Handling Online Reviews During Covid-19

2020 and 2021 have been totally unprecedented years for us all, but the many and varied Covid-19 restrictions have hit many small business owners particularly hard. Having been closed for at least part of the year, you’re desperate to be trading again, and need to maximize your income while you can – the very last thing you need when you are finally trading again is a slew of poor online reviews. And yet they keep on coming. Why? What are you doing wrong?

 Short answer? Probably nothing. But for a variety of reasons, small businesses are seeing an uptick in negative reviews during this period. This isn’t really surprising, because:

  •  Customers using your services during the tightest restriction levels are necessarily either quite risk-tolerant (and not that bothered by Covid-19) or are being effectively forced to use your services while already under stress themselves (eg frontline workers who are being put up in a hotel).
  • Risk-tolerant consumers are quite blasé about the rules and regulations, and probably neither understand nor appreciate your efforts to create a covid-secure business. If this causes them delays or a lower level of customer experience than they want, they may well complain.
  • Customers who are already under stress and may not have chosen your services for themselves (like those frontline staff) are probably exhausted and grumpy over anything less than perfection.
  • Meanwhile, your own business is probably under-staffed due to illness and isolations, and covid-secure business practices may be lowing your levels of service or creating delays and other unavoidable issues.

This can be something of a toxic mix, even when both businesses and customers are doing their best to be reasonable.

Face to face businesses such as hotels, restaurants, bars, retail and beauty are most likely to be affected by negative reviews during Covid-19, but it can happen to any business experiencing staffing issues or logistical problems – which is most businesses!

If you get a negative review during this period, should you just ignore it and move on? No! Don’t ignore it. You should respond.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews During Covid-19

The golden rule is to keep it short and sweet, and to move the conversation offline if at all possible.

Start out by apologizing to your customer, even if you think they’re wrong. Their experience with you didn’t measure up to their expectations, for whatever reason, so apologize for that. “We’re sorry that you didn’t enjoy your visit” or “We are sorry that something was missing from your order”.

If the problem is related to covid-19 restrictions, state that in a succinct manner, eg “We have had to make a number of adjustments in order to keep our staff and customers safe, and although we try extremely hard to maintain our levels of service, we recognize that it can be a frustrating period for all of us.”

Then give the customer an option to continue the discussion offline – a phone number or email address they can use. Tell them that you’d like to discuss it with them further to find a solution to their problem, or to learn from their experience.

That’s it. Don’t be tempted to argue your corner and definitely don’t tell the customer they are being unreasonable (even if they are). If and when they do email or phone you, you will probably find that a personal contact takes the sting out of the situation, and can even convert someone from an angry customer to a fan – every business experiences issues now and then, it’s how you handle them which matters.

How to Respond to Positive Reviews During Covid-19

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Many small businesses are seeing an increase in positive reviews too. Most people are very reasonable individuals and do feel for small business owners in these circumstances. Where you have implemented excellent covid-secure controls, you may find that customers genuinely appreciate the effort and expense you have gone to and will say so.

Don’t ignore these either – positive reviews are a golden opportunity for a conversation with a happy customer, for all the world to see.

Thank the customer and be specific about what you have done which pleased them. “Thank you for leaving us a lovely review. We’re so glad you felt safe and enjoyed your meal. We thought hard about our new seating and ordering arrangements and it’s so good to know they are working.”

If the customer mentions someone in particular, always respond mentioning that specific member of staff. “All our staff have stayed positive though these unprecedented times and are determined to bring smiles to our customers – you’re right about Jeannie’s knack with kids, she is a born entertainer!”

Always mention somewhere in your response that you are grateful for the customer’s support during these difficult times, and invite them in some way to return, try a different product, or otherwise use your service again.

Sometimes, asking customers to spread the good word can come across as a little cheesy, but during this economic crisis, people understand – so feel free to also ask a positive reviewer to please encourage others. “If the opportunity arises, please let your friends know you enjoyed your visit; we are relying on our happy customers to help keep us afloat.”

Essentially, the key message is to not be afraid of bad reviews during Covid-19, and to embrace the opportunity good reviews bring. This too shall pass, but until it does, online reviews can be both a good advertisement for your covid-secure practice and a good early warning system if something does go wrong.

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