You went out to dinner and had a horrible experience. What do you do? Many people would go to a site like Yelp and post about how the food was late, cold, and over-priced. Hopefully the restaurant either sees your review and apologizes, or a future customer decides to eat somewhere else.
The truth is, consumers trust peers, even if they find that advice online. According to Jay Baer’s book, Hug Your Haters, 80 percent of American consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. People are swayed by online reviews even if they don’t know the person who wrote it.That’s why all types of companies take online reviews very seriously. What their customers say about them matters. But rather than cower to reviews, companies should embrace them, using communities to help resolve issues and create stronger relationships with customers.
Should you ever take down bad reviews?
One reason we read and review posts on Yelp is because Yelp operates with a very important rule - they don’t delete reviews. If they deleted reviews - good or bad - on a whim, you’d never trust anything on the site and people would stop posting. So, in order to maintain your community’s trustworthiness, don’t delete bad reviews even if the company reviewed asks you to (unless they’re libelous).
Even though your community doesn’t function like Yelp, you want members to have valuable conversations with each other, including giving their honest opinions about products or services widely used in their industry. And given that 80 percent of businesses think they deliver superior customer service, but only eight percent of customers agree (according to Hug Your Haters), chances are high that your community will attract some negative reviews.
Depending on your community’s privacy settings (i.e. if it’s open or closed to the public) you may encounter a problem that other review sites have - disgruntled businesses asking you to take down bad reviews.
What do you do? And how do you respond to businesses that say a bad review on your community is hurting them?
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the situation and teach other companies how powerful a tool community can be for connecting with customers:
1. Offer a suggestion
It’s important to acknowledge the power your community has to sway opinions - and not everyone likes the way those opinions are swayed. But just because the review stays up doesn’t mean the company in question is helpless.
Depending on your community policy, you can offer a couple of compromises. First, encourage the company to reach out to happy customers they trust. Those people can reply to the post, highlighting their positive experiences.
Second, if your community allows vendors to post, advise the company to respectfully reply to the comment and make amends.
Respect is key here and you may have to coach them on how to craft their response. It shouldn’t be accusatory and angry (“You’re killing our business!”). Instead, they should see the interaction as an opportunity to demonstrate their customer service and values.
A Higher Logic customer recently posted a wonderful example of this on the Higher Logic User Group (HUG). After many of their members posted about the same vendor being difficult to work with, that vendor sprang into action without any prompting. Not only did they post a sincere apology on the thread, but they said they would reach out to each member who had had a bad experience working with them. Those members then went back to the thread and recounted the productive one-on-one conversation they’d had.
In the end, the vendor turned a bad situation into a great situation. Not only did they publicly own their mixed reputation, but they turned those relationships around and transformed disgruntled customers into loyal customers.
2. Lean on your guidelines
It can’t be overstated - every community needs a strong set of guidelines. They help your members stay in line and they help you, as a community builder, navigate tricky situations. Instead of making decisions on the fly, if your guidelines are comprehensive, you can turn to them for help in almost any situation.
So, do your guidelines have a section about addressing negative reviews? If so, follow the steps already outlined and use the document to back you up - if you need to show it to the company in question, then do. It’s not your fault you can’t take down the review, you’re just following protocol. If you haven’t touched on this type of scenario in your guidelines, now would be a good time to add something.
3. Know what libel looks like
Admittedly, all of this advice comes with a caveat - if the post is libelous, you do have to take it down, or risk getting sued. As a community builder, it’s important to have at least a gist for what libel could be, so that you know to look into it further and decide whether or not a post strays into dangerous territory.
Basically, if your member writes a true fact - ‘this vendor didn’t fulfill our contract’ - even if it’s not a fun fact for that vendor to read, it isn’t libel. But if your member writes an opinion, not fact - ‘this vendor didn’t fulfill our contract, they’re lazy and their office smells bad’ - then the post begins to stray into libelous territory.
Just because a comment stings doesn’t mean you should take it down. On the contrary, a little tension can be good for a community. But when a member says something harsh and, more importantly, outright false, then you do need to take it down. (Here’s a handy guide to help you spot libel.)