Several years ago, the fallout from one angry customer was usually limited to the person’s immediate friends and relatives, and even then it would take a while for bad word-of-mouth to circulate. Today, a customer with an ax to grind can deliver that message instantly to a wide audience using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. Small-business owners who aren’t prepared to respond put themselves at a disadvantage.
“If you don’t participate, other bad reviews can pile on, and that only does you more damage,” says Richard Torrenzano, chairman and CEO of strategic communications firm The Torrenzano Group in New York City. “If someone gives you a lousy review, address it in a very thoughtful and reasoned way. If you had a bad hair day, admit it, apologize and ask them to come back so that you can make it up in some way. If the review is wrong, say why — but always in a professional, respectful, reasoned manner.”
Some business owners make it a point not to respond to negative reviews, arguing that doing so can help the review rank higher in search-engine results and call more attention to the problem. Torrenzano doesn’t buy into that argument. “If you don’t participate, other reviews can pile on,” he says. “And that only does you more damage. It’s like being adrift in a boat and not putting your oar in the water.”