Bad Online Reviews: 3 Easy Steps to Respond Effectively

December 3, 2018
Bad Online Reviews: 3 Easy Steps to Respond Effectively

For many business owners who don’t embrace them, bad online reviews are a source of anxiety. Increasingly, it’s no different for professional services. Anyone can leave a bad review of your firm on Google, and these reviews typically lack the nuance required for law and accounting firms. That’s part of why we invented FirmChecker.

In this post, we’ll look at an example of a good response to a bad review, a terrible response to a bad review, and give you an easy 3 step formula to deal with bad reviews effectively.

Don’t bury bad online reviews

Firstly, I’d like to make a high-level point. If you have a lot of reviews and they are all 10/10, you’ve probably deliberately biased your reviews. It looks fake, and clients know it. Ultimately, everyone makes mistakes, everyone has bad clients, and everyone knows it.

There are also legal risks. Meriton was recently fined $3 million dollars by the ACCC for systematically biasing its TripAdvisor reviews. As professional advisers, honesty is fundamental to your work. The short term benefit of cheating is not worth the long term risk.

When you do get a bad review, and you will, here’s what to do (and what not to do).

Example 1: a good response to bad online reviews

bad online reviews effective response

As you can see, you don’t need to eat humble pie publicly. In fact, it’s rarely appropriate to do so. You simply need to acknowledge the client’s concerns, indicate that you care about their experience and take it offline. It’s more about the signal your response sends to others than it is about this particular client’s perception.

Example 2: a bad response to bad online reviews

bad online reviews poor response

Response Transcript:

XXXX, we would like to start by apologising for the change of lawyers, but, this was beyond our control and, in fairness, you ended up with a partner yet were charged the cost of a lawyer. That partner also did not charge for all of his work because he was conscious of your financial predicament. Secondly, we agreed to work for you providing that you paid your bills. We only ceased working upon the matter after carrying a large debt for a long period of time. You continually promised to pay the debt and yet never did. We are now suing you for the debt. Please feel free to call our office on XXXX XXXX  to pay your debt.

To re-iterate, who is right is not the point. There are three clear errors in this response

  1. Failing to speak the client’s language. The client probably doesn’t know you have different hourly billing rates for different levels of seniority. And they almost certainly don’t care. Lawyers are expensive – ‘partner’ or not. Also, a client can reasonably assume that they’re paying for the expertise and not for seniority. Imagine you have a bad experience with a doctor. You complain to the practice. Their response is  “actually the grey-haired doctor charges twice as much for his time so you should be grateful and you’re incorrect” (I’m paraphrasing…). Would you think that’s a satisfactory answer?
  2. Failure to show concern or empathy. You should show that you care. At least a little bit. In this response, the firm tells the client that (1) they’re wrong and (2) they’re about to be sued! Form an orderly queue, potential clients!
  3. Not considering how this might be interpreted negatively by prospects. This firm has thought about how this looks to prospects. That’s why they responded. But they’re too focused on showing that they’re correct instead of showing that they care. This might work for some clients, but I bet it doesn’t work for most.  Not least of all for fear of being sued if you get bad service and dispute the bill!

Summary: 3 Easy Steps

Example 1 is a good template. You needn’t write an essay and you needn’t eat humble pie publicly– you just need to do the following:

  1. Acknowledge the client’s concerns. You don’t have to say they’re right, you just have to say you’ve heard them.
  2. Indicate that their satisfaction is your priority. Indicate that you actually care about their satisfaction.
  3. Take it offline. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. You might be angry that they’ve left a review that you think is unreasonable, but you’re much better off taking it offline than trying to score points publicly. Responding angrily makes you look like the ‘bad guy’.Besides, maybe they have a point? Maybe not, but take the opportunity to learn either way.

Remember, when you do get a bad review, you might have a million reason why you’re right and the client’s wrong – but service seekers don’t want to hear them.

About the Author

Ben Farrow is the Managing Director of FirmChecker and a consultant for Beaton Research + Consulting, the leading management consultants to professional services firms in the Asia-Pacific region. He holds commerce (economics and finance) and law (JD) degrees from the University of Melbourne and digital marketing certifications from Northwestern University in Illinois.

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