How to Turn Negative Reviews Into an Asset

The importance of customer generated publicity is growing all the time. According to a 2015 survey by BrightLocal, 92 percent of people use online reviews to learn more about a product or service, up from 88 percent only a year before. More and more people now base their buying decisions on comments from other customers, so it’s vital that businesses have numerous reviews left by genuine clients.

At Reputation Defender we work with companies to manage their reputation and create positive online content. There is nothing more valuable than testimony from a satisfied customer, but unfortunately not all reviews will be positive. Every business will face negative comments from a dissatisfied customer at some point, so it’s not a matter of if but when. Business leaders need to be ready with a plan in place to deal with negative publicity when it appears.

Stars are Important

Star rating is the number one factor that consumers use to judge a business, so a one or two star rating can really hurt a company that doesn’t have many reviews. On the other hand, it will be much less noticeable if there are already a high number of four or five star reviews. Surprisingly, a few unenthusiastic comments can actually help. Customers will tend to question the reliability of the reviews if each one has a solid five star rating.

Making Reviews Work for Your Company

Here are six steps to make reviews work for you company:

  1. Be proactive about customer service – Handling dissatisfied customers before they have a chance to leave a review is the most effective way of preventing negative comments. Online rants often come as a result of customers feeling ignored or overlooked, so if something occurs to disrupt normal service, or you know a customer is unhappy, make sure compensation is offered. A coupon, a discount on a future visit, or even a full refund can be worth it if it keeps the company’s reputation intact.
  2. Make it easy to leave a review – Generating a high volume of reviews is the best way to ensure a four or five star average. If you focus on excellent customer service, most people will have a positive experience and be happy to leave a testimonial, but they may not think about it unless you remind them. Send out review invitations by email, or on a receipt. Offer prizes or contests for people who leave comments. If you have regular customers, don’t be afraid to ask them directly.
  3. Set up an alert – Even with your best efforts, there will always be some negative reviews. Register for a Google Alert, so you will know right away when someone leaves a comment about your business, negative or positive. This will give you more time to read and respond to the comment before it has a chance to go viral.
  4. Respond appropriately –Mature responses show you can take constructive criticism and help to convince other readers that you’re not the one being unreasonable. Address the issue directly, apologize and explain what has been done to fix the problem. This makes readers feel you listen and are trying to improve. It’s also important to respond to positive reviews, so everyone leaving a comment knows they are appreciated.
  5. Take executive action when necessary – Responses that come from high-level management will always be more effective. Not every executive has time to respond to reviews regularly, but just a few comments a month will show feedback is taken seriously.
  6. Track your statistics – If you practice good customer service and encourage reviews, you should get four or five stars from approximately 85 percent of your customers. Many customers distrust reviews that are entirely positive, so don’t make this a goal. Welcome some negative comments, but respond appropriately and try to make sure a similar situation doesn’t occur again.

Airlines Online Reputation Management: When lifting it up is the only option

Although online reputation is an issue that affects all kind of businesses, some industries are more vulnerable to bad reputation than others. Hotels are an example, restaurants too. In individual cases, politicians, celebrities and religious leaders also rely heavily on their good reputations in real life and on the Internet. But there is an industry that even though it moves millions of dollars a year, and provides a highly needed service every day, experiences tough rates of economic collapse: airlines.

It is well known that airlines are a risky business. The number of workers, the fixed and variable costs (maintenance of aircrafts, for example), high and low seasons, the vagaries of tourism, the numerous complaints and demands of users, among other things, make the airlines business very difficult to maintain. However, the factor that hits the most to this industry is bad reputation. It may be an accident (like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370), a terrorist attack or service problems caused by natural events (volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and blizzards, mainly). They are always devastating.

For this reason, these companies must invest heavily in online reputation, not only because they must compete with a huge variety of airlines for the attention of customers online, when they want to buy or book tickets for business trips or vacations. The influence of good or bad opinions of users become a paramount factor when they decide to purchase a ticket in any company.

The Germanwings case

The Germanwings Flight 9525 of 24 March 2015 was a scheduled international passenger flight, popular for its tragic outcome. The plane, an Airbus A320-211, took off from Barcelona-El Prat Airport to the Düsseldorf International Airport. The number of passengers: hundred forty-four, two pilots and four crew members. It never reached its destination. The ship crashed in the mountains of Estrop, in the French Alps of Provence. Sadly, this is the most devastating disaster in European aviation in five years. The authorities of France and Germany, and an airline spokesman as well, said that the cause of the accident was a deliberate action of the German co-driver Andreas Günter Lubitz. There were no survivors.

Germanwings, a company from the Lufthansa group, has suffered a tremendous financial hit after the accident. Thanks to the media coverage, ticket sales fell dramatically throughout Europe. The company lost its dividend, and the investment budget for the maintenance and purchase of new aircrafts was spent immediately to cover thousands of unexpected needs. In fact, the accident occurred while Lufthansa was taking austerity measures to avoid an economic collapse. The company was seeking to stop the falling prices of ticket sales, to manage the lower costs of operations and, above all, solving a complex issue: a pilot strike that had already cost more than two-hundred million euros.

A year later, if a Google user types the name of this company will find that the most part of the search results on the first page mention the crash… and this is a serious ORM inconvenient.

Image courtesy of European Parliament at Flickr.com
Image courtesy of European Parliament at Flickr.com

US Airways reputation fixing

On the other hand, there are examples of how airlines have managed reputation crises successfully. US Airways is one of them. Two years ago, someone shared a pornographic picture on the Twitter account of the company. Although the tweet was deleted and the company apologized in public, the harm was already done (the photo was live for an entire hour, and it was enough for users to make thousands of jokes and viral memes.)

However, the company was able to handle the error and even got good press thanks to it. In its public apologies, the directives of the company quoted some of the jokes made by users, in which they said that the responsible employees for the error would lose their jobs. The company said that although it was a terrible mistake, they were not going to fire anyone and was simply an honest fault.

The media applauded the decision of the company, and what started as a reputation problem, ended up as a good way for grabbing attention and good press. The trust of users increased, and the company continues to operate in perfect conditions.

What can you do during a reputation crisis?

The example of US Airways is useful for explaining what to do in such situations. First of all, for such large companies such as airlines, where reputation is a very important factor, it is necessary to monitor the company’s reputation in real time permanently. There are software tools and specialized companies like Reputation Defender, which can be very useful for this matter. In second place, reacting faster than the mistake goes viral is a goal: apologize immediately. In third place, start an ORM plan for lifting up your online reputation (not only as a short term measure, but as a long term digital marketing strategy for projecting a better image online).

Some cases are worse than others, of course, but even the most terrible crisis does not mean the end of the world for any company if the managers know what to do.

Related: The effectiveness of airline crisis management on brand protection: A case study of British Airways