To hide or not to hide. The art of dealing with negative feedback

The art of dealing with negative feedback Reading Time: 12 minutes
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One of the first things that people search for before making a purchase are both positive and negative reviews. Because of how important they are in the buyer’s journey, companies boast and present as many positive reviews received as they can. And there’s a good reason for that – many people choose a product based exclusively on the number of reviews that it has received. But there is an art to dealing with negative feedback.

This effect is very popular on Amazon (or, in fact, any other eCommerce store with lots of product reviews), where the bestsellers can quickly multiply their sales thanks to a snowball effect:

Amazon Review

I don’t know a lot about microphones. But if I were looking for one for daily use, seeing so many reviews would definitely make me consider that particular one.

But a review is a two-sided coin. Not all opinions left by customers will always be positive. In this article, I will focus on those that give entrepreneurs sleepless nights. More specifically, I will try to answer the age-old question – should online store owners hide negative reviews?

But first, let’s quickly go over the basics. If you’ve not read it already, check out our article Should I hide negative reviews on my online store?

Where is the problem? Different types of reviews

Distinguishing between positive and negative reviews is easy. We all want as many of the former as possible and no more than just a few of the latter. But it’s not the only way in which we can categorise reviews. Sometimes our customers will focus exclusively on our brand, without even mentioning the product. These reviews are influenced by the experience of buyer’s journey and are what we call Company Reviews. Take a look at the below review. As you can see, even though the product is mentioned, there’s nothing about its quality or features. The whole text is focused on the website and the service itself:

Website feedback

However, while the service is without a doubt important (and, in some highly competitive niches it is fundamental to success), the eCommerce world is all about physical products. Naturally, the way people perceive your brand will be in part influenced by the quality of products that you offer. Even if you are not the manufacturer and just a retailer.

Of course, this works both ways. Compare these two reviews. The first one, positive, praises the brand for providing an excellent selection of products:

Product review

At the same time, in this review the customer promises never to buy from the store again, even though the main reason he is not satisfied is the quality of the product (and this particular store sells hundreds of them):

Quality Review

This distinction is important to keep in mind, as it will help you deal with negative reviews. Some customers tend to attack the brand when the product is to blame (although, in the Overstock example, the problem is also caused by their strict return policy). This may happen especially if you are selling products under your own brand or products of a brand that the customer is not familiar with.

But, is the above review really that harmful to the store or the product? I doubt that – especially considering the number of positive reviews that it has.

Positive reviews

In reality, these negative reviews are what I believe makes the positive ones more believable. This is because people do not trust things that look too good to be true. But that’s not the only reason I believe negative reviews can be beneficial. Everything depends on the intention behind them.

Why do negative reviews happen?

Every transaction is different, and every buyer’s journey is unique. That’s why there can be hundreds of reasons behind every review that you receive. From my experience, each of them falls into one of three groups:

  • Frustrated customers – This is something you can’t avoid. Luckily, these reviews usually constitute a minority. As long as you get enough positive ones to bury them, you have nothing to worry about. Most of the time they are so poorly written, no genuine customer will treat them seriously.

Frustrated Customers

  • Buyer’s journey issues – those are caused by the actual product or brand issues. Most of the time they will provide you with quality feedback on which you can improve. That’s why instead of trying to hide them, it’s better to embrace them. Usually, you get more of them in the very beginning, but as you learn from your mistakes, they become a lot less frequent. Sometimes, they might be caused by simple mistakes made by one of the team members – just like in the below example:

Buyers Journey

  • Reviews caused by poor customer service (backfire) – you risk getting them every time people responsible for communication with your customers behave poorly. They are dangerous because you usually get them in bulk. What’s more, they might come from people who are not even your customers at all but just happened to stumble upon a conflict between you and your customers.

Naturally, these groups are quite broad, and some of the reviews might fall into more than one. But categorising the reviews is not the main goal of this article. The real issue here is how to behave once the inevitable happens.

To hide or not to hide. That is the question

Hiding negative opinions about either your brand or your products sounds like an excellent idea. Someone writes a review, you just don’t like it, hide it, and nobody gets hurt. But is it really that easy?

In my opinion, trying to hide opinions of others, no matter how good or bad they are, will always backfire. Sometimes it might take hours, other times it might take months. But sooner or later people will find out about it. And once they do, they will get angry.

Of course, the above will happen only assuming that you keep receiving negative feedback and don’t do anything about it other than hiding it. But, while you could potentially avoid consequences, especially if you are small and don’t have that many reviews, I believe there are better options. What are they?

Use negative feedback to learn and grow your business

Running a business is all about learning. If you don’t watch your competitors, listen to your customers and stay open to changes and trends, you are headed for failure. That’s why it’s critical to listen to every bit of feedback that you can get. And customer reviews are one of the best sources of it. Especially those negative.

Customers who are not satisfied usually take more time to write their reviews and go more in-depth in their feedback (of course, excluding those who just insult you). This is the opposite of the hooray great product or service positive reviews that are often left by happy customers. Sometimes, the negative ones can be so in-depth as to contain pictures to show you exactly what the problem is. But it’s not only the super-detailed reviews that you can use to improve.

Poor Customer Service

Consider the overall feedback of Bargain Games UK. As you can see, 4.9 out of 5 from 491 is very impressive:

Overall Feedback

But if you look at their (very few) negative reviews, you will quickly notice a pattern. It seems that there is a slight problem either with the delivery company or the in-house dispatch department. Whatever the problem is, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look.

Look closerLook closer

Here’re other examples of a negative feedback caused by the same issue. While the first two are short and just indicate problems with customer service, the third one clearly shows that the customer wouldn’t have been so harsh if only they receive help from someone from the team:

Lacking helpLacking helpLacking help

Behind every above review, there is a problem that can be solved. That’s why, the best approach is to treat negative reviews as mistakes we all make, but from which we can learn and improve. Those who don’t make any, usually either don’t take any risks.

The only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the way they approach mistakes and failures. If you draw conclusions from what others say, you can improve and soon beat your competition. But that’s not the only reason you should welcome negative feedback:

  • The chance to build a community around your brand – People like companies that engage in conversations with them. If you handle negative feedback well, others will see it, respect you for it, and might join the conversation or even become your loyal brand advocates.
  • Negative reviews are free ideas delivered to your doorstep – Imagine getting 20 people to brainstorm ideas and help you improve your business. That’s exactly what those who leave negative reviews do for you. While it’s best not to get too many negative reviews, you should try to find as many valuable ideas in those that you get as you can.
  • Viral effect. Polish your customer service skills – If you handle negative feedback well, more and more people might start reacting to it. This, in turn, can lead to a viral effect that will attract new customers to your business.
  • You are perceived as trustworthy – People don’t trust those who have something to hide. If they catch you removing any negative comments, they will get angry. On the other hand, if you are open to all kind of feedback, you are viewed as mature and caring.
  • You show that you care – There’s nothing more important for customers than to know that the store owner and customer service employees are there to help them and that they respond to their feedback – even if it’s a negative one.
  • You prevent negative feedback from spreadingResearch shows that people on average share negative customer support experiences more often than the positive ones (and do it with more people). If you answer any signs of discontent promptly, you can prevent negative words from spreading.
  • And can win over unhappy customers – It’s not unusual for your customers to change their thinking from “I will never buy there again” to “I wasn’t really satisfied, but their reaction proved they are professional and I should give them a second chance”. And all it takes is listening to them and a good (and prompt) response to their problems. But don’t be too fast – otherwise, they might think you didn’t even listen and just gave them some generic answer.

Considering that the acquisition cost is always higher than the cost of remarketing, you should do your best to keep your customers around for as long as possible. And staying in touch with them and responding to negative feedback is one of the best ways to stop those who were about to leave. Now that you know that you should respond to all feedback, let’s see how to manage your reviews.

Reviews are opinions. And all opinions matter

Many, especially beginning online entrepreneurs are tempted to try to have as much control over what is being said about their brand and products as possible. In the beginning, most online stores keep all customer reviews on their website. This gives them a lot of control and helps them prevent a situation where they start off with negative reviews (and slipups happen, especially in the very beginning).

Unfortunately for all those who want to play the Big Brother, more tech-savvy customers have learned that it’s easy to manipulate the overall review score by hiding or removing negative feedback. That’s where third-party services such as YotPo, Reviews.co.uk, TrustPilot and Google Reviews step in.

Why use them? While you give away control over the reviews, customers feel a lot more confident when they read opinions posted on one of the review sites they are familiar with. Not to mention the SEO benefits that you get from external content linking to your site.

By giving away control, you gain trust. But you can’t remove feedback you don’t like anymore. On the other hand, as you might have already noticed, I’m far from asking you to do so. Instead, I believe you should engage, answer and compensate. As long as it’s worth it, naturally.

Should I answer to all negative feedback?

In the beginning of the article, I split reviews into two different categories – product and company reviews. Now it’s time to divide them into different categories, based on the reason of negative feedback:

  • Reasonable critique – There’s a good reason for the review and that’s your fault. You sold a poor-quality product, customer service was awful or you forgot to send the purchase. Whatever it is, the problem is always on your end. What to do? Answer immediately – just like Bargain Games UK did to one of the reviews I introduced earlier:

Reasonable Critique

  • Not a very targeted critique – Those reviews happen when someone else (for example, delivery service) turns the experience of your customers into a nightmare. Sometimes, it can also be because of the product, especially if you are just a retailer but the customer doesn’t know it. Whatever the case, you should always answer and offer help – especially if the review is attacking your brand directly:

Not targetted

  • Customer’s bad day – You didn’t do anything wrong, but the customer doesn’t like you or is not interested in your product anymore for no good reason. Or blames you for others not liking the product. Most of the time, it’s best not to answer so that you don’t make things worse. Luckily, some of those reviews are so bad that people will see them, read them and ignore them. This means that whatever you do, they probably won’t harm your brand. A great example is a situation when your client buys your product as a gift, but the receiver doesn’t appreciate it:

Bad day

  • A flood of pure brand hate/spam full of frustration with no arguments – These are written by people I like to call keyboard warriors. Sometimes they will leave you the rudest reviews right off the bat, even if the issue is very easy to fix or compensate. Other times, they will only activate their spamming mode once you try to engage in a conversation with them. When that happens, usually the only option that you have is to stop answering. Don’t feed the troll – or others will see it and come to join the feast.

The above categories are quite broad. Typically, the majority of reviews will fall into the first two – make sure that you answer them. And stay cautious when dealing with those in the third category. Those can be tricky. If you fail to answer politely, and your customers feel attacked, their next reviews might turn into those in the fourth category in a brutal follow-up attack.

To help you prevent that, let’s go over the five basic rules of answering negative feedback.

How to respond to negative reviews like a pro?

There are five things which you should keep in mind when dealing with negative reviews.

  1. Make sure that you address the main concern. Don’t try to distort the facts, focus on the main pain point and how to ease the pain. That’s all that matters. Your customer feels hurt, and their negative review is a call for help.
  2. Be polite and mature. You never know who’s on the other side. Some people are more in control of what they say but some will be hot-headed and will take everything all too personally. That’s why you should stay professional at all times.
  3. Answer as soon as you understand the problem. Some people will tell you to answer immediately. My thinking is, you shouldn’t answer until you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What’s their problem? Are you sure you can help them and understand what happened that made their experience not that enjoyable? Your customers want you to listen to them – make sure that you do before you engage in a conversation.
  4. Think of what could have been done better. This is part of the above. Once you start listening to your customers and their needs, think of how you can prevent this from happening again. What should be done to help you avoid this kind of feedback in the future?
  5. Offer compensation. This goes without saying – but – only if there is a reason for that. Usually, it’s not worth compensating people whose reviews fall into the third or fourth category – they won’t appreciate it anyway. Save your $$ for people who provide you with genuine feedback and ideas on how you can improve

As you can see, there are bright sides to negative reviews. While they sound scary, if you know how to deal with them, understand the underlying problems and are willing to improve, this kind of feedback can quickly turn out to be a lot more valuable than all the Good job great product that you (hopefully) receive on a daily basis.

Of course, the goal is to have as little negative reviews as possible. But, if you read it that far, I’m sure you got them at least once or twice. So instead of worrying – see how you can use them to grow your business.

Jacek

Jacek

Jacek is a seasoned writer and researcher in the field of eCommerce and SEO
Jacek
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