Scared of getting a negative review of your business? That’s totally normal. Customer complaints and criticism can feel like a personal attack — or at very least, an unfair strike against your 5-star rating. But criticism is actually an opportunity. If handled well, you can improve your customer relations and ultimately your brand reputation. Check out our blog for 5 facts about criticism and why you should pay attention to it.
No one likes to be criticized. Sadly, it’s a fact of life. Even award-winning performers and writers get bad reviews — you just can’t please everyone! For businesses, though, criticism often seems like something to be feared. Many business owners worry that a single negative review will hurt their reputation and therefore their sales. After all, word-of-mouth is everything, right?
Not necessarily. Criticism is simply an opportunity to improve. And when you respond to it constructively, you could even grow your business. “Say what?” Yes, really. Let’s look at the truth about bad reviews — and how to turn them into fodder for growth.
Fact #1: Much criticism comes from dissatisfaction.
This may seem obvious, but there’s an important message hidden within. Most business owners have observed that people are more likely to complain than praise. What they don’t realize is that these unhappy customers want resolution. If they’re invested enough to complain, you still have a chance to fix things.
Let’s say you receive a negative Google review. The reviewer complains that one of your employees was rude to them. You could dismiss it as a lost customer or even scoff that your employees would never be rude. But once you view that customer as someone who wants to feel better, it’s easier to turn things around.
Respond with a compassionate message inviting them to give you more details. If your business prides itself on good customer service, this review may cut deep. Take this as an opportunity to heal a wound for both you and the customer. Often, simply making the customer feel heard goes a long way toward changing their attitude. Some reviewers have even changed their reviews after having their issue resolved!
Fact #2: Not all reviews can be trusted.
Sadly, not every business can get by on its reputation or value. So like playground bullies, they build themselves up by tearing others down. Fake reviews have become a bit of a plague. Often, these unscrupulous businesses will hire people to leave bad reviews of their competitors on various platforms.
Thankfully, fake reviews are fairly easy to spot. They’re usually quite vague, with exaggerated or overdramatic claims (e.g. “worst company ever!” with no explanation). If your business has a customer log, you can cross-reference the name to check your suspicions. You can also copy and paste the review text into Google. If you find word-for-word duplicates of the bad review for your other competitors, it’s definitely a fake review and you can report it as such.
Fact #3. Criticism isn’t always bad.
All that said, some negative reviews may have valuable feedback for your business. If someone reports a bad customer experience, consider their claims. Do you think that they misinterpreted something, or is it possible that your staff needs to be re-trained? Are they upset about a policy because it inconvenienced them, or because it genuinely presents an obstacle to their needs?
For example, if your business has a strict no-returns policy and a customer is angry that they couldn’t return a product, it’s likely best to make them feel heard and carry on. But if you’re receiving reviews complaining about faulty products that can’t be returned, it’s worth re-evaluating. You may need to choose a new supplier or adjust your returns policy.
Fact #4. Criticism isn’t a personal attack.
We can hear you already: “Yes, it is, that’s the definition of criticism!” While criticism is often upsetting or annoying, it’s rarely meant to be a comment on your business model, the core idea, or your skills as a business owner. Rather, it comes from a customer’s experience, which means it has more to do with them than you.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take responsibility for things that go wrong. If your staff messes up or you realize that you’re doing something discriminatory or unethical, own up to it and fix it. Being defensive rarely works: it will only make you look dismissive and unprofessional.
Ultimately, your brand is what other people say about you, so you can only sweep so much under the rug.
Moreover, it’s easier to address criticism when you think of it as a response, not an attack. What factors led up to the person complaining about your business? What made them unhappy? By leading with compassion, you can learn from criticism — and build a better experience for all your customers.
Fact #5. Criticism shouldn’t be ignored.
As you see, you should never wave away negative reviews. If you believe it’s a fake review, report it. If you think the reviewer was just having a bad day, reach out to them and make them feel heard. And if the reviewer actually has some actionable feedback, don’t let your pride get in the way. Your business can always improve, and sometimes it takes an outside perspective to show you how.
Plus, when you reply to negative reviews, you demonstrate that you care about what your customers think. Believe it or not, a professional response can actually convince prospective customers to buy! Everyone knows that some customers are just impossible. If you can affirm your brand values and commitment to good service in a response, you show other people that you’re worth considering. So, always respond (and take a deep breath first if you need to).
Criticism is what you make of it. If you sweep it under the rug or dismiss it as frivolous complaints, you could be missing out on opportunities to improve your business. You’re also sending a clear message that you don’t care about helping your customers. A revolving-door approach isn’t attractive — trust us.
But by responding to criticism professionally and looking for ways to act upon it, you prove that you’re willing to learn and grow. That alone may set you apart from most of your competitors. Remember, your brand is your reputation, and criticism alone won’t hurt that. How you respond, however, absolutely does.