Online reviews have become ubiquitous in our everyday lives. Mobile devices have made it incredibly easy to find reviews on just about anything. Whether you’re looking for an eye doctor, a car, or a quick bite you can instantly see what others have to say about establishments near and far. Online reviews have become so commonplace that the Federal Trade Commissions Consumer Review Fairness Act actually protects consumers’ right to share honest opinions about your business, products, and services both online and on social media. Like them or not, online reviews aren’t likely to go away.

We are all Unhappy Customers at Some Point

Anyone that’s ever owned, operated, or worked in any business has undoubtedly dealt with unhappy customers. The rest of us have almost certainly experienced less than stellar customer service a few times in our lives. Whether it’s a coffee spill or the unexpected surprise at the car dealership it’s not particularly rare to have a bad day. Sometimes the frustration is warranted; like when the order is wrong or a product arrives late or even broken. Other times however expectations may be a little less realistic (no the Jedi light sabers aren’t fully functional…) or maybe we’re just impossible to please (there’s too much cheese on this extra cheese pizza…)

While customer service confrontations are nerve wracking in person the potential damage (or at least the perception of it) grows exponentially when customers take their frustrations online or to the likes of Twitter, Facebook, or Google where they can broadcast their plight to the ends of the earth. These bad online reviews can seem unfair, especially when there was no opportunity to make it right before going online.

Is Ignorance Really that Blissful?

Unfortunately, customers don’t owe us an explanation, or anything at all for that matter. They invested their own time and money when visiting our business. They may not have time to track you down and explain and they most certainly aren’t obligated to help you iron out the kinks of your business (regardless of whether or not you believe they exist.) The reality is only a tiny fraction of customers will take the time to tell you about a problem. The rest will just leave and may never give you another chance.

Silence Isn’t Always Golden.

Just because only a few customers complain doesn’t mean your product or service is down right amazing. It could just meant that your customers are too busy to take time to re-engineer your product or service for you.

Case in point: Years ago I worked for a company that spoke about the high quality of their products, claiming they were so well engineered that their customers rarely ever called for support or filed warranty claims. I was initially very impressed by this claim, it was one of the reasons I accepted their offer. However, once I started visiting customers I found that the vast majority of them were throwing away parts or making major changes in the field. Some customers had entire rooms filled with stacks of unused parts.

The gruesome reality was that every product we shipped had problems. I asked one technician why he had never called about the issues and his response was “I don’t get paid to engineer your product for you.” He was absolutely right. If he stopped work every time he ran into a problem he would end up unemployed. It was a hard way to learn a lesson.

Just because your customers rarely complain doesn’t mean your product or service is amazing. Sometimes bad online reviews are a valuable wake-up call. Ignoring them can be costly and may even hinder your ability to acquire new customers.

Bad Online Reviews. A Blessing in Disguise?

It’s frustrating to receive bad online reviews however could they actually be a blessing in disguise?  While inconvenient, a bad review provides potentially valuable perspective as well as an opportunity for you to interact with a customer on a whole new level.  Did you know many companies spend thousands of dollars on research just to get insights from their customers? Face it, if everything about a business was flawless you would barely ever speak to your customers. The customers entire experience would be little more than handing you money and leaving with your product or after service has been performed.

Real customer relationships start from conversations.

Unfortunately those conversations sometimes start with frustration.  A bad online review gives you an opportunity to see through their eyes, empathize with them, and possibly learn something that can change your business for the better.  Sometimes solving that customers frustration actually helps other customers. Keep in mind that for every one person that leaves a bad review there are probably at least 10 more with similar experiences that didn’t leave a bad review they just left and never returned.  How can you learn from a customer that never returns? You can’t! The customers online reviews care enough to let you know and give you an opportunity to make it right, and for that you should thank them.

Your Responses & Dedication Will Endear You to Customers.

Certainly there are those looking to take advantage of a situation but typically they are obvious, even to others reading the review, and your response will shine a light on those situations.  Responding to those reviews can even be great marketing, invite them to try something new, or offer them a discount on something else that may be of interest. Just because they didn’t like their burger doesn’t mean they won’t like something else on the menu.

Online Reviews Average Out Over Time.

Ultimately, the best protection against negative reviews is being quick to communicate with honesty and integrity (and maybe some humor…)  The negative reviews and your responses to them help humanize your organization and highlight your commitment to great customer experiences. Being open an honest also reminds happy customers to go online and tell about their great experiences which helps to drown out the naysayers. Organizations like Wendy’s are using quick wit and humor to respond to negative reviews and people love and follow them for it. While most SMB’s aren’t likely to have a team of people to respond we can still see a difference by understand the potential value and making the most of our online reviews.