CHICAGO — The growth in Internet usage over the past 15-20 years has provided small-business owners with a litany of marketing tools to expand their reach. Problem is, that same ubiquitous Internet has made it oh-so-easy for disgruntled customers to post negative reviews that can potentially be long-lived and seen by a vast audience.
Ever since man could first speak and there has been an exchange of goods or services, business owners have been subject to “customer reviews.” But where word of mouth once limited the reach of an angry patron, there are virtually no constraints on reviews posted on a network that circles the globe.
Enter websites like Yelp and customers suddenly have the ability to write and post a negative review that can be read by countless people. Reputation management is important, especially when a brick-and-mortar business like a self-service laundry is limited by its area demographics.
So, what’s a Laundromat owner to do when a customer takes exception with his/her business and decides to air their perceived grievances for all to see?
It would be easy to become angry and defensive—but any action you take from that point probably won’t serve to improve the situation.
By thoughtfully considering the basis of viable complaints and exploring action that will address them, you are taking lemons and making lemonade. Customers—and prospective customers—who see a store owner thoughtfully receive a complaint and react positively are more likely to visit your operation.
Try implementing the following tips to gain the most from bad customer reviews:
Don’t Ignore It — Ignoring bad reviews won’t make them go away. And inviting the perception that customer complaints are falling on deaf ears is never a good thing.
Pause Before Responding... — When your business is a source of personal pride, negative reviews can be hurtful. You might not be in the best frame of mind immediately after reading comments critical of you, your staff or your business, so take some time to calm yourself if needed. If you respond defensively or in anger, you could make matters worse.
Read Between the Lines — As the reviewer may have been angry when they typed their comments, their position may be overshadowed by insults, or worse. Try taking the emotion out of their review to get to their true concerns.
...But Respond Promptly — This shows the reviewer that you value their opinion and care about them as a customer. (But take enough time to allow an impartial peer or colleague to look over your proposed answer, just in case.)
Be Courteous — Thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their thoughts about your business. Don’t be afraid to apologize if a mistake has been committed; often, an apology triggers a response to forgive. If possible, ask if you can have a conversation about their concerns offline, either via e-mail or phone.
Commit to Reviewing Your Operation — Use the information your reviewer provided to examine how your business operates and determine if, by doing things differently, you can improve your service for everyone’s benefit.
Familiarize Yourself with How Review Sites Work — Take the time to go through Yelp and other review sites and learn how they work. By fully understanding how a site functions, you’ll be best equipped to respond to customer complaints in the most advantageous way for your business.
All Reviews Provide an Opportunity to Improve — While receiving a critical customer review is never any fun, keep in mind that the person cared enough about your business and its place in his/her life to comment. Use it as an opportunity to view your operation through a customer’s eye and make adjustments or improvements if needed.