When Mark Hennigan learned that a negative review of his travel agency had cropped up on Google late last year, the co-owner of Dreamers Travel in Hampstead, Md., jumped into action.
First Hennigan responded online to the comment in a courteous manner, even though the customer was, in his view, “way out of line.”
Then he reached out to current clients and asked them to post positive reviews of his agency “to offset that negative.” In a matter of days, seven glowing comments had joined the lone voice of the disgruntled consumer.
That all happened about seven months ago. Today when you enter “Dreamers Travel” into a Google search, a sidebar pops up showing three favorable reviews, along with a 4.4-star rating out of a possible five stars.
Dealing with negative reviews is just one aspect of managing a travel agency’s online reputation, said content and social media strategist Sophie Bujold, but it’s what most people think of –– if they think about the issue at all.
Fortunately, getting a negative online review isn’t likely to be a death knell for your agency –– especially if you handle it well.
“Sometimes showing people how you respond to that criticism will speak louder than not getting criticism at all,” Bujold said.
While it might be tempting to ignore a bad review, or to try and get it removed, in most cases the best policy is to address it, said Bujold. She offered a few approaches.
One option is to respond online by saying something like: “Thank you for your comment. We’re going to reach out to you directly, because we want to talk person to person.”
Or: “You’re right, we’d like to make it better. Please send us an email.”
If you choose to discuss the complaint online, be sure to take a constructive approach. And whatever you do, “avoid a war of words online,” Bujold cautioned.
Count to 10
If you find yourself angered or upset by a review, take time to calm down before responding, Bujold advised. “Step away and think about: What can we learn from this or use constructively, or how can I respond in a customer-centric kind of way?”
If you feel like you’ve already done everything you could to please the complaining customer, you might respond like this: “We’re not sure what we could have done better, but we’d like to talk it through. We’ll give you a call.”
In an extreme case –– if, say, a reviewer’s comment is malicious, disrespectful or rude –– most readers will recognize that the review is inappropriate and won’t give it much weight, Bujold said.
Bujold counseled against trying to get an unhappy customer to take down his or her negative comment as this can add fuel to the fire, prompting the customer to broadcast your deletion request online, as if proving his point.
Efforts to get negative reviews deleted have “snowballed” for a lot of companies, she said, adding, “The power really is with the consumer.”
Advice from Yelp
On its support pages for business owners, the review site Yelp says that a skillful response to a negative review can earn the customer’s trust and turn a bad situation into a positive.
But Yelp also cautions business owners to be judicious, warning that “if your reviewer perceives that you are being rude, condescending or disingenuous in any way, there's a chance he or she could get angry and make the situation even worse. Keep in mind that this is a vocal customer who could well copy and paste your message all over the Web.”