Bouncing back from Negative Online reviews

Negative online reviews can deal a costly blow to the reputation of your business. What is the best course of action to take when you do get a poor review? 

By Nigel Bowen

Businesses have had to worry about reputations since time immemorial, but never has it been easier for a dissatisfied customer, disgruntled ex-employee, unprincipled competitor or bored teenager to inflict reputational damage. 

While there are strategies businesses can put in place to minimise negative online reviews, such as being obsessive about providing good customer service, it is unlikely even the best-run business will manage to keep everyone happy all the time.  

The standard course of action when confronted with negative customer reviews 

The standard advice offered to businesses that have been unjustly maligned on social media and online review sites is to:

  • Privately contact the reviewer and attempt to placate them
  • Respond publicly on the review site, putting the other side of the story
  • Contact the site and argue that the review is inaccurate and should be deleted 

In a perfect world, one of these steps would put an end to the problem. 

In reality, there is every chance the legitimate reviewer won’t respond, the internet troll won’t let up and the review site won’t take any steps to prevent your digital reputation from being tarnished unjustly or maliciously.  

The extreme approach: suing for defamation

The extreme option is to sue either the reviewer or the review site for defamation. 

Unfortunately, it is often impossible to determine the reviewer’s true identity, and few businesses want to take on a well-resourced review site. However, there are notable exceptions.

In 2020, Gold Coast accountant Kyran Seeto took Google to Australia’s Federal Court, chiefly over the tech giant’s refusal to remove a review alleging that Seeto needed training in customer service and took too long to lodge tax returns. 

Seeto channelled the feelings of many SME owners when he told the ABC: “I’m trying to build a business, but with literally a keystroke they can destroy you. It’s not fair.”

How bad are bad reviews?

Dr Shahin Sharifi, senior lecturer in marketing at Macquarie Business School, conducted extensive research into the effects of customer reviews on hotels. 

“It seems people booking a hotel didn’t pay attention to nuanced reviews; they focused on the ones that were positive or negative,” Sharifi says. 

“Interestingly, the positive and negative reviews were perceived differently. The good ones were seen as trustworthy, but the bad ones were seen as a retaliatory response driven to a single incident or failing. 

“That suggests businesses shouldn’t be overly concerned about a negative review, especially if it’s surrounded by positive ones.”

To read more of this article, see it at INTHEBLACK