How to respond to negative online reviews

This article is an updated excerpt from Brad Cooper’s LinkedIn post, “What happens in Yelp, stays in… Google?

Online reviews matter

Recent surveys published by BrightLocal show that consumers use and trust online reviews.

Here are a few of their findings:

  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Star rating is #1 factor used by consumers to judge a business
  • Positive reviews make consumers trust a local business more

Ready or not, online reviews are here to stay. Your clients and prospective clients are using them and they expect to see lots of positive five-star reviews for their accountant or tax professional.

The accountants who understand this have been very successful in generating lots of positive testimonials and online reviews from their clients. These “five-star practices” have also been able to build very lucrative businesses and generate lots of positive word of mouth.

At the same time, if you work with enough clients and are in business long enough, negative reviews may someday show up online for your practice -- even for the best accountants and tax pros. Whether they show up on Yelp, Google, TaxBuzz.com or another review site, it is critical to be ready for when/if this happens to you.

What if you get a negative review?

First, take a deep breath and (while easier said than done) try not to jump to conclusions or take it too personally. It is always possible that it was a mistake, a miscommunication, a fake review or something other than a client who had a bad experience.

Next, see if you recognize the reviewer based on their name and/or the contents of their review.

If you do not think it is a legitimate review, you may try to contact the review site to dispute the review. However, keep in mind that the review site may take a long time to get back to you (if at all) and it is very rare for these sites to remove reviews.

One the other hand, if the review does seem legitimate or if it appears to be a client you recognize, avoid the temptation to fire off a nasty email or call the client to give him/her a piece of your mind. It is usually best to remain calm and take the time to reflect upon the situation.

You may also want to ask your staff members for more details on the client and any concerns that had been expressed in the past. Quite often, negative reviews relate to office staff or billing issues. Ask yourself: Does the reviewer have some legitimate concerns? Could things have been handled differently?

Work things out if you can

If you want to contact the reviewer, some review websites may allow you to send the reviewer a private, direct message. Or you might already have his/her phone number or email address.

However, use these connection points very carefully. If you reach out to the reviewer, stay calm, cool and collected. Be careful not to seem overly defensive or go on the attack.

Thank the reviewer for his/her feedback and, if it seems warranted, apologize for how he feels: “I am sorry that you were not 100% satisfied with your experience with us.” Stress that feedback is important to your business and that you value input from your clients.

In some situations, the client may have second thoughts. Perhaps the review was written in haste and/or out of frustration. Maybe there was a miscommunication that can be cleared up upon speaking with you. Or he might consider revising the review, making corrections and/or upping your rating.

Whatever the reason, the best outcome is often for the reviewer to decide to remove the negative review. While not common, we have worked with clients where we successfully have worked to have the reviewer change or take down the negative review.

Should you respond publicly to the review?

If your practice already has plenty of positive reviews, you can decide not to respond to every negative review. For example, when one of our accounting clients got a negative review, she already had dozens of fantastic five-star reviews. So, she was fine with the negative review because it was about her pricing being “too high” for complicated tax returns. She felt it was actually a good thing as this review might actually help to set expectations and discourage bargain hunters from using her tax preparation services.

If you do choose to respond to a negative client review, here are a few tips:

  • Try not to come across as defensive, but rather be open to the reviewer’s feedback
  • Ask questions, seek to clarify and better understand the situation
  • Thank the reviewer for the feedback and that you take client input seriously
  • Apologize, if you feel it is warranted, that the reviewer was not completely satisfied with his/her experience
  • If there are any errors in fact in the review, it may make sense to carefully correct the errors or set the record straight in your reply.

Again, a great deal of caution is warranted in responding publicly to any review, especially for accountants and tax professionals. Pros need to be especially careful not disclose any confidential information about the client and/or his situation. In some cases, you may consider consulting with an attorney and/or the appropriate state accounting ethics board.

Before you get a negative review, get lots of positive reviews

The best defense is a great offense. Rather than sticking your head in the sand or sitting around waiting for that first bad review to come through, go get lots of positive client testimonials and reviews!

We have some great suggestions for generating more reviews on our prior blog posts: hereherehere and here. These are practical and easy ways to start building and protect your online reputation.

In addition, be sure to watch our free webinar for some easy, effective steps and tips to build your five-star practice.

If your very first review online is a one-star review, you may spend a lot of time and some sleepless nights digging yourself out of a hole. It will be even harder to garner positive reviews to send your clients to a page with a negative one-star review as your first review.

On the other hand, if you generate lots of five-star testimonial reviews on various sites like Google, TaxBuzz, Yelp and others, any subsequent negative reviews should appear to be one-off’s… disgruntled clients who are just hard to please… exceptions to the rule.

If you have any questions about getting help to generate positive online reviews or would like tips on how to combat negative reviews, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts. We’re here to help!

  • Brad Cooper

  • Brad serves as Senior Vice President of Operations, Marketing and Sales at ClientWhys, Inc.  Brad is an interactive marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience at companies including Apple, Xerox and MGM Studios.  Over the past two decades, Brad and his teams have managed more than 100,000 digital marketing campaigns for practices and businesses including websites, social media, email marketing, search engine marketing, mobile, reputation management and more. He also has been an active writer, speaker and contributor for professional services associations and publications. 

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