Like it or not, reviews are the lifeblood of many businesses. This is still one of the largest influences of consumer buying, according to Keith O’Brien, CEO, “I think, given the choice of purchasing a product or service that has reviews or one that doesn’t, everything else being equal, the consumer is almost always going to lean towards the one that has reviews,” O’Brien says. But what happens when someone judges you unfairly?

Respond authentically

It all depends on what you do next. “A negative review is not the end of the world for a product or a brand by any means, but a negative review not responded to can potentially have a lot more impact,” he notes. But one answered professionally and thoughtfully by the business owner can often actually have a positive effect on sales.

For example, if a restaurant owner has a negative review about service time, just responding authentically about what the holdup might have been may garner appreciation for an unusual situation. “We tend to understand that businesses are all run by human beings and human beings aren’t infallible,” says O’Brien. “So, we tend to give a little bit of leeway as long as the business has stepped up and taken responsibility.”

In some cases, if handled correctly, it may even be possible to help consumers empathize. O’Brien points to a notorious review in which a disgruntled restaurant patron complained about service being disrupted by another patron who was having a heart attack – someone the reviewer cast as an “overdosing junkie”. In his response, the manager, with tongue-in-cheek, set the reviewer straight, while subtly managing to stick up for human beings everywhere.

In this extreme of a case such pushback may be warranted, but in most cases arguing with someone in an online forum doesn’t make a lot of sense, O’Brien continues. So, if someone is complaining that a product you sold them isn’t working correctly, when in fact it is, tactfully pointing out where they may look on the packaging for more information can be the best way to go. “Just being helpful and coming from a place of compassion and understanding generally works,” he says.

Avoid becoming defensive

The last thing you want to come across as is defensive. “We’ve even seen sellers talk about how negative reviews impact their business right on Amazon,” O’Brien notes. Such owners may say something like, the customer doesn’t understand that the negative review is hurting business and that there is no way this could happen with the product in question. This kind of response, at the very least, is an attempt to manipulate a review, which is against the terms of service of some outlets such as Amazon, O’Brien points out.

While Amazon won’t allow business owners to ask for positive reviews to potentially offset the negative, they are able to broadly welcome all kinds of feedback. “There are ways to automate a follow-up email campaign within Amazon,” he says, adding that there are also third-party tools like Zonguru, which allow you to craft a series similar to an Amazon autoresponder campaign.

The fact is, unprompted, only about 1% of consumers come back and leave a review. “If you think about it, at 1% you have to move through 10,000 units of a product to get 100 reviews,” he says, adding that at 10 units a day it would take 3 years to get that much feedback. Meanwhile, a follow-up campaign may bring this up to around 5%. For those who wish to bring in a greater number of reviews, a service such as iLoveToReview may be the answer. “We can drive those same 100 reviews in about 3 weeks,” O’Brien says. In exchange for deep discounts, consumers agree to try the product and to then leave an unbiased review based on their experience, he explains.

Hopefully, in the end, those who are proactive about their reviews can address any concerns that come up while they are still easily fixable, and an anomaly rather than the rule.