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7 Tips for Handling a Negative Online Review

Q: In the digital world we live in, one negative online comment can undo months or years of building my business.  Do you have any advice on what to do with a bad review?

I made a big mistake the first time I received a bad review online.

In the 12 years since we’ve opened Ho’omana, I’ve had three online reviews from students that have not been positive. In every case, the way I remember the situation going down and where I was coming from with my intentions was never what was perceived on the other side.

My initial, very human, reaction is to feel really hurt.

Since an online reader seeing this review doesn’t really know me, it’s not an option to explain my position and how the Reviewer just misunderstood me etc.  Besides, defensive doesn’t resonate well on internet platforms.

So, going back to that first negative review in a major online platform.  I thought to myself, “I have a relationship with this student. Surely if I have a chance to speak with her heart to heart, she will see that it was just a simple misunderstanding. I will just use my communication skills to share where I was coming from.”  I mean, we’d been in class together for a week.  She was staying at my house.  We knew each other.

I wrote a well thought out, lengthy email to the student and I told them I was so sorry for their experience.  I explained where I was coming from.  The result was even more shocking! I was met with worse venomous commentary.

The lesson:  Sometimes, the person on the other end is caught up in a story of their own perceptions, wounds and agendas that may not change, no matter what I say. 

It is best just to Aloha them and realize that IT’S NOT PERSONAL.

So what can be done? 

Here are my 7 top tips for handling a negative online review:

1. Remember who you are and why you started doing this work: It’s really easy to feel personally attacked by someone’s perception of their experience. Especially when it’s seemingly directed at you and what you’ve built as a practitioner.  This is the perfect time to take a breath and go within.  Remember why you began this journey as a healer. Meditate on the positive teachers, support and stories of clients that you have touched along the way.  YOU have a healing gift that the world needs.  Own it.2. Reach out and Listen: I have had some very positive experiences speaking directly to clients. Call them.  Today!  A lot of times, they just want to be heard. They just want to tell you what happened.  They want you to hear their stories. There is always some underlying gem to glean from the conversation, sharing meant just for you. If you really listen, you will find the gift that could make all the difference in future interactions. 3. Be proactive: The best thing to do is to call them before a bad review happens. As soon as you have the slightest intuition the a client is not happy or hear that a client felt dissatisfied with any aspect of the work. It be the pressure, the music, the timing, anything. If you are not 100% they loved it, connect before they leave the building or if they have already left…Call.

Make it a point to ask every client about their experience before they leave. This will give you the opportunity to offer them a discount or invite them back at a discount or something to be able to keep that client’s loyalty,  That one client is valuable and can have a huge impact. Every client has the capacity to sing your praises and fill your schedule or go out into the community and share their bad experience. Give them the floor to share it with you.   This gives you an opportunity to do something about it.

4. Ask for help: When you see that review pop up that does not represent who you are or what you are sharing, immediately reach out to clients that who really know who you are. The ones who love your business.  Your raving fans. Offer them a link to review you and ask them to share their genuine experience, so that people can begin to see a fuller picture of who you are and the work you do.  Give internet readers a chance to see that out of 100 reviews, maybe the 1 or 2 negative comments are an anomaly.

5. Use an appropriate voice for online communication:

Remember that online reviews are there for everybody to see, so your response should be relevant to all audiences. An online forum is not a blast back at the reviewer who fired at you or an online peace offering of services to the reviewer. Others might get the idea that all they have to do is complain to receive complimentary services at your establishment.

Respond quickly. It’s always best to apologize for their experience but you don’t necessarily have to respond to every grievance and take the wrap for things you are not in agreement with. You definitely don’t want to point out all of the ways the client “got it wrong”.

Instead, take this opening to establish who you are and what you do. Focus on your policies, teachings, philosophy or mission statement.  This gives the reader an opportunity to see who you are and avoid focusing on all the things that you aren’t.

For example, “I’m so sorry to hear that your experience was not up to our usual standards.  At Ho’omana, we are committed to providing authentic Hawaiian healing for body, mind and spirit.”

If you did invite the guest back for another experience, it’s great to share in your response but avoid making the offer online…that should’ve happened in #3 or #2.

6. Express Gratitude: Always thank your guests for taking the time to offer their feedback. I love feedback!  It gives the opportunity to create a better experience for all of your clients, improve your own communication or can be used as a trainable moment for your staff. Any review, positive or negative, is super valuable and an opportunity for growth.

This also shows other customers you’re always willing to hear feedback in an approachable way and make improvements where possible.

7. Don’t take it personally:

Some people bring outside issues that are projected onto the situation.  As a teacher, I need to be mindful that I have been placed in a position of authority.  Some people have had negative exercise with authority figures be it, parents or other family members, school teachers, bosses or managers.

As an instructor, when I share my experiences, I am only sharing information and possibilities.  However, depending on a students previous experience, one may perceive a suggestion or comment as a reprimand.  My first inclination would be to contact the person individually, but I have to remember the person on the other end may be going through some issues.  They may not be able to receive an alternate perspective at this present moment.  And that’s okay.

Based on my first experience, I now know when its best to respond directly to the person and when it is best to respond to the review. If you intuit the climate is not safe to connect with the client, you can still speak with their higher spirit with Aloha. 

Send that positive vibe towards their healing.

If you do have the success of turning a client around, ask them to write another review sharing the positive outcome and completion to the story. This can go a long way to show the accommodating nature of your business and your desire to do right by your client community.

Use intention to create a healing space for yourself and for others. 

Even if you do have a negative review, these 7 steps are a useful guide to navigating through the waters of alternative perceptions and misunderstandings as you continuing the work you’ve been called to do!

Do you have any advice for someone facing a negative review online?  I’d love to hear it in the comment below.  And if you know someone who needs to hear this advice, use one of the buttons below to share our Ho’omana Blog.

Always grateful for you,

Jeana Iwalani Naluai 

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