generic language like “this problem is important to us” since that sounds like a blanket statement being used to cover up a specific problem. Also, avoid the cliche “we apologize for the inconvenience” since that reads as both formulaic and like you’re minimizing the issue.
Instead, write a thoughtful response that shows the reviewer that you’re really listening.
Be humble. Start by thanking the customer for their feedback and apologizing for the problem.
Be detail-oriented. Use language that directly addresses the reason for their complaint. Detailed, specific responses to each of the points made in the review will show that you’re really listening.
Be proactive. Provide them with a solution to their problem, and let them know they’ll be contacted by someone who can fix the issue.
A well-written response to a negative review can start to placate the customer. It can also demonstrate to potential buyers who are reading the customer reviews that your company takes responsibility for its actions.
2. Make an offer they can’t refuse
Most negative reviews boil down to the customer feeling shorted in some way. Offering them something in return is a way to acknowledge that they deserved better, and your company is willing to provide that.
The offer you provide depends on your business type.
Subscription-based businesses: Offer a free trial version of a higher membership tier for minor issues. If the complaint is serious, or if the customer is already at the highest tier, consider refunding the customer for that subscription period.
Non-subscription businesses: If a customer received a broken product, offer to send a replacement free of charge. For complaints related to your company’s service, provide a full or partial refund to win back the customer.
The extent of your generosity will likely be determined by the nature of the complaint. Just don’t leave them empty-handed—if afterward they still feel like they’re owed something, they’re not likely to ever become a paying customer again.
3. Share the burden
Support agents that don’t have the authority or expertise to solve the customer’s problem may need to refer the matter to someone who does and get them to join in the effort.
In many cases, the best person to turn to will be the sales rep who first contacted the customer. Not only will the two have a previously established relationship, but the sales rep is in the best position to understand why the customer doesn’t feel that what they paid for has lived up to the sales pitch.
If you have an integrated CRM that logs every customer interaction, you should be able to quickly find out which sales rep the customer has previously been in touch with. From there, you can reach out to the rep to get them involved in crafting the response.
While the support agent should publicly respond to the negative review, the sales rep can email the customer directly to provide their own apology. This response should be more personalized and based on the customer’s past interactions with the sales rep. The public response to a negative review has two audiences—the customer and every potential customer who reads it. The private contact between the sales rep and customer has an audience of one, and they’re sure to feel heard and appreciated.
To have the best shot at winning back the customer, this unified response needs to happen as soon as possible. To speed up the process, consider using Zendesk Duet, a software that combines sales automation with customer support ticketing capabilities.* *With this tool, you can quickly track down past customer interactions and collaborate with the customer’s primary sales contact, working in tandem to publicly and privately respond to a customer’s negative review and offer a solution.
Turn a negative review into your next customer
If you ultimately succeed in getting the customer back on board, you’ll have made the ultimate “lemons into lemonade” conversion. If it feels appropriate, reach out to the customer after the issue has been fully resolved and ask if they would be willing to update their online review. With this new input, people will know that your company is serious about addressing customers’ concerns.
Always work hard to make things right for unhappy customers. The more effort you put into resolving the issue, the more likely you are to win back the customer—and the more likely other shoppers are to take notice.