cs_crossword I came across an interesting article about Yelp.com (a community review website) in Inc. Magazine today. They talk about how small business owners are waking up to the reality that online reviews can have a major impact on their businesses, especially in a tight economy. According to some small business owners, >10% of their new customers are being driven by sites like Yelp. That is hard to ignore!

In the article they also give some tips on how businesses of any size can deal with negative feedback, which I thought the readers of this blog may find handy. Most of it distills down to using common sense and dealing with the situation calmly, with a positive and constructive attitude. Paraphrased and with my own views added:

1. Embrace the medium. Register for an account at the places your customers are talking about you. In most cases registering for an account is free. An account will generally allow you to receive alerts and give you a chance to respond to reviews and engage your customers.

2. Breathe. Just because you can respond doesn’t mean you should right away. Try to collect your thoughts calmly, and respond in a thoughtful constructive way. Also remember – anything you say, even in a private message, can end up on the internet.

3. Be Gracious. Remember, the customer is always right. Apologize for whatever they didn’t like, and offer to correct it. Better still, correct it quickly if you can, and pleasantly surprise them! Small proactive gestures go a long long way in converting your critics to your best customers and most vocal advocates.

4. Learn and Correct. All said and done, just remember that at the end of the day, you can’t fight the future, and online reviews & feedback only help us get better — faster. Talking to and engaging customers in a meaningful way is a very good thing :)

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