Getting a negative review feels either frustrating or scary or both.
I’m presuming the review is a reflection of a client (or former client) who is disgruntled, and the review itself is angry, inaccurate (at least in parts), bitter, or even point blank lies.
Negative reviews do happen, to the best of businesses. It is literally impossible to please everyone, and it’s true there are some people who are never happy, no matter what you do.
Stop for a moment to learn from it
Before you leap to your own defence (“it’s not my fault! They’re just mean/unkind/disgruntled/bitter! They complain all the time anyway! Figures they would do this!”), or before you take it personally, stop for a moment to ask yourself these important questions.
- Is there ANY truth in it? Even if the essence of the review is untrue, there could be some points within it to learn from. This doesn’t mean you accept the review, or even agree with it – but hard experiences always teach us something. Within every frustration there is a blessing.
- What can you learn to apply to your pre-qualifying processes, so you take on the best clients? Clients don’t “start out bad”. They’re not either good or bad: they are either a fit for you and your firm (and its values), or they’re not. It’s your responsibility to craft your marketing to draw in the ones who are a fit: and send away those who don’t. Stop to think about this particular client, and the specific traits and qualities and indications which can be applied to your prequalifying process.
- What can you learn to apply to your onboarding processes and client experience, so your clients know the boundaries, consequences, and penalties? If your processes are unclear, it can be frustrating for a client who expects a different kind of relationship than a previous one, or than the way they do things. If you do things differently, explain it clearly and with detail right from the start.
- Did you follow your own processes and stick to your boundaries? Having and sharing a process is one thing: sticking to the stated boundaries and saying “no” is another. Where do you and the team need to work on saying no?
Answering these questions is something you can do on your own time, in conversations with the team.
Here’s how to actually deal with the review.
Don’t take it personally: just deal with it.
Those who leave harsh negative reviews (the kind which trouble and worry you) are feeling helpless and powerless.
They’re trying to lash out at your business – and may think they’re helping protect some other poor misguided soul who would attempt to do business with you.
Most likely they’re only preventing people who are like them, and people who think in the way they think. Although all of business does have a personal element, this is not the time to be personally offended or hurt.
Focus on the business, and helping others who don’t know you to see it for what it truly is.
Respond to the review with dignity.
This is the best possible advice we can give. Don’t rise to the bait. Don’t return fire with fire. Be the better person.
If there are things which need to be discussed offline, discuss them offline. If you’ve had every conversation you can possibly have and it’s done no good, acknowledge the review, say you’re sorry they feel that way and you wish them all the best.
Do not enter into further public discussions about your services or their experiences: If someone truly had a bad experience and is willing to talk to you, offer a call, a meeting, a private discussion. You could include that in your reply, if there’s still room for discussion. The best clients will always tell you or the team first if they’ve had a problem, and will work it through with you one to one until it’s resolved.
When you see a list of reviews most of which are positive, and then a really grumpy, negative, harsh review to which the owner has responded “We stand by all our previous conversation on this matter, and wish you well”, you get a pretty good sense of how things actually stood. (Conversely, if you see the owner saying “it’s not our fault, you did this and did that and you’ve got issues too”, you start to wonder whether the negative reviewer might have a point.)
Report it, if it’s untrue.
If the review is particularly bad or so untrue you feel it gives an inaccurate picture of your firm, report it. Even if the review site doesn’t remove it, you’ve done what you can.
On Facebook you can report the review. They may remove it for you. On Google, you can only flag reviews if they’re truly “inappropriate”. Most of the time we suggest you simply respond to it, briefly and not inviting further discussion.
(Bear in mind Google reviews are almost never removed: so you’ll need some positive ones to balance it out – we talk about that later. Facebook is more likely to review an obviously bitter or angry review.)
Either way (or until it’s removed), use the reply function to respond very graciously (and SHORTLY) to show your value & character.
This is your opportunity to show anyone who is your target client that you’ve seen it, you’ve dealt with it, they’re just being THAT PERSON, and it’s not worth your effort to debate it. (Debating never works anyway – haters want the attention.)
Do not reply to any further comments if they make them. Report those comments if they’re harsh.
Remember prospects are going to look for the big picture: one bad review will not cripple you.
That is a risk any of us take when running a business and having public pages where reviews can be posted.
Although there may be a negative review from time to time, for any business, your prospect is looking for the overall picture. And that can include clients who just aren’t a fit, or see things differently than you and the rest of the team. (Sometimes than the rest of the world.)
We all know what it’s like to be reading reviews for a restaurant and then there’s that ONE GUY or one person who’s clearly just had the worst day ever. It happens.
Ask for positive reviews from happy clients, immediately.
To help balance out the viewpoint, immediately ask 3 or 4 clients who you love and who love you to put a positive review to help balance it out. This is always a reminder of the importance of asking for good reviews on a regular basis – read more about asking for testimonials here.
Be honest. Say you’ve had this review, and it’s disappointing, but you’ve done everything you can do and you don’t want to enter into further discussions publicly. Ask if they can help you out by sharing a review that gives a fuller picture of your firm.
You could say something like, “Hey, we’ve let a client go (or they left, or whatever the situation is), and they’ve left an extremely negative review on [wherever]. We reported the ones we can, but would you help us out and write a positive review to help balance the average?”
You could even suggest a few points they could include based on good feedback they’ve given in the past.
Every good review will help drop the bad one further down in the list, and show it to be what it is.
Build a process to ask for reviews on a regular basis.
Once you’ve done those things, that’s about all you can or need to do.
Use it as an opportunity to ask for reviews from amazing people often, so even if this does happen from time to time, it won’t matter much. And use it as an opportunity to learn from a hard experience, to talk with your team about what you’re good at, and to make your accounting firm even better.