This is the second part of a series in which I breakdown examples of actual responses that businesses have published to negative reviews. As I mentioned in my last post, there are certain best practice tips for responding to negative reviews, but putting theory to practice is always tricky, especially when the reviewer was never even a customer.
Unfortunately, it has become all too common for competitors, disgruntled former employees, and other non-customers to write fake negative reviews about a business. That was the challenge faced by local search expert Mike Blumenthal, whose client Barbara Oliver & Company Jewelry had received a negative review on Google that appeared to be nothing more than competitor spam.
Fortunately, Barbara Oliver & Company had proactively established an excellent online reputation, so the review was not harmful to her rating, but it did raise the broader question of whether or not to publish an owner response to a spam review. That was the question Mike Blumenthal posed on his influential blog. The comments section featured numerous thoughtful suggestions that ranged from a more confrontational approach to ignoring the review entirely.
Ultimately, Barbara Oliver & Company opted to publish an owner response, and my own contribution was selected as the framework for the draft:
This is Barbara Oliver, owner of the company. You are right in that there are business owners out there faking reviews. I’m from the old school of small business ethics that insists on earning a good reputation over time with excellent customer service.
I give my word that the reviews here on my Place Page are 100% legitimate and left by my real customers. I personally remember each of the wonderful transactions they are mentioning. As you can imagine, we really appreciate the time they took to do this.
I invite you to come to our shop to see for yourself our beautiful jewelry, fair pricing and the fabulous shopping experience we provide for each of our valued customers. Barbara
The review itself does not describe a customer experience, and is really out of line, but it is also challenging because the reviewer questions the validity of the numerous 5-star reviews Barbara Oliver has earned. So rather than ignore the review, Barbara Oliver seized upon an opportunity to get in front of her prospective clients and give them a sense for the professional ethic that guides her as a business owner. She was able to achieve much of that aim in one sentence:
I’m from the old school of small business ethics that insists on earning a good reputation over time with excellent customer service.
Barbara goes on to assure her prospective clients that she remembers each customer experience referenced in the reviews. Then, she goes a step further by actually inviting the reviewer to the shop to see for themselves. In all likelihood, the reviewer was nothing more than a competitor or their surrogate, but Barbara Oliver builds affinity with her prospects by not getting defensive. In doing so, she demonstrates the professional ethic with which she identifies herself.
When businesses work hard to accrue a body of 5-star reviews, the occasional 1-star review turns out to be valuable marketing real estate because it stands out. While the best owner responses address real issues from real customers, all responses can be approached as unique branding opportunities.