Consumers are increasingly using the internet to investigate others’ experiences of products and services online before they decide to buy.

While it may be a complex process to involve yourself as a brand in a general community forum where your product may be discussed, review websites offer structured platforms on which to respond to the critiquing of your products. 

Finding reviews

There are a wealth of websites which offer reviews online, so it’s important to concentrate your efforts:

  • Think about your online distributors and which of these provide the ability for customers to post reviews.
  • Place yourself in your potential or current customers’ shoes and simply Google your product name appended with ‘reviews’ to see which sites and reviews are most visible.
  • Research popular niche community websites interested in your industry which contain specific review sections. It is important to check that a website is happy for you to respond to reviews before proceeding.
  • Look at the referring site traffic report in your analytics packages to establish whether any review sites are driving visitors to your site.

Embracing negative reviews

Whilst it may be disheartening to see negative reviews appearing in your search, remember that it is the open honesty of reviews which makes them so valuable to and popular with consumers.

Companies, like people, all have bad days and responding to negative reviews with honest answers is what people will respect the most. This may seem like a radical approach to some companies, but it can ultimately lead to the defining of a brand’s reputation online. 

Scott Weavers-Wright, of successful children’s online retailer Kiddicare, a website which has made its mark through providing honest customer reviews of all its products, has embraced the social experience in this way. He says:“You’ll find five-star ratings and one-star ratings for our products and we’re just as honest with our own service. You can rate Kiddicare and again there are negative reviews there too – though we have a 96% service rating from our customers so you’ll have to work hard to find one, but they’re there!” 

Kirsty Uminski, of consumer review website ReviewCentre.com, suggests that rather than viewing negative reviews as something that weakens your brand, they can be used to strengthen it by allowing you to improve your offering and demonstrate how important your customers are to you by speaking to them directly.

When is a review not a review

Before responding to a review, consider why the customer has written it. If they have provided a negative comment without constructive criticism, it may be that they simply want to “rant” and are not interested in entering into a constructive conversation around their complaint. In these situations it is more beneficial just to listen.

Remember that most readers will not find such comments useful and will often see them more as a reflection on the reviewer than the brand. Instead, they are likely to pay more attention to reviews which clearly and objectively set out what they have and have not liked about a product. These are the reviews you should focus your attentions on.

Structuring your response

As a brand, you should assume that all constructive, negative reviews are designed to help readers find the best product for their need. If your service or product has been criticised, this criticism should be taken as an opportunity to improve or explain. In general, structuring your response in the following way is advisable:

  • Apologise. This means that you have thought about the effects this problem may have had on your customer base and that you regret this; in other words that you care!
  • Explain. Tell the user honestly why this has happened so that they understand the issue. Anyone who has been stuck on a train will vouch for the fact that just knowing why a problem has arisen makes them feel more informed and in control of their situation.
  • Solution. Inform the customer that the problem is being addressed internally. If you are currently unable to resolve the issue, make this clear so that they do not have false expectations which will create more negative feedback. In such situations, being as open as possible is the best policy. 

Kirsty at ReviewCentre.com says that being accusational or aggressive will only serve to make you look bad to the reader. However if you feel that a review on their particular website is untrue and libellous, they encourage you to talk directly to staff to mediate between yourself and the reviewer.

Be grateful for the good 

Whilst it is important to respond to negative reviews, occasionally recognising positive reviews demonstrates that as a company you are interested in talking to all of your customers, not just those who could potentially harm your reputation! Taking the time to say thank you to your satisfied customers will increase goodwill around your brand.