Despite the best effort of your business to put emphasis on improving customer service, sooner or later your business may receive a less than stellar review on review sites around the web. The actions that you take next are critical to the health of your business online.
Note: If you came here looking for Google Places help you need to know that Google Places has been renamed Google+ Local.
You can't always accurately say that negative online reviews are a customer service problem. Obviously improving your customer service will minimize the chances of your business receiving negative reviews, but consider that reviews are a part of the sales process.
The purpose of review sites are to provide potential new customers with some insight of the level of service and satisfaction that they might expect to receive when doing business with your company. Independent third-party reviews are critical for influencing the purchasing decision. The chances of a negative reviewer ever doing business with your company again are slim so the purpose of responding to a negative review is not to be defensive but to instead try to mitigate the impact that a negative review will have when potential customers read that review.
Awareness on your part is crucial. You need to be made aware when a negative review is posted online about your business. You don't want to discover a negative review on your Google local business listing months after it's been online for the world to see. You could lose countless sales by not being immediately made aware. Your quick response time is important. To ensure that you are promptly made aware setup a Google Alert for your business name.
Following the posting of a negative review you need to find out if you can respond. Review sites such as Yelp and TripAdviser offer business owners a way to respond, as does Google+ Local. Although Google has had some recent trouble with the Google local business owner response form. According to a message on the Google Product Forum Jade Wang, Community Manager for Google+ Local, "We're seeing an issue with owner responses to reviews not posting, and we're working on it!"
Decide if you need to respond to a review. Sometimes a reviewer might be too general or vague for you to be able to constructively engage them. If however it becomes apparent that the same or similar complaint keeps being discussed in multiple reviews then you need to examine carefully how your business process needs to adapt to address that problem so that those complaints stop happening so frequently.
If you decide to engage with a reviewer by responding be sure to leave your ego and negative emotions out of your response. Responding to a review, especially on your Google local business page, is part of the sales process and an opportunity for you to show the world that you care about your customers and are willing to make things right with the reviewer. By showing that you care in your response you will be surprised at how often this can turn a detractor into an advocate and often a reviewer will edit their review to reflect a more positive message about your business.
Have you ever responded to a negative review about your business? If so, what was the outcome?