PRoactive | Negative Reviews Can Be Your Best Friend

No, that’s not a misprint. That growing collection of online reviews can provide critical insights into how your customers perceive you.

Are there fake reviews that both extol and demonize companies, planted by friends and competitors of companies? Of course. A discerning reader should take the time to make an educated guess based on the totality of the comments encountered.

For your company, negative reviews may actually be more important than positive ones—because they offer important clues and tips about how to resolve issues so that your future reviews are more glowing. As a business owner, you would be well-advised to crave those negative comments—even though they will make your stomach tighten and often prompt the “fight” element of your “fight or flight” instinct.

But instead of fighting back with harsh words that make you seem defensive, or fleeing to the seeming safety of hiding your head in the sand, take a long look at what those reviews are telling you. Connect the dots of multiple reviews with the same criticisms. Then, use that intel to fix problems. This is true of any size and type of organization, whether you print custom labels or prep packaging.

To illustrate this in action, let’s use a simple example in an industry we’ve all encountered—a three-outlet chain of local car washes. One gets glowing reviews (A+); another is consistently criticized (F); the third receives a mix of positive and negative reviews (C). As the owner of these car washes, where do you plug in with this information?

  • Identify consistent threads, positive, negative, and neutral, at all three facilities. Tally the threads to begin forming a picture of the issues cited at the facilities. This doesn’t have to feel scientific—just use basic common sense. For example, if the A-rated facility reviews identify attentive customer service as a plus while the F-rated one reveals just the opposite, it’s probable that there is a personnel problem. This could be the on-site manager and/or the line employees. It doesn’t seem to be a company-wide customer service failing, because of the overwhelmingly positive reviews at one facility.
  • Attempt to contact the negative reviewers to assess and address. If the reviewers can be reached, reach out in an effort to confirm what their issues were, gather more details, and address ways to remedy the situation. Don’t get defensive. Just attempt to determine what went wrong and where. Presuming the reviewer’s comments appear legitimate, see if they will try again with an offer of a free wash or other perk. This will provide valuable additional intel. One, you’ll be able to weed out malcontents who won’t be happy with anything from those with a valid concern. You can make an on-the-spot decision about what, if anything, to offer as an inducement to return, based on your sense as you converse with the person. As feasible, also reach out to positive and neutral reviewers, thanking the former with a reward and encouraging neutral folks to come back on your dime.
  • Talk to the on-site manager/staff to get their input and feedback. See what matches up between employee thoughts and customer comments. This is often a good way to identify problem employee(s) and/or implement new customer service protocols to minimize future issues.
  • Develop a systemic way to interview/survey customers on-site. You can maximize positive feedback and minimize negative comments by catching these people in the moment. Don’t ask them to fill out a long survey. Either just talk to them and get their feedback or, if it feels appropriate, ask for written feedback while they’re still there—no more than five questions. Also encourage them to post a review if you feel their experience was positive. As part of this, earmark those revisiting based on your outreach to see how their follow-up experience went. This will be extremely valuable to validate how well you’ve fixed (or haven’t fixed) the problem. If the feedback is positive, and you feel it’s safe, invite the person to do a follow-up review. There’s almost nothing better than reading about how a company took hold of a problem and fixed it. Everybody can look good when all is going well; it’s in the trenches when there are problems that a company’s true value is discovered.
  • Use this intel to refine your upfront customer communications. It’s critical to clarify what customers should expect from you and vice versa. By issuing “rules of engagement” at the outset, you may weed out those who don’t feel there’s a good fit (and who will give you a negative review).
  • Share what you learn among all three facilities. Have a candid conversation with everyone and impart/clarify overarching expectations. Bear in mind that your “prescription” for each facility will merit refinement based on unique demographics or other factors (e.g., a competitor across the street).

By paying close attention to negative feedback and acting positively on it, you can substantially enhance your bottom line over time.

Mark Lusky is president of Lusky Enterprises Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. Since 2008, he has worked with Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital printer of custom labels, as a content developer specializing in expert advice articles. Lusky presents common-sense ideas grounded in doing what’s real and right for managing and enhancing public image.


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