Pre-COVID I was looking through online reviews to find a fun new place to eat. I came across one place that had a horrible review. However, in reading the review, it struck me that the customer was just mean and there was no way to please them. I then read the reply from the owner, which was so well done and so on point that I ended up dying to eat there. The moral of the story? Negative reviews can sometimes be even more powerful than positive reviews. And, when handled correctly, can turn into sales gold!

Some businesses tend to focus too much on purely positive word of mouth. What do I mean by that? Think about the plethora of sites and organizations where your customers can leave feedback about you for others to see. Everyone high fives each other when a five-star or glowing review comes around; and goes into damage control mode when customers say bad things. For many, the strategy behind damage control is simple, get more great reviews to bury any negative ones. That will work, right?

Not quite. Here’s why:

While it’s generally true that consumers trust reviews from others, they are increasingly more interested in negative reviews than positive ones. For today’s savvy consumers, while those positive reviews will tell them how great the product or service is, what they want to know is two-fold: what people who didn’t have a great experience have to say and how the company handled it.

Aside from the obvious natural cynicism, many feel when seeing a product or service with tons of positive reviews – and the potential for some or many of those reviews to be manufactured – all they want to know is whether the product or service solves the problem they are looking to rectify, and does the company stand behind its offering.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to get customers to leave positive reviews? Because they EXPECT that customer experience and, when they get it, there is no motivation to publicly scream that company’s greatness. Think about that last great meal you had. Did you immediately go into Yelp, Google, or any other review site and tell the world? No, you probably didn’t. At the very most, you may have told your friends or family how great the meal was which could drive incremental business for the restaurant.

It’s much easier – and more likely– for a person with a negative experience to leave a review because they are frustrated about their negative experience. Think about the last time you went to a restaurant and had a horrible experience. Maybe you waited forever to get acknowledged. Perhaps the food was sub-par. Whatever the reasoning, you are much more likely to tell the world about this type of experience because you are feeling emotionally wronged.

While it’s great to get good reviews, the real tell-tale sign of how a business is really treating its customers is how they respond to and handle negative reviews. Think about it: No business in the universe is going to fake negative reviews. And that’s why consumers trust negative reviews more than positive ones. Have you ever seen a news story where a company was accused of paying or planting negative reviews about themselves? Chances are slim that it has ever happened.

So, is word of mouth important? Yes. Negative word of mouth, however, carries much more weight when the company handles it correctly and consumers can see how passionate the company is about setting things right and providing a good customer experience.

Companies that pay close attention to negative reviews, publicly acknowledge them, and make a concerted (and public) effort to rectify the consumer’s problems, will find that consumers are much more likely to forgive them when reading those reviews — If they can see that the business cares and will help them should something go wrong.

That’s all anyone really wants, right? Few people expect perfection from any business. The only way to overcome negative word-of-mouth is by paying as much attention to how those negative comments are handled as you do the positive reviews.

Make damage control more of a priority along with your drive for positive reviews and you could find that those negative comments and word-of-mouth transform into value proposition statements that consumers trust.

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