How to Get a Customer to Edit Their Negative Review

Posted by MiriamEllis

“When you forgive, you in no way change the pas — but you sure
do change the future.” — Bernard Meltzer

Your brand inhabits a challenging world in which its
consumers’ words make up the bulk of your reputation. Negative
reviews can feel like the ultimate revenge, punishing
dissatisfactory experiences with public shaming, eroded local
rankings, and attendant revenue loss. Some business owners become
so worried about negative reviews, they head to fora asking if
there is any way to opt-out and even querying whether they should
simply remove their business listings altogether rather than face
the discordant music.

But hang in there. Local business customers may be more
forgiving than you think. In fact, your customers may think
differently than you might think. 

I’ve just completed a study of consumer behavior as it relates
to negative reviews becoming positive ones and I believe this blog
post will hold some very welcome surprises for concerned local
business owners and their marketers — I know that some of what I
learned both surprised and delighted me. In fact, it’s convinced
me that, in case after case, negative reviews aren’t what we
might think they are at all.

Let’s study this together, with real-world examples, data, a
poll, and takeaways that could transform your outlook. 

Stats to start with

Your company winds up with a negative review, and the
possibility of a permanently lost customer. Marketing wisdom tells
us that it’s more costly to acquire a new customer than to keep
an existing one happy. But it’s actually more far-reaching. The
following list of stats tells the story of why you want to do
anything you can to get the customer to edit a bad review to
reflect more positive sentiment:

57 percent of consumers will only use a business if it has four
or more stars — (BrightLocal)
One study showed that ~1.5-star rating increase improved
conversions from 10.4 percent to 12.8 percent, representing about
13,000 more leads for the brand. — (Location3)
73.8 percent of customers are either likely or extremely likely
to continue doing business with a brand that resolves their
complaints. — (GatherUp)
A typical business only hears from four percent of its
dissatisfied customers, meaning that the negative reviews you
rectify for outspoken people could solve problems for silent ones.
— (Ruby
Newell-Lerner
)
89 percent of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews.
— (BrightLocal)

The impact of ratings, reviews, and responses are so clear that
every local brand needs to devote resources to better understanding
this scenario of sentiment and customer retention.

People power: One reason consumers love reviews

The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912. The Federal
Trade Commission made its debut just two years later. Consumer
protections are deemed a necessity, but until the internet put the
potential of mass reviews directly into individuals hands, the
“little guy” often felt he lacked a truly audible voice when
the “big guy” (business) didn’t do right by him.

You can see how local business review platforms have become a
bully pulpit, empowering everyday people to make their feelings
known to a large audience. And, you can see from reviews, like the
one below, the relish with which some consumers embrace that
power:

Here, a customer is boasting the belief that they outwitted an
entity which would otherwise have defrauded them, if not for the
influence of a review platform. That’s our first impression. But
if we look a little closer, what we’re really seeing here is that
the platform is a communications tool between consumer and brand.
The reviewer is saying:

“The business has to do right by me if I put this on
Yelp!”

What they’re communicating isn’t nice, and may well be
untrue, but it is certainly a message they want to be
amplified.

And this is where things get interesting.

Brand power: Full of surprises!

This month, I created a spreadsheet to organize data I was
collecting about negative reviews being transformed into positive
ones. I searched Yelp for the phrase “edited my review” in
cities in every region of the United States and quickly amassed 50
examples for in-depth analysis. In the process, I discovered three
pieces of information that could be relevant to your brand.

Surprise #1: Many consumers think of their reviews as living
documents

In this first example, we see a customer who left a review after
having trouble making an appointment and promising to update their
content once they’d experienced actual service. As I combed
through consumer sentiment, I was enlightened to discover that many
people treat reviews as live objects, updating them over time to
reflect evolving experiences. How far do reviewers go with this
approach? Just look:

In the above example, the customer has handled their review in
four separate updates spanning several days. If you look at the
stars, they went from high to low to high again. It’s akin to
live updates from a sporting event, and that honestly surprised me
to see.

Brands should see this as good news because it means an initial
negative review doesn’t have to be set in stone.

Surprise #2: Consumers can be incredibly forgiving “What really defines you is how you handle the
situation after you realize you made a mistake.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and this edited review
typifies for me the reasonableness I saw in case after case. Far
from being the scary, irrational customers that business owners
dread, it’s clear that many people have the basic understanding
that mistakes can happen… and can be rectified. I even saw people
forgiving auto dealerships for damaging their cars, once things had
been made right.

Surprise #3: Consumers can be self-correcting.

The customer apparently isn’t “always right,” and some of
them know it. I saw several instances of customers editing their
reviews after realizing that they were the ones who made a mistake.
For example, one rather long review saga contained this:

“I didn’t realize they had an hourly option so my
initial review was 3 stars. However, after the company letting me
know they’d be happy to modify my charges since I overlooked the
hourly option, it was only fair to edit my review. I thought that
was really nice of them. 5 stars and will be using them again in
the future.”

When a customer has initially misunderstood a policy or offering
and the business in question takes the time to clarify things,
fair-minded individuals can feel honor-bound to update their
reviews. Many updated reviews contained phrases like “in good
conscience” and “in all fairness.”

Overall, in studying this group of reviewers, I found them to be
reasonable people, meaning that your brand has (surprising)
significant power to work with dissatisfied customers to win back
their respect and their business.

How negative reviews become positive: Identifying winning patterns

In my case study, the dominant, overall pattern of negative
reviews being transformed into positive ones consisted of these
three Rs:

Reach — the customer reaches out with their negative
experience, often knowing that, in this day and age, powerful
review platforms are a way to reach brands.
Remedy — Some type of fix occurs, whether this results from
intervention on the part of the brand, a second positive experience
outweighing an initial negative one, or the consumer
self-correcting their own misunderstanding.
Restoration — The unhappy customer is restored to the
business as a happy one, hopefully, ready to trust the brand for
future transactions, and the reputation of the brand is restored by
an edited review reflecting better satisfaction.

Now, let’s bucket this general pattern into smaller segments
for a more nuanced understanding. Note: There is
an overlap in the following information, as some customers
experienced multiple positive elements that convinced them to
update their reviews.

Key to review transformation:

70 percent mentioned poor service/rude service rectified by a
second experience in which staff demonstrated caring.
64 percent mentioned the owner/manager/staff proactively,
directly reached out to the customer with a remedy.
32 percent mentioned item replaced or job re-done for
free.
20 percent mentioned customer decided to give a business a
second chance on their own and was better-pleased by a second
experience.
6 percent mentioned customer realized the fault for a
misunderstanding was theirs.

From this data, two insights become clear and belong at the core
of your reputation strategy:

Poor and rude service seriously fuel negative reviews

This correlates well with the findings of an earlier GatherUp
study demonstrating that 57
percent of consumer complaints revolve around customer service and
employee behavior
. It’s critical to realize that nearly
three-quarters of these disasters could be turned around with
subsequent excellent service. As one customer in my study phrased
it:

“X has since gone above and beyond to resolve the
issue and make me feel like they cared.”
Proactive outreach is your negative review repair kit

Well over half of the subjects in my study specifically
mentioned that the business had reached out to them in some way. I
suspect many instances of such outreach went undocumented in the
review updates, so the number may actually be much higher than
represented.

Outreach can happen in a variety of ways:

The business may recognize who the customer is and have their
name and number on file due to a contract.
The business may not know who the customer is but can provide
an owner response to the review that includes the company’s
contact information and an earnest request to get in touch.
The business can
DM the customer if the negative review is on Yelp
.

You’re being given a second chance if you get the
customer’s ear a second time. It’s then up to your
brand to do everything you can to change their opinion. Here’s
one customer’s description of how far a local business was
willing to go to get back into his good graces:

“X made every effort to make up for the failed
programming and the lack of customer service the night before. My
sales rep, his manager and even the finance rep reached out by
phone, text and email. I was actually in meetings all morning,
watching my phone buzz with what turned out to be their calls, as
they attempted to find out what they could do to make amends. Mark
came over on my lunch break, fixed/reprogrammed the remote and even
comped me a free tank of gas for my next fill up. I appreciated his
sincere apologies and wanted to update/revise my review as a token
of my appreciation.”

What a great example of dedication to earning
forgiveness!

Should you actively ask restored customers to edit their negative
reviews?

I confess — this setup makes me a bit nervous. I took Twitter
poll to gauge sentiment among my followers:

Respondents showed strong support for asking a customer who has
been restored to happiness to edit their review. However, I would
add a few provisos.

Firstly, not one of the subjects in my study mentioned that the
business requested they update their review. Perhaps it went
undocumented, but there was absolutely zero suggestion that
restored customers had been prompted to re-review the business.

Secondly, I would want to be 100 percent certain that the
customer is, indeed, delighted again. Otherwise, you could end up
with something truly awful on your review profile, like this:

Suffice it to say, never demand an edited review, and certainly
don’t use one as blackmail!

With a nod to the Twitter poll, I think it might be alright to
mention you’d appreciate an updated review. I’d be extremely
choosy about how you word your request so as not to make the
customer feel obligated in any way. And I’d only do so if the
customer was truly, sincerely restored to a sense of trust and
well-being by the brand.

So what are negative reviews, really?

In so many cases, negative reviews are neither punishment nor
the end of the road.

They are, in fact, a form of customer outreach that’s often
akin to a cry for help.

Someone trusted your business and was disappointed. Your brand
needs to equip itself to ride to the rescue. I was struck by how
many reviewers said they felt uncared-for, and impressed by how
business owners like this one completely turned things around:

In this light, review platforms are simply a communications
medium hosting back-and-forth between customer people and business
people. Communicate with a rescue plan and your reputation can
“sparkle like diamonds”, too.

Reviews-in-progress

I want to close by mentioning how evident it was to me, upon
completing this study, that reviewers take their task seriously.
The average word count of the Yelp reviews I surveyed was about 250
words. If half of the 12,584 words I examined expressed
disappointment, your brand is empowered to make the other half
express forgiveness for mistakes and restoration of trust.

It could well be that the industry term “negative” review is
misleading, causing unnecessary fear for local brands and their
marketers. What if, instead, we thought of this influential content
as “reviews-in-progress,” with the potential for transformation
charting the mastery of your brand at customer service.

The short road is that you prevent negative experiences by
doubling down on staff hiring and training practices that leave
people with nothing to complain about in the entire customer
service ecosystem
. But re-dubbing online records of inevitable
mistakes as “reviews-in-progress” simply means treading a
slightly longer road to reputation, retention, and revenue. If your
local brand is in business for the long haul, you’ve got
this!

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