In a time where social media has given us all a channel to be heard, the tone of our digital engagements seems to also be deteriorating. Negative online reviews can run the spectrum from perfectly valid and well-considered to more harm-focused and frankly caustic. In responding to each, here are a few keys we’ve found over the years to try to make some progress for each and every review.
Make it Prompt
This principle is very important with the idea being that progress and speed beat perfection. A short and prompt response beats a delayed but flawless one. A prompt response also does not allow a potential fiction to become a potential fact in that it was responded to and discussed quickly.
Make it Personal
As the review was written by a person, it’s important that it’s responded to by a person. I’d suggest a person and place (for example, Mary J. in Corolla) and a picture, if possible, of the responder. I’d also suggest personal ownership. For example:
Instead of this: Someone in our guest services team will reach out to you. (Good if prompt, too mechanical if late.)
Try this: I’ll walk over to our leadership group this morning and either Jim H. or a member of his team will reach out to you. (Key words: I/walk/leader/reach/you).
Make it Audience Focused
Remember, you have two important audiences here—the most obvious (but I would argue potentially less important depending on the tone of the review) is the author of the review. The second and more important is the reading/learning public looking for trust-building and credible customer engagement.
Build trust by doing four things in every response—show expertise, commitment, transparency, and empathy.
Don’t get bogged down (and lose time) in the details of the first audience—readers don’t have those details either and can’t make a judgment (think of it as an inside joke—you can’t laugh if you don’t know the story). Stay focused on trust and promptness.
Repeat their specific words to prove in the response a personal connection and find, in every response, at least one area of agreement. For example:
Review: I’ve been staying with X for 10 years and this home was disgusting. I loved being on the oceanfront, but this home was disappointing.
Reply: I would like to thank you for choosing us to host your vacation for those ten years, and while I’m happy to hear about the great location of your home, I’m sorry to hear about the condition of your home. On occasion, despite our best practices, we do get things wrong and it sounds like we did here. I’ll walk over to our leadership group in just a moment and ask Jill or a member of her team to reach out to you about how we can make this right and earn your business for another ten years. (Note as well the repeated theme of the response is the key words I/you.)
Mirroring is a Jedi mind trick—don’t lose an opportunity to prove to a guest that we are actively listening.
Avoid Being Polarized
Don’t let a review polarize (create a separation between what we say and what we do) our values to customers—meaning don’t let a “gotcha” moment happen around the business and its customers. Work to close the gap with the reviewer and the reading public by finding agreement on principles—the more disagreement there is, the more important highlighting even small agreements becomes. For example:
Review: While all the Company X staff members I met were professional, the Company X has gotten too big to care about people. My house was late to check-in and dirty when I walked in. I called and no one responded. Managers haven’t called me back either—I would never recommend them again. (Note: There are multiple disagreements here and only one agreement—highlight the agreement in the response.)
Reply: I (not we . . . take ownership) want to respond to you quickly on your comments. While I am happy to hear about our professionalism in person, I share (no polarization) your disappointment about your stay. For 22 years, any success we’ve had has only been a reflection of your personal experience and it sounds like we got it wrong this time. I’ve worked full-time here for several years now, and after I write this I’m going to walk over to our leadership team and share your thoughts with them. Bonnie or a member of her team will reach out to you and we look forward to learning what we can do to make this right for you quickly.
The above isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s a starting spot. In the end, 1) speed beats perfection and 2) mirror the guest. If just those two things are done consistently, the business will be ahead of the game. On a personal note, I always treat the review/reply interaction as a chess or poker game as a way to not take it personally—we each have cards and simply have to play them in the right order.