Reputation Management is crucial to an online marketing campaign. Customers look at your star-rating to see if you’re reliable, and often they’ll look at individual reviews too. Replying to reviews shows potential customers that you’re engaged, and care about the quality of your service. What happens though, when you’ve got an angry customer writing bad reviews about your company? The one thing you shouldn’t do is respond angrily, even when the negative review has nothing to do with you, or it’s false. Here you’ll find a cautionary story, showing how arguing with a customer never helps and could potentially reflect negatively on your company.

A good story starts at the beginning

We were about six months into an online marketing campaign for a holistic health care center. Everything was going well until we got some bad news from our customer review monitoring system. Our client had just received a bad review that could ruin her reputation management on Yelp.

The review was unreasonable 

The review itself seemed a bit unreasonable. So the business owner responded to the review and told the customer how irrational they were being. This conversation escalated into an argument that spiraled out of control. There were accusations, threats, and name-calling on both sides.

It’s understandable to be upset when you get a bad review that’s partially or entirely unfair. It’s only natural to try to defend your company’s reputation. But by doing this in a public forum, it can cause a much bigger problem than just the negative review itself.

Never sink to their level

When you argue with a customer on a public forum, it looks terrible. Though the customer’s expectations may be out of line, as a business owner, you have no choice but to keep calm and show that you care. From a potential customer’s perspective who may have just wandered into the online argument, the situation looks like trouble. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. Potential customers just see trouble and its very easy for them to just steer clear of the whole mess and look elsewhere. From their perspective, the upset customer who write the bad review could be in the right. The casual onlooker has no way of knowing. All they can see is that 

there is a situation where the business owner is not offering great customer service to an unhappy customer.

That potential customer has no way of knowing who’s right and who’s is wrong. All they can see is an argument that will leave them thinking to themselves,

what if I’m unhappy with their service? Is this business owner going to argue with me and call me names too? For this reason, in delicate situations such as a scathing review, the business owner needs to take the higher ground. A study done by BrightLocal  shows “22% of customers are driven away with just one negative review”

confrontation can ruin your reputation management
Poor reputation management shows in low star-ratings

When they go low, we go high

What needs to be demonstrated is a reasonable business owner doing whatever it takes to make a customer happy, no matter how unfair the customer is being. Saying things like, “we’re sorry you were unhappy with our service” or “we want to offer you a refund”, or even “we apologize for your bad experience and we’d like to provide you with a free service to make things right. It may sound counter-intuitive to pander to a customer who’s being unfair, unreasonable and downright abrasive. However, it’s the only logical choice when responding to a negative review on a public forum.

Not all stories end well

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending but it doesn’t. Despite our advice that the business owner delete the comments and replace them with only kind works, empathy, and an offer to make the customer happy, the business owner defended her position and refused to budge. She insisted that she was right and that the customer was crazy. The owner would not back down. Her Yelp profile now has a permanent record of her sinking to an unreasonable customer’s level by arguing and name-calling.

They say the customer is always right. While I don’t agree with that in some cases, when it comes to reviews, a company’s online reputation is at stake. Arguing online with a customer who writes a bad review no matter how unfair is a great way to destroy your company’s reputation.

Robert Portillo, founder of Nimbus Marketing, and his family.

About the author:

Robert Portillo is the founder of Nimbus Marketing. Nothing satisfies him more than expressing his thoughts well. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons. He can often be found at local farmer’s markets, hiking trails, and the beach.