While dining at the Mexican fast food chain Boloco, a customer sent out a tweet complaining that the music was too loud. Boloco, which operates 22 locations in New England, prides itself on responding to all feedback within 24 hours. This time, they set a record.
"We saw the tweet right away, called the restaurant and told the staff to turn down the music," says Allison Doyle, director of marketing for Boloco. "We also described what the woman looked like from her Twitter picture and had the staff deliver a cookie to her. Then we retweeted her tweet, adding the word ‘done.’ She was floored."
Doyle admits that this situation was easy to remedy, but her company looks at all reviews as opportunities: "When something goes wrong, using social media to remedy a situation is a gift," she says. "We’re not perfect, and we make mistakes. Having an opportunity to explain ourselves or make it right gives us a chance to engage with someone who otherwise might not come back."
Not all businesses look at bad reviews like Doyle. Featured on an episode of Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares, Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, received a lot of press when its owners engaged in arguments with customers who left less than favorable remarks on Facebook and Yelp.
Attacking your critics is the worst thing you can do, says Emanuel Rosen, coauthor of Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information.
"Bad reviews come with the territory of owning a business," he says. "Instinctively we see people who give us low grades as ‘haters,’ but they may simply be customers who had a bad experience with your product or service."
At first read it may not feel like it, but bad reviews can be a blessing. Here are five things to do when you receive a low grade:
Reviews give you an opportunity to track what people like and dislike about your business, says Rosen. Consider the customer’s experience and ask yourself if you did anything wrong.
"A negative review may point to something that’s broken," he says. "If that’s the case, fixing the problem is the best response."
The decision of whether or not to respond publicly should be done on a case-by-case basis, and often depends on the forum.
"A bad review on Angie’s List, for example, is different than book review on Amazon," says Rosen. "In general, if it’s a specific issue that might be of concern to many customers, it deserves to be appropriately and explicitly addressed."
If your company did something wrong, apologize and offer to fix problem, says Rosen. "However, if it's an idiosyncratic issue or something clearly insignificant, then not responding is better," he says.
Sometimes bad reviews are more than opinions; they’re lies. If this is the case, Richard Lee, partner with the Los Angeles law firm Salisian Lee LLP, says a business needs to take action to protect itself.
"If it’s clearly libelous conduct and has no basis in reality, it could cause harm if left unaddressed, says Lee. The first step is to write a cease and desist letter to the offending person, telling them to remove their statement. If that doesn’t work, you might have to follow up with a lawsuit.
In some cases a negative review can actually help you since the viewpoint of the negative review may be appealing to someone with different preferences, says Rosen.
"One person’s negative can be another person’s positive," he says. For example, a novice photographer shopping for a camera may read a review by a serious hobbyist who slams a certain model for lacking power features. The simplicity of the camera may convince a novice user that it’s right for him.
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Invite your customers to review your product or service and make it easy for them to do so. Put links to your social media pages and blog, and encourage customers to leave comments and questions.
"Having an ongoing stream of authentic reviews from people who used your product will protect you from the occasional bad review," says Rosen.
Lee agrees: "The best thing a business can do is to engage in positive conduct and generate as much positive publicity as possible," he says.