Online reviews are incredibly important. According to a 2020 study from Trustpilot, 89% of consumers read reviews of products before purchasing them. That’s not really surprising given that 87% of consumers start the purchase process online, where they can look at specs and compare products with ease. More than ever before, consumers today have choices and they seek positive purchasing experiences. Not only do they look for companies whose values match their own, but they also look for companies that are responsive to their customers. This is why they turn to reviews, to see how your company has dealt with other people just like them.
Perhaps no online review means more to most businesses today than their Google Review. This is the review that pops up on the right-hand side of a browser when someone searches for your company’s name. It also appears along with your business information in Google Maps. Because Google pushes this review system as part of their search model, consumers are very likely to see it even if they’re not actually looking for it.
This can benefit you if your Google Reviews are positive, giving your business an edge over the competition. But what happens when your reviews are less than stellar? Or worse, what happens when your reviews are fake?
While it might be tempting to ignore these kinds of reviews—or to lash out in defense—it’s really important to handle them carefully. Because believe it or not, one of the most important things other customers can see is how you handle bad reviews. Your response can tell them everything they need to know about how you do customer service.
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How Should I Respond to Negative Google Reviews?
You work hard to run your business. You put in a lot of time and effort, and some people just can’t be pleased. That’s not always your fault. So when you first see that bad review, it can feel deeply personal. Take a step back. Take a breath. Make sure you are calm when you respond.
Yes, when, not if.
Ignoring a negative review may seem like the safest thing to do, but not responding tells other customers that you don’t really care whether your current customers are satisfied or not. If that’s the case, why would someone new choose to do business with you?
Accept Responsibility and Improve
Responding is a lot easier than you might expect. Many times, upset customers just want to feel heard. By acknowledging their feelings and showing you are happy to make things right, you can often win them back. Once satisfied, these customers may change their review on their own, but it’s also ok for you to ask them to change it after everything has been settled.
Importantly, when a customer is dissatisfied because your business has made a mistake, acknowledging the mistake and taking responsibility for it goes a long way in building your credibility. The public is tired of non-apologies from celebrities and politicians, so seeing a business acknowledge a fault honestly can feel refreshing.
Another important tip is to indicate that you’ve taken steps to fix the mistake. For instance, if an online payment didn’t go through properly, you might acknowledge that and share what you’ve done to ensure customers don’t continue to struggle with this issue. That might look something like this:
“Hey, Barbara. We’re sorry your payment wasn’t processed. We’ve updated our payment gateway and hope you’ll try again. Or you can contact us at 888-888-8888 and we’ll be happy to help you place your order.”
Restate Your Policies
But what about times when you can’t make the customer happy? These instances do happen. Sometimes customer expectations are just unrealistic.
In cases like these, your best bet is to respectfully restate your company’s policies. (You might even include a link to relevant policy statements on your website.) It’s ok to defend your business as long as you don’t attack the customer. It’s also ok to respectfully point out when customers are wrong. Just be very tactful in doing this. Never blame the customer or try to embarrass them. Remember that other customers will assume that how you treat this customer is how you will treat them. A good response would sound something like this:
“Thanks for reaching out, Chris. The reason we could not accept your return is that you’re outside the 90-day return window. You can read more about this policy at the bottom of your receipt or at this link.”
How Can I Delete Fake Google Reviews?
Fake Google Reviews do happen, and they pose a particular challenge for business owners. Oftentimes these reviews stick out like a sore thumb. Poor spelling and grammar, excessive use of exclamation points, goofy usernames, vague claims about being cheated or scammed without specific details—all of these indicate a fake review. And if you’re a small business, you may know your customers well enough to know this review wasn’t left by one of them. However, how you handle these reviews matters to your real customers, so take them seriously.
Reviews that Violate Google Reviews Policy
Google does have a policy outlining unacceptable types of reviews. (You can read the policy yourself here.) As Kevin Elliott of Nicejob.com explains, “If the language is offensive, it doesn’t matter if the negative review is fake or real—it’s a violation.” Reviews that are off topic also violate Google’s policy, so political rants, personal insults, and racist or sexist language can also get a review removed. Spam comments also violate this policy and can get a reviewer’s comments removed. If you find these types of reviews for your business, getting them removed is straightforward. Simply flag them and Google should remove them pretty quickly.
Respond to Fake Reviews
Even if a review is fake, respond promptly. How quickly you respond to comments on your Google Business Listing actually factors into your SEO score on Google. Plus, a quick response shows other users that you take customer satisfaction seriously.
Next, politely tell the reviewer that you have no record of them as a customer and ask them to contact you directly with more details of the situation. This does three things. First, it alerts other consumers that this review is questionable. Second, it takes the conversation to a more private setting to prevent the reviewer from causing more damage. And third, it shows other consumers that even if a review is suspicious, you care enough about your customers to investigate any dissatisfaction.
Replies to fake reviews don’t need to go into lots of details. In fact, a pretty basic template is good enough:
We’re sorry to hear you’re having this problem and we’d like to fix it. However, we have no record of you in our system. Please contact me at [email address] with your name and transaction number so we can correct this quickly.”
Flag the Fake Review
Every Google review will have a username (which may or may not be the user’s actual name). Underneath is a date the review was published. Next to this date is a small flag. Clicking this flag will allow you to report the review to Google. Simply enter your email address and select from a list of reasons why the review violates Google’s policies.
In the next few days, a Google representative will reach out to you about the review. You will need to make your case to Google’s representative for why the review is false and how it violates Google’s policies. You’ll be encouraged to include links, details, screenshots, and anything else that can help you prove your case.
Ultimately, whether a review gets removed or not is up to Google, and there’s no guarantee that they will remove the review. To increase your chances of getting a fake review removed, the team at Digital Marketing Institute encourages businesses to visit the Spam & Policy Forum within Google My Business to learn more about Google’s review policies and to search for issues that are similar to yours. You can also go to your Google My Business page, select the Reviews tab, and click “support” to speak with a support associate. You can also send a tweet to @GoogleSmallBiz for support.
Getting Fake Reviews Removed can be Tricky
Be aware that simply saying that a reviewer did not do business with you is probably not going to get your fake review removed. That’s because Google doesn’t require that reviewers actually do business with a company to review them. Google allows reviewers to rate their experience as a potential customer as well. And as Joy Hawkins explains in her account of tackling three negative reviews back-to-back, because Google allows users to review businesses anonymously, it’s also hard for you to prove someone did not do business with you.
For this reason, it is important to gather evidence and make a case for why a review should be removed. The more evidence and stronger justification you provide, the more likely you are to get a review removed.
Google Reviews Matter, so Actively Manage Your Online Presence
Responding to reviews may not always feel important. But your Google Reviews are a big part of your business’ online presence. Careful, active management of your reviews can improve your credibility with potential customers, improve your SEO, and help you improve the way your business serves its clients, so there is a lot of benefit to paying attention to your online reviews.
One tool that can make this easier is the Google My Business app for Android and iOS. Besides helping you keep your Google Business Listing up-to-date, it will alert you each time you receive a review so you can post replies fast.
No matter how you keep up with reviews, the main thing to keep in mind is that Google Reviews are a public forum. Many of your new and potential clients will get their first impression of you here, so be respectful even when your reviewers aren’t. You might even want to run your reviews by a neutral party before you make them public. Like in the real world, how you difficult customers will say a lot about who you are as a business.
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