Arment Dietrich

Bad Reviews: A Crisis or a Blessing?

By: Arment Dietrich | August 19, 2014 | 

Bad Reviews: A Crisis or a Blessing?By Clay Morgan

My wife broke the news one day.

“Somebody wrote a really bad review of Joe,” she said.

I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I’m sure it will be OK.”

“He’s really upset by it. Can you help him?”

Joe is my brother-in-law. He’s a good guy who takes a lot of pride in his work and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.

He is also a small business owner.

He works as a contractor in North Carolina, doing all manner of repair and renovation work, power washing, painting, refurbishing, and other small projects for people all over the Goldsboro area.

And he’s pretty good at it.

A real boon to his business occurred a bit more than a year ago when he was listed on the website Home Advisor as a “screened and approved” vendor.

Suddenly, he was getting more leads, and better leads, resulting in more and larger jobs.

Then the review came.

After a series of five-star reviews, a bad review came in. He was given one half of a star and the reviewer said he did not repair the leaky roof for which he was paid.

That’s the polite version.

Being fairly new to Home Adviser at the time, Joe was fairly convinced his business was shot due to this one review ruining him on his top lead generation tool.

Is a Bad Review a Crisis?

In crisis communications, one of the most important things is to evaluate whether you are actually facing a crisis.

After all, jumping into crisis mode when really you have a small problem can be just a detrimental as a real crisis.

Gini Dietrich has this phrase. She usually says it to me after particularly tense conversations during staff meetings.

And right or wrong, it usually involves something about the company or the blog.

“It just hurts when someone says your baby is ugly,” Gini will tell me.

That is very true and, among Gini’s babies are her communications firm and Spin Sucks.

Just like one of Joe’s babies is his business and the immense pride he takes in his work.

So, when the bad review came in on a site that is very important to his business, was he hurt that someone called his baby ugly, or was there a real crisis in the works here?

My assessment is that his feelings were hurt. But I didn’t see where one bad review was going to leave a lasting impression.

I even ran it past Gini and she mentioned that one bad review might even help lend credibility to the other good reviews.

We took some time and crafted a response to the review.

This demonstrated that Joe completed more than the scope of work in an effort to stop multiple leaks—not just the one he was hired to repair.

It also showed that Joe was sympathetic to the plight the homeowners encountered.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 11.41.17 AM

Then he went about his business.

The Blessing in Disguise

I didn’t think much more about it until a couple months later when Joe called. It seems someone decided to hire Joe based on his response and handling of the poor review and because the company has received a string of excellent reviews from the site.

In fact, he has 17 positive reviews to one negative. Not bad.

The bad reviews will come from time to time. In this case, the bad review seemed to be a one-off, just one bad experience.

An overreaction could have made Joe look bad, but a sincere, measured response actually resulted in winning more business.

The takeaways are pretty simple:

  • When something happens (a bad review, an errant tweet), evaluate if this is really a crisis. Focus on the what affect it has on business, not how it makes you personally feel.
  • Do respond, but do so appropriately. Is it actually a customer service issue, or is it a crisis? The answer to that question should govern your response.
  • If someone called your baby ugly, cool off before you respond. Otherwise, a customer service issue could become a true crisis. If your emotions are too raw, enlist some help in tailoring your response.
  • Evaluate the reviews. If you have several negative reviews in a short period of time saying the same thing, you might have a larger issue that needs to be addressed.
  • After you have dealt with it, move on.

I know it is hard. You own a business, you work your tail off to grow it, and someone says something bad about it. There’s a sting there.

I know Gini feels it from time-to-time and Joe sure felt it with that review.

However, the sting of your feelings getting hurt doesn’t always equate to a crisis that needs a crisis-like response.

Really evaluate what is being said, calm down, temper your response, and move on.

  • Great point, Clay! Many companies respond to a negative review out of emotion, adding fuel to the fire, instead of putting out the flames. Even if you are dealing with a client that simply can’t be pleased, responding with an attitude of making things right in a reasonably transparent manner reflects well on a company.

  • That’s certainly true for me as a Tripadvisor user (that I pay attention to how a hotel responded to complaints to gauge the likelihood that the establishment would be responsive to my concerns). Great points here, Clay!

  • biggreenpen I love Tripadviser! I use it all the time.

  • CarrieMorgan And I know it is difficult to push the emotion out of it. That’s why Joe’s asking for a little help with the response was awfully smart.  I wasn’t emotionally invested and could help him write a good response instead of an emotional one.

  • It’s sooo hard not to act quickly and defensively. And even when you think you’re not being defensive, it’s sometimes valuable to take an even longer moment, breathe, and ask someone else to look at it before you hit publish. 

    Great example of doing it well.

  • ClayMorgan CarrieMorgan Joe´s asking for help it was a smart move. You don´t usually see this kind of attitude from a business owner: to understand he needed help, to cool off and ask for it. We put the emotions first, answer and then stop to think about, especially when the business just launched.
    I think this is a great example of why businesses do need a professional communicator, even at a small level. In Joe´s case he was lucky to have you.

  • Eleanor Pierce Concur!

  • “Really evaluate what is being said, calm down, temper your response, and move on.” This quote is so key. Often organizations make a crisis out of something that would have just been a blip because they don’t follow this advice. 

    But this is a great case study (and reminder) of why you should always look for ways to turn that negative review frown upside down

  • You should tell the girls’s favorite uncle that I have one—ONE—negative review on Amazon. I replied to the guy and he feels so badly, because I was so nice, that he’s trying to change the review. (To be fair, he was mad that the font is too small for him to read, not because he hated the book.) But I will say this: Negative reviews DO create a level of authenticity and credibility. What do you think when you go to a site and all they have are positive reviews? For a while there, I was going to pay people to write negative reviews for me!

  • corinamanea ClayMorgan CarrieMorgan You’re right, Corina. Even I have to cool off…and I’m an expert at this stuff. Sometimes I write things and then delete.

  • ginidietrich No matter what he says, he is NOT their favorite uncle. I am!

  • LauraPetrolino Yea. A lot of people have trouble with the “move on” part though. They just let it stew.

  • ginidietrich My first thought: this is too good to be true!

  • Yup, totally 100% agree. The woman who owns Hank’s ‘doggie daycare’, Barkingham Palace, has one review on Yelp. ONE. And it’s negative (though the reviewer has never had her dog stay with them). When I first started taking Hank there, I posted a glowing review (because they are amazing!!), and Yelp filtered it and won’t show it because I don’t post enough reviews on Yelp. I guess I don’t  have “Yelp authority”. 
    She and I had a discussion about it recently, and I was really angry about how Yelp decides which reviews show up publicly, and which don’t. She said to me “You know, it makes me mad too, but we’ve been in business for ten years. Word of mouth reviews mean far more to me than that one negative review on Yelp.” I think the girls’ favourite uncle handled this perfectly. Great case study, ClayMorgan

  • This is a GREAT post. When I worked with Chunk-n-Chip I always turned a bad Yelp review into a chance to flip them into brand advocacy and had quite a bit of success!

    Not sure if you know about the Amazon Vine Program? They have professional reviewers they pay to review products sold even if they aren’t an expert. One guy who gave Marketing in the Round a so-so review also reviewed fishing gear and something else so unrelated. It turns out that products with bad reviews outsold products with no reviews.

    So what does that say about reality?

  • I’ve alwasy been of the mindset that every negative comment is an opportunity to show that you (or your company) actually cares. There’s no such thing as a perfect track record, but it’s the way that customer reps and other individuals respond when confronted with criticism – like Joe did – that can make or break any company in the eyes of review readers.
    Kudos to Joe, and thanks for sharing such a valuable lesson!

  • This this this. Saving this one, for another draft languishing in Evernote, on brands caught doing it right. Even when they make mistakes, especially when they make mistakes b/c that shows who you are, what you’ll do to make things right. FWIW.

  • TheComputerGal

    ginidietrich clay_morgan a great article! I’ve passed it along to my web students.

  • This is great Clay, I’ve had a couple of customers approach me and ask me about how to handle bad reviews. In their cases it was a similar situation to this and I didn’t have an answer for it (so I asked Gini!) this gives additional perspective, though. I think you can apply this universally to any bad news, is it really bad news? There is likely to be a silver lining…

  • clay_morgan

    TheComputerGal ginidietrich Woohoo! Thanks for doing so!

  • clay_morgan

    i7Marketing Thank you for sharing!

  • clay_morgan

    enologia Appreciate the share!

  • clay_morgan

    digett ginidietrich Appreciate you saying so!

  • philipshaun

    actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to
    be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too
    complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I
    will try to get the hang of it!