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You got a negative review online. Now what?

March 15, 2019

In the age of reviews, receiving a 1-star rating on an online platform is any small business owner’s worst nightmare. After all, 62.7% of consumers believe that online reviews are “important” or “very important” when choosing a local business.

Knowing this, the last thing you want is for a negative review to be the first thing prospective clients see when they search for you online.

Unfortunately, it is almost inevitable that this will happen to your practice at some point. Before you panic, take a deep breath. Remember: It happens to nearly everyone eventually, and while it’s neither ideal nor what you would have hoped to see written about your business, there are several ways to address the situation.

Let’s break this down into easy, manageable steps you can take to deal with a negative review and maintain your practice’s online reputation.

Step 1: Keep your cool

We said it already, but panicking helps no one and can make the situation much worse. When a negative review does come, the only thing you can do is move forward. Now, what that entails will depend upon the specific situation (more on that in a moment) – but it’s helpful to take a deep breath before making any decisions.

A bad review can make you want to lash out online with a response or even in person if you know the reviewer. However, it is imperative that you do not retaliate.

Step 2: Evaluate the situation

Take a moment to think through all relevant factors before taking action. For starters, is the review even real?

Fake reviews are a real issue that every business owner needs to be aware of, and they are unfortunately becoming more and more common. In fact, 75% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, though they may not have realized it was fake. Whether they come from competitors or random people who have never actually been a customer of yours, these reviews should be taken care of as quickly as possible.

As soon as you get a negative review, check your records to see if that person is actually a customer. In the case of small- to medium-sized tax and accounting practices with a set list of clients, this should be easier than for a retailer with hundreds of customer interactions each day.

If the review is fraudulent, there are steps you can take to get it removed. Before you jump to that step, however, you should still respond to the review first in case prospects come across it or it does not end up getting removed:

  • Address the complaint and apologize for the dissatisfaction
  • State you can’t seem to find them in your records as having been a previous customer
  • Offer to fix their situation and give them contact information

Once these steps are done, you can flag or report the review as fraudulent.

To flag a review in Google, go to your business listing in Search or Maps and navigate to the review you’d like to report. Hover your mouse next to the date of the review and a flag should appear.

Click on the flag and go through the steps to report a policy violation. If the review rises to the level of violating applicable laws, you can also choose to submit a legal request.

All that being said, it’s important to note that changes to your rating–whether it’s new reviews being added, a fake review being removed, or anything else–can take weeks or even months to be reflected in search results.

As of 2016, Google had knowledge of over 130 trillion pages across the web–and that number has undoubtedly grown exponentially in the years since. While not every page is included in Google’s index, it’s easy to see why it takes their bots some time to crawl every page and update what shows up in search (and the same goes for other search engines as well). As frustrating as it can be to see invalid results when searching your practice, re-crawling and/or re-indexing of any given page happens at varying intervals and can take days, weeks, or even longer.

If you find that you or your business has outdated review scores on Google and other search engines, there are ways to speed up the process. Most of them are quite technical so we will skip the details here, but please feel free to contact us for more information if you are encountering this issue.

Now, if the reviewer is, in fact, a customer or client (or someone who at least interacted with your business at some point, i.e., a prospect you had discussions with), start gathering as much information as possible.

What services did you provide them? When? Who was involved? Were there any recorded customer service calls you can listen back to? How long was the engagement?

Doing your research will help you both to address specifics in your response and to show that you are a hands-on business owner. The more you know about the situation, the better you will be able to manage it properly – and it can help you prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

In complex situations like these, it can help to consult with a trusted advisor. Unsure where to go for guidance? Feel free to reach out to our team at CountingWorks PRO.

Step 3: Choose your response

Situations like these are rarely black and white, so the correct answer (which could be no response) is not always easy to nail down. Let’s consider some of the Dos and Don’ts of how to handle negative reviews.

DO: Prepare. DON’T: Retaliate.

As we mentioned before, doing your homework on the matter at hand is a crucial first step before crafting your response. However, even if the situation seems completely misconstrued to you and your team, retaliating online (or in person) is not the answer. Gather your facts and remember that future customers may end up reading your response for years to come.

DO: Respond quickly. DON’T: Respond rashly.

A good rule of thumb is to respond to any review – positive or negative – within 24 hours. This shows customers and prospects that you care about your online reputation and are actively monitoring the feedback coming in for your business. However, writing a response before you’ve taken the time to understand the situation and think through all sides can cause you to come off as both emotional and unprepared.

DO: Address the review. DON’T: Disregard the chance to learn.

You have three options here. 1) Respond directly to the review through whatever site it was posted on, 2) contact the reviewer privately to discuss the situation, or 3) don’t respond.

  1. Respond Directly – A major positive of public responses is that they put your commitment to customer service on display for all to see. Don’t approach a public response as a chance to win an argument; instead, use it to rectify the situation and change the client’s perception. Keep it brief, own up to whatever the complaint is about, apologize (even if it wasn’t your fault), and offer to fix the problem.
  2. Respond Privately – Contacting a reviewer privately (through email, phone call, or direct message on the site) doesn’t get the public attention of a direct response, but it does allow you to connect with the customer on a whole different level. It’s never guaranteed that a private conversation will garner the reaction you’re hoping for, but it can be a great way to follow up on concerns, offer solutions, and come to a better understanding. If you are able to reach a resolution offline, don’t forget to ask the customer to update their review so that it reflects the new status of the situation. (Note: some review sites allow for anonymous reviews, in which case this option would not be possible.)
  3. Don’t Respond – Making a conscious choice not to respond does not mean your company should ignore the review altogether. What can your team learn from the review? Was their feedback valid, or at least a lesson in what not to do for the future? Reflect on the experience with any customer-facing employee and discuss how you can better handle situations like these in the future.

DO: Take feedback seriously. DON’T: Get emotional.

Never forget that the customer is always right. Whether you see the merit in their negative opinion or not, it’s important to validate their feelings and use their feedback to make your business better. Discounting a negative review as unfounded simply because you’ve received many positive reviews in the past is missing out on an opportunity for growth, even if you didn’t ask for it.

Additionally, don’t take a negative review personally, as hard as that may be. While it’s important to be compassionate with your reviewers, getting overly emotional – or confrontational – can damage your brand image in the process.

Step 4: Rectify the situation and follow up

After responding to the review, what was the resolution? Is there something you agreed to fix or change that you need to follow up on with this client? It’s vital that you follow through on any promises you made to remedy the situation, whether it be redoing a service or sending a refund. You never know–taking action might turn that 1-star review to a 4- or 5-star if the customer appreciates how you handled it.

Additionally, keep track of any negative reviews that you may have handled externally, such as the fake ones. If you reported a fraudulent review, was it removed? Do you need to follow up with the site (i.e., Google, Yelp, TaxBuzz, CountingWorks) or even take legal action if the review qualifies as defamation or slander?

However you chose to handle the negative review, make sure to tie up all loose ends. Online reputation management takes no breaks!

Step 5: Reevaluate

Finally, don’t let a negative review pass by without using it as a chance to learn and improve. Is there a pattern emerging among multiple negative reviews that reveals an issue with how you operate?

Keep in mind that if you keep getting negative reviews (or have received more than a couple), it’s not them–it’s you. Making changes to the way you do business is never fun for anyone, but if multiple clients have voiced the same concerns, it’s time to address the issue head-on. That could mean anything from improved customer service training for employees to rewording the copy on your website. Address feedback effectively and you may end up with many new (and satisfied) customers.

Bonus: Prevent negative reviews in the first place

The best way to combat negative reviews is to do everything in your power to ensure they don’t happen in the first place. Now, a certain amount of this is out of your control–sometimes a customer is having a bad day and no matter how outstanding your service is, they just can’t be pleased. That being said, it’s true that the best defense is a great offense, so put your best foot forward with the following prevention strategies:

  1. Provide great service – This is a no-brainer. The better your practice is, the better your reviews will be (generally). Invest the time and resources necessary to provide outstanding service to your clients that they’ll want to tell the world about.
  2. Ask for reviews – Building the number of reviews you have online should be an ongoing activity. The more reviews you have, the less one bad one could affect your overall rating. Think of it this way: if your very first review was 1-star, that can be devastating for your business; however, if you already have fifty 5-star reviews, then one negative one will have a much smaller effect.
  3. Prioritize reputation management – Effectively managing your online reputation goes far beyond asking clients for reviews. Are you checking your reviews every day and responding to them (both positive and negative) in a timely manner? Are you building online authority? Are you turning the best reviews into testimonials for your website? The more traction you can give to positive comments regarding your business, the better off your sales pipeline will be in the long-term.

Tackling negative reviews and managing your online reputation can be overwhelming. Our CountingWorks blog has some great resources to help you dive in one step at a time:

Referrals in the Modern Age: Why They Are Different and How to Adapt

Marketing Your Tax Practice Is a Year-Round Affair

Best Practices for Setting up a Virtual Tax and Accounting Practice

Make it Easy for Clients to Refer You Online

Reviews communicate to consumers you are trustworthy.

New Research: Reviews Increase Search-Result Click-Through Rates by 28%

Digging yourself out of a negative review hole can lead to many sleepless nights, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you generate lots of 5-star testimonial reviews on sites like Google, TaxBuzz, and CountingWorks, any negative reviews that follow can be seen by prospects as one-off situations, and may even help your business: 67% of B2B buyers want to see a mix of positive and negative reviews and 40% of B2B buyers say negative reviews help build credibility for a product.

At CountingWorks PRO, we’ve helped our clients get up to 70 legitimate, 5-star reviews on TaxBuzz.com, CountingWorks.com, and other sites across the web. See some of our top rated pros here and here.

If reputation management and responding to reviews wasn’t part of your business plan, CountingWorks PRO is here to help. To learn more about reputation management and to combat negative reviews, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 x3 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts.

Do you have questions or comments on reputation building and garnering more positive reviews? Please feel free to leave them below.

Author: Lee Reams II and Lauren Detweiler

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Lee Reams II and Lauren Detweiler

Lee Reams II
I am a marketing junkie who has spent the last 20 years developing and executing "best in class" word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. With over 10,000 happy clients I think we are on to something. The explosion in web marketing and social media have redefined the way independent professionals market their practices. Follow my blog to see if you can take some of our actionable ideas to market your own practice.

Lauren Detweiler
My passion lies in storytelling. I start work every day aiming to convey the right messaging to the right people, and the role of content manager for the CountingWorks PRO team allows me to do that for both our company and clients across the country. Since graduating university, I have been traveling and working remotely across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the USA.

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