Tips for handling online business reviews 

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

April 3, 2015

WAUKESHA - Business owners not only must know how to market themselves via social media and with online tools, but also how to respond when a customer posts a negative review on the Internet.

Sarah Zubarik, public relations and social media coordinator at Image Makers Advertising Inc. in Waukesha, said while some business owners may choose to ignore negative posts or reviews, her staff recommends a more responsive approach.

By responding to a negative comment, a business may be able to improve the situation and create a customer for life.

Matt Koeppel, principal and technical director for Ocreative in Oconomowoc, said there are three ways to handle a negative online post: respond publicly; reach out, directly or privately; and request removal.

He agreed with Zubarik that a business owner should not ignore a negative review.

“If you choose to respond publicly try to respond promptly. Be polite and apologize to your negative reviewer,” Koeppel said in an email. “Thank them for bringing a situation to your attention. Do not become defensive, attack the reviewer or argue with them.”

He said a business owner should take the feedback and learn from it. A response could also include positive highlights about the company.

“Take a little time to compose your response, be professional, and keep it positive,” he wrote.

Koeppel said it’s not wise to publicly offer coupons or freebies as compensation for negative reviews because it may only spur more.

Those online reviews are very important, Zubarik said. People searching for a business online may choose one with a four-star ranking over another with a one-star ranking or none at all.

Google and its reviews is the main website business owners should pay attention to. Regarding online review site Yelp, Zubarik said it uses its own algorithms and some reviews are shown while others are not. She said the reviews can’t be removed and there are only small ways for business owners to respond.  They can respond to reviews left Angie’s List and Facebook, she said.

Encouraging positive reviews

Business owners, Zubarik said, should encourage customers to post positive reviews after a good experience.

“The more positive reviews you can have for you the less a negative review will affect you,” she said.

Koeppel agreed. “Make it easy for customers to provide your business feedback and reviews. Your website can provide direct links to sites where customers can review your business online,” he wrote.

When a negative review gets posted, Zubarik recommends finding out as much as you can about the situation and then respond without attacking the person who wrote it and apologize for any inconvenience. Also, if a phone number is available, call the person.

“Unless it’s a personal attack, never delete the negative review as it may fuel a fire somewhere else,” she said. “It’s best to respond to the best of your ability and handle it in a straightforward way.”

Koeppel said if a business owner contacts a reviewer directly, he or she may be able to resolve the issue privately and have the reviewer either update or remove the negative review. Requesting removal of the post is not always a solution and should only be used in special circumstances, he said.

“Some reviews may be from frustrated past employees or even a competitor. Every review website has various policies and practices in place to keep reviews real. Depending on the specifics of the review and policies of the website facilitating the reviews, you may request a removal of the review from the site. Realize that you may need to provide sufficient proof to support the removal of these reviews,” he wrote.

Alisha Hayes, co-owner of Pats Rib Place in Waukesha, whose overall online reviews are strong, said she doesn’t respond often, mostly because she doesn’t have the time. Plus, she said the customer is always right.

“It is important because they do have an influence on customer thinking,” she said of reviews. “I like to go back and look at them every now and then because it is important to know how the customer feels as well.”