In the past few weeks I’ve been asked the same question more than once: (client name) got a bad review on Google. What should they do? Is there a way to get rid of it?

While I’ll admit Google+ Local can be a bit of a mystery for some, what I really want to say is the exact same thing they should be doing with all of their bad customer experience. Respond. Make it right.

Bad customer experiences online are just like bad customer experiences offline. These are people, your customers, who expected one thing and got another. The best way to address a bad experience is to do just that: address it. Respond in the way you would want to be responded to if it were you on the other side, and do everything in your power to make it right. 

I have to wonder if bad online reviews aren't new and foreign to business owners, but that they just care more about them. (Uh oh… I said it!) The internet is written in pen, not pencil, and that’s enough to make business owners freak out. “Oh my gosh! People are going to see this!”

Yes, they are going to see it. And for those that didn’t leave their reviews online, they’re going to tell people about it. You should care about those experiences just as much.  

According to LoyaltyOne’s COLLOQUY consumer report, over a quarter of U.S. consumers stated they are more likely to spread the word about a bad experience than a good one. Yikes.

So, I’m not going to tell you specifically what to do with a bad online review. Instead, I’m going to talk about how to improve your customer feedback channels and start being more awesome.

Case In Point: my Bad Experience

A few weeks ago I purchased one of those silly Groupons for a photo book. I was creating a “memory book” for my friend's wedding and the entire wedding party submitted photos for it.

Once I tried to make the order I realized that their “standard” shipping time for a photo book is 22 business days (so, a month when you add in weekends?! My goodness!). I needed this for a wedding in a few weeks so I paid extra for seven day shipping.

On the sixth day I still hadn’t received any sort of shipping information. So I emailed them about it. The next day I got a response that said they would respond to my email in one or two business days.

“Okay, so you’re responding a day later to tell me that eventually someone will actually respond to my question?” Katelyn is not impressed!

Rather than wait for their email, the next day I decided to call them. I waited on the phone for 30 minutes before I got to talk to anyone (naturally, the sound of “your call is very important to us” a hundred times was incredibly irritating). The lady seemed short and rude with me - like why am I bothering her with questions? She informed that seven day shipping meant they’ll actually ship it in seven days, not that I'll get it in seven days…

Oh, I guess I’m used to Amazon’s “two day shipping” where you’ll RECEIVE the package in two days. I don’t think consumers care when you’ll ship it - they care when they’ll get it. Either way, okay, my mistake.

“Hmm, perhaps I should have used Shutterfly. They’re always fast.”  Katelyn does not have a lot of faith in the quality of this product.

Then, the next day I received tracking information. Well, sort of. The information never updated and stated “if in three days you still don’t see information on your package contact the shipper.” Four days later, nothing. Is this package even coming?!

I decided to call them again with another “annoying” question and see if I was going to get this photo book before the wedding day. Another 30 minutes into the waiting game, I wanted to throw my phone out of the window. So, as I listened to the repeating “you call is very important to us…” I decided to just try tweeting at them.

I realize tweeting them seems a bit bold, but I was so frustrated at this point. And guess what, they responded in 4 minutes!

“Okay, so because the tweet was public facing and implyed I was frustrated they cared more and responded rapidly?” Katelyn sees right through this.

After a brief twitter conversation I politely let the company know that, while I was already given my package information on the phone, I still had some feedback on their ordering process and customer support. I told them if they would like to hear about my experience to "DM" me. Surprisingly, I never heard back.

“Wait, they don’t want to know about my experience? They don’t even care? I guess I’ll just leave a Google review.” Katelyn will never buy from this company again (and she'll probably blog about them).

All bad experiences or reviews are an opportunity

They’re an opportunity to show customers that you care and want to make it right. This company could have done a few things differently, and the kicker was not responding to my last tweet. If a customer offers you feedback - you take it! Not only will that customer feel like you care about their experience (the experience where they pay you money for something that they could get somewhere else…), but you'll be able to refine your business processes to meet your customer needs. You'll be able to build relationships with customers, retain them and grow.

Change your thinking into the possibility that feedback can be an opportunity to:

a) have your eyes opened to a possible problem in your business operations,

b) turn a bad experience into a good one, and

c) build a relationship with a customer.

Improving Your Customer Feedback

1. Make it Simple for Customers to Provide Their Feedback:
Providing feedback should be easy for your customers to do. As opposed to trying to cover up negative reviews, make it easy for your customers to give you praise and/or their frustrations. You just might be able to address issues before they end up on Google or Yelp. Open up the lines of communications with your customers!

To do this you could add a feedback form on your website, place a suggestion box in your physical location and/or include a feedback email address with each order that is placed. Make sure these feedback facilitators are easy to find and well promoted, because, as a company you care about customer experiences!

2. Make it a Standard to Respond to Customer Feedback:
Responding to feedback, good or bad, is very important. Let customers know you appreciate their thoughts and the time they took to tell you. If it’s bad feedback, make sure the customer knows you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure this experience never happens again. Address each negative experience individually and let customers know what you are doing (or will do) about it.

If at all possible, allow that communication to come from the President, CEO or someone high up the ranks in the company. This has the potential to make a huge difference and make any customer feel like they are important.

This actually happened to me once and it stopped me from leaving an online review. While searching for apartments I was stood up by a building manager twice, two days in a row. I was so angry and left a message on their office phone letting them know how they wasted my time. I got an email from the President of the company apologising, assuring me this isn't standard practice and offered me a Starbucks gift card for my inconvenience. I was so impressed that he took the time to do that and it completely changed my attitude toward the company.

3. Build a Relationship with Those Customers:
If a customer took the time to leave you feedback, good or bad, keep record! What if you kept in touch with them and gave them special offers when you could, or sent them swag in the mail just to say “Thanks for your feedback”. That would have the potential to turn any “bad” experience around!

Again, there is no reason to freak out about bad reviews and definitely don’t try to “get rid of them”. Which you don't have the power to do anyway, and for good reason. If everyone was able to remove their bad reviews it would totally devalue the system. It's not suppose to be a testimonial page, it's for reviews! However, if other consumers see that there was a bad experience that was resolved or at least addressed, that’s enough for them to take that review with a grain of salt, as well as see that you're a great company that cares.