I’ve been pulled over for speeding twice in my life. The first time, I missed a speed limit change on a Michigan highway in the middle of nowhere. It was an honest mistake. The second time, I was driving a family member’s Porsche through the Arizona desert while ignoring the speedometer. That was my bad.

Yet both times, the officer let me off the hook. Why? Because I immediately admitted wrongdoing, apologized, and accepted responsibility for my actions, whether I had intended to speed or not. Cops like that.

You know who else likes that? Your customers. When you immediately address a bad review on sites like Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google — and then apologize for it and take responsibility (even if it wasn’t your fault) — you’re not just rebuilding trust, you’re boosting your credibility, repairing your reputation, and possibly even advancing your search engine ranking. For contractors, bad reviews present an incredible opportunity to turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied repeat customer who might even refer his friends and family. You just have to respond, take responsibility, and offer a solution.

Of course, there’s also a wrong way to do it. The other day, I was on Angie’s List looking for someone to seal my driveway. I found a comment where the owner had responded to a negative review from a customer. Instead of expressing concern over the reviewer’s experience with his company and offering to make it right, the owner started refuting the reviewer’s claims and placing the blame on him. It came off as highly unprofessional, and it was a very bad business decision, since everyone looking up his company on that popular website can now see how poorly he handles his customers’ concerns and complaints. In that instance, he did far more damage to his company’s reputation than that customer review ever could.

To help out business owners, Google offers these pointers for responding to online reviews:

• Be nice — This isn’t just a guideline, it’s also a good idea as a business owner. It’s difficult to win an argument with a frustrated customer, and you want to avoid burning bridges. Even customers who initially had a bad experience might come back. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous.

• Don’t get personal — Remember, you’re replying to feedback about an experience, not about you as a person. In addition, your response is public, and your business name will appear as the “author” when you respond to the review. Reply in a way that addresses the overall experience, and remember that there’s a real person on the other end.

• Feedback is helpful — Both positive and negative feedback can be good for your business and help it grow (even though it’s sometimes hard to hear). A customer who has written a review has taken the time to invest in the success of your business. If you’ve made a business improvement based on a review, thank the user and share the change.

• Keep it short and sweet — Users are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.

• Thank your reviewers — Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly, since each response reaches lots of customers, not just one.

• Be a friend, not a salesperson — Reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business. Share a tip or something they might not know from their first visit.

Remember: You’re in the driver’s seat, but when your customers pull you over to let you know you screwed up, it’s your reaction that will determine whether they let you off the hook.

Publication date: 6/2/2014



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