Several Marine Retail University attendees took notes during the portion of the day that highlighted negative online reviews — a sometimes murky topic for business owners, who often feel the negative reviews are mistaken or unfair.
“Most people have a bad review, and their first response is, ‘How do we get it out of there?’ The reality is, once it hits the Internet, it’s up there,” says David Jensen, COO of Lighthouse Media Solutions. “Socially it’s not accepted, but it’s also challenging to remove something. But what you can do is move it down in the search results.”
Rather than try to expunge damning comments from review websites or company Facebook pages, the better option is to have a proactive response to negative ratings and reviews.
“A critical component to consumers’ decision-making process is from reading both good and bad reviews,” Jensen says. “The more important part is how you deal with it.”
The first step in locating such reviews is to do a Google search, perhaps a painful one, such as “company name” plus the term “sucks,” Jensen says. Or search for the company’s name, along with the words “bad service.”
If a company’s owners or managers have a high profile, it might also make sense to plug those names into Google searches, he says. Company owners also should make sure they’re claiming their review sites on platforms such as Google+ and Yelp, Jensen says.
“If you don’t have these two claimed, you’re leaving the door open for your competition to outpace you and increase their results,” Jensen says. “You also run the risk that your online reputation will get hijacked. These profiles are relatively easy to claim.”
It’s important to respond to positive and negative comments. “The more posts you make, the more it shows up in search engines, and the more ads these sites can sell,” Jensen says. “It’s very important that you respond to both positive and negative comments. It shows consumers you watch and you care.”
When you see bad reviews, “Don’t remove them, don’t remove them, don’t remove them. I can’t say that enough,” unless it involves profanity or actual slander, he says. “But you all have ways to defend against this,” Jensen says. “The best thing you can do is drive that stuff down, and the only way to do it is to generate more content. I can’t tell you the number of Yelp reviews that have gone from a very negative response to saying thank you in the end. That voids the negative comment for the next person who sees it.”
Whenever possible, respond initially online, but try to pacify a particularly heated customer offline, he says. “Making sure you respond is important, but making sure you generate more content is just as important.”
By generating content, Jensen means asking people that you know are happy with your service to review your business on Yelp. “If you try to write reviews and inject them into Yelp as a review, as soon as somebody recognizes that’s you, you lose your reputation or, rather, you gain a negative reputation, and there is no coming back from that because it will haunt you for the rest of your days online,” Jensen says. “Being transparent is also really important in an online environment.”
Once a negative situation is resolved offline, take it back on, Jensen says. “Bring the bad experience to a resolution as much as possible.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.