What To Do When an HVACR Customer Leaves a Really Bad Online Review
How to salvage negative social media attention
We’ve all heard of people “taking to social media” to rant, call someone out, or lambaste a government official or a city where they got a parking ticket.
Online reviews (free advertising!) can be a contractor’s best friend. But angry customers trashing them on social media can be their worst headache.
“The issue with online reviews is it sets up the customer’s perspective before you even walk in the door,” said Anthony Perera, founder and president of Air Pros, based in southern Florida. “It also has an effect on Google rankings, where you appear in Google searches … all that stuff comes into play when it comes to Google reviews.”
Here’s what to do about less-than-savory reviews on Google, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Facebook, Nextdoor, or whatever platform your customers choose to make their feelings known.
ENSURE IT’S LEGIT
“Negative reviews can often fall into one of three categories,” said Angie White, director of human resources and customer service at Mercurio’s Heating & Air Conditioning in Tacoma, Washington. “The first, and most rare, one is a completely fake, negative review submitted by a competitor or a customer who accidentally selected the incorrect company.
NO WAY, JOSE: A screenshot of Advance Air & Heating Company Inc.’s Facebook page shows how owner and president Karen Lamy DeSousa deals with a customer who gave the business a one-star review. In this case, she believes the review to be bogus.
“I will always respond with something that lets them know that I am unable to find their account in our system and would appreciate a call at our office to discuss their concern in more detail,” White added.
That happened at SS&B Heating & Cooling in Springfield, Missouri, where Angelia Olaiz Childers works.
“We have one from a guy who applied for a job but had no experience and could not pass a background check,” she said. “So I guess he got mad and made a false review. I think you should just reply in a civil manner and move on.”
If the company really did earn the complaint, good customer service means apologizing and making things right, so the customer feels inclined to change their opinion of the company — and, consequently, the review.
The most important thing to remember when responding to a negative review is to do just that: respond, White said. Otherwise, it will seem like the company doesn’t care, and potential customers will likely take their business elsewhere.
One reason for negativity is that the customer has a perception of a company’s service that doesn’t align with the company’s documented facts, White said.
“Because perception is reality to a customer, we want to honor the fact that they are upset about something and do what we can to make it better … instead of sounding defensive in explaining our side of the story,” she said.
Taking ownership of reviews also means being proactive in soliciting good reviews from customers whose experience was positive.
“The way our system is set up, every customer is automatically sent a link after we finish our calls,” Perera said.
THE BEST APOLOGY
They say the best apology is changed behavior — and that’s certainly true when it comes to online reviews.
“The first step is to take ownership of the problem, as if we really did the misdeed,” said James Barrett, marketing director at Access Heating & Air, Boise, Idaho. “Whether it’s true or not, a bad review is simply a reflection of how someone feels, and arguing that a customer shouldn’t feel a certain way never ends well for our business. Whether it’s a service issue or a price complaint doesn’t matter.”
Next, a manager will reach out to the customer.
“Oftentimes, there’s a lot more detail that was left out of a review than initially stated,” Barrett said. “You have to relive the bad experience and not be afraid of what else may surface.”
If the company messed up, Access Heating refunds any money they collected.
“A few days later, we call the customer back, asking them if they would trust us again with a second chance,” Barrett continued. “Surprisingly, most people say yes. Now it’s game on to put any apology into action.”
Online reviews are a major component of Air Pros’ marketing strategy, as it should be for any company that wants to be successful, according to Perera.
“At the end of the day, we always try to go above and beyond and negate any bad review that we get by obviously calling the customer, following up with the customer, seeing what could be done to resolve the issue if there is an issue,” he said.
You can try to dispute bad reviews with Google and get something taken down, he said, but that’s not generally a successful strategy, long term — Google and other platforms probably get a million dispute requests a day, so an answer won’t always be forthcoming.
“At the end of the day, our objective is to call the customer, try to mitigate any kind of issue that made it happen, and offer a resolution to keep them satisfied,” Perera advised. “And nine times out of 10, if you do that, you can usually win the customer back over again — get the review taken down and also have positivity put back in its place. In my experience, as long as you keep the customer informed and you try to resolve the issues, they’re more understanding [of your company] than of the guys who go on and bash them back or respond back with more negative connotations.”
White has a similar process that she follows when the customer has an accurate account that clearly shows the company dropped the ball:
- Thank them for letting the company know about their experience.
- Apologize for the error.
- Outline any of the future steps that are already in place. For example, she might write, “It looks like we do have our installation manager scheduled at your house on (date) to review the work the installers did.”
- Ask them to call the office and speak with her over the phone to discuss possible solutions.
- Thank them again for sharing this information so that the company can improve their service in the future.
LAST DITCH EFFORT — LEAVE IT UP
Sometimes, a bad review is unavoidable. You’ve tried to engage the customer, and there’s not much you can do. Or the customer’s stated desire was completely unachievable. At that point, a contractor is responding for the benefit of potential future clients.
“You respond back giving your side of the story, and the customer who’s looking you up can read your response to that customer,” Perera said.
Air Pros has a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee, so they will go back and redo work if the client is not satisfied. If they’re still not happy, Perera won’t usually refund the job — although he will occasionally. It’s all about the opportunity cost of an unhappy client. Sometimes, it’s worth it to refund the money and pacify the customer to avoid a bad review, he said.
“Say you go to a service call, and that call, say it’s $150,” said Perera. “A lot of companies pay $40, $50 to make a phone call come in, regardless. So what is the value of refunding that money back, versus having that negative review on your profile? That negative review can have a larger impact on you financially than providing an unhappy customer their money back.”
The worst thing to do, though, is not respond at all.
“I think, even when you have a bad review, when a potential customer sees how you respond and the majority of the rest of your reviews are good, it shows that you’re a real company and willing to improve on your mistakes,” said April Hines, who works at Bay Area Air Conditioning in Crystal River, Florida. “We are very proactive in responding. We have over 1,000 reviews, and we respond to all — good and bad. Many times, a bad review isn’t even our company or customer, and I’ll reach out online for them to give us a call back.”
Publication date: 5/13/2019