Tackling negative online customer reviews amid Covid hangover

Being transparent, proactive and setting clear expectations with customers are the best things brands can do to try to counter a potential increase in negative customer reviews online, several industry thought leaders advise.

The comments follow a call from Australia’s Small Business and Family Business Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, this week urging consumers to refrain from posting negative reviews online as short-staffed small businesses across the country make in the face of the lingering impacts of Covid.

Billson noted that many small businesses are working hard to keep their doors open and their employees and customers safe, as well as to serve their communities despite the challenges of growing numbers of isolated employees and supply chain disruptions.

“The best way to support small businesses is to be a caring customer – patient and understanding, with good intention and generous,” Billson said. “Small businesses are run by real people who deserve our respect and empathy.

“Negative reviews online can be devastating to a small business, especially one struggling to recover from a few tough years. So just put the phone away. Resist the urge to give that unfair one-star review .

Customology Managing Director Michael Barnard recommended companies provide full transparency and set clear expectations from the start to avoid frustrating customers during these challenging times.

“Updating the community via social media is a great way to get quick messages across, or even have signs on the door explaining current staff situations/impacts,” he advised. “Companies that have already built an army of loyal customers are less likely to experience negative feedback from customers because one of the many benefits of customer retention is actually that they have earned the continued support of their clients, whatever the circumstances.”

When customers leave negative reviews, it’s important that a business strives to respond to each with a clear explanation of the situation, Barnard said. “These are difficult times for everyone, so there has to be a degree of mutual empathy. For companies of course, but also for customers,” he added.

Tim Tyler, managing partner of loyalty and customer experience agency Ellipsis, said one of the ironies of social media is that it’s often impersonal.

“Customers who sympathize with a business owner in person and who are forgiving would be less pressured to voice criticism in reviews,” he admitted. “We recommend that you try to make the aftermath of bad reviews as personal and authentic as possible.

“Reply to them personally if you are the owner, apologize and offer to chat mask to mask so the reviewer realizes that a real person is being hurt by their words. Denial or long apologies rarely work, so let them know that you’re doing your best, but sometimes you don’t live up to expectations and that you’re sorry.

Ellipsis director Alex Lehwaldt said the ultimate goal for brands right now must be to manage expectations. Again, he recommended being transparent with customers about the challenges faced during the pandemic.

“Be proactive – not all customers know what’s going on right now and need to be informed, so they even have a chance to show sympathy and patience,” he advised.

Another convenient way to communicate could be through banners on your website, advising of delays, shortages, and the current status quo. Flyers, flyers in physical stores/locations can be used for the same purpose, as can references in email communications, Lehwalt said.

“Share the sincere wish that this situation is over. Be (re)active. Respond actively and professionally to all negative reviews posted online, whether on Google or Product Review,” Lehwaldt said. “It shows that the company and the people are on board, care about customers, remind readers how tough times are.”

Fake reviews reward

The Ombudsman’s comments on the lasting and damaging effects of negative reviews online also follow a recent submission to the federal government’s social media inquiry calling for digital platforms to make it easier to remove fake reviews. Billson said more than 30 companies have come to ombudsmen to try to gain support against fake reviews in recent years.

“Unfortunately, small businesses have little recourse when a fake review is posted, so a transparent review system needs to be in place,” he said. “In the United States, Google acted to protect the interests of investment app Robinhood by removing hundreds of thousands of fake reviews from its Google Play Store. We believe that small businesses should benefit from similar protections of their interests. »

Ombudspersons recommend digital platforms create more tools to prevent fake reviews and be clear about the evidence small businesses must provide in order for fake online reviews to be investigated and removed.

“Small business owners are under tremendous pressure as they work to get their businesses back on track. Fake reviews contribute to these mental health pressures. Digital platforms should do more to support the small business community said Billson.

Google has been criticized locally for not having enough mechanisms in place to verify the identity of users submitting reviews and for not taking a more proactive role in removing fake reviews from its platform outside of court orders. .

Following the mediator’s latest comments, a Google spokesperson said CMO 55 million reviews and nearly 3 million fake business profiles that violated policies were blocked on its platform in 2020. The technology was also used to disable more than 610,000 user accounts after detecting and investigated suspicious or policy-violating behavior. Maps information is also scrutinized, with processes available to flag reviews, inappropriate content and misleading locations for removal.

To support businesses, the platform referred to its “reviews feature”, designed to share useful information with potential customers based on experiences or questions about experiences at a specific location. It can also give good businesses a chance to shine and attract more customers, the spokesperson said.

The federal government’s investigation into social media and online safety was launched in December 2021, with public hearings ongoing on January 20 and 21. Nearly 60 submissions were received, ranging from social media platforms such as Twitter, TikTok and Google, to traditional media operators and regulators, state-based child safety and school groups, industry bodies digital and wellness groups. A final report is expected on February 15. 2022.

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Joseph P. Harris