A few days ago, the phone rang at 10am.
“Reliable! This is Lou,” my wife and business partner, Lou, said.
(We run a design / marketing agency, but recently started Reliable: our new PSD to HTML & WordPress company).
She took the call per usual. The guy had a lot of questions, and she had answers.
But then, the call took a “weird” twist…
The guy had some pretty wacky demands.
He basically wanted us to ditch the process we use and follow his orders. He wanted to be on Skype video calls through different stages of the project, and he wanted a huge amount of work done in a crazy-short amount of time.
Imagine if a client wanted to watch over your shoulder and comment live via Skype as you crafted their design…
Obviously that wasn’t going to fly.
Lou handled it like a pro though. She politely told him about how we work and why that wasn’t such a good idea.
Normally, even people who come off as harsh melt when they talk to Lou. She’s a sweetheart.
But that didn’t happen here. In fact, things got even “weirder”…
Mr. Prospect, we’ll call him, then got pretty hostile. He even started insulting Lou, shouting things like…
“You sound half asleep! What’s wrong with you!”
“You have marbles in your mouth or something? I feel like I’m pulling teeth here just to get you to answer questions!”
Still, Lou stayed calm (amazingly – I would’ve blown my lid at this point), and tried to steer the convo back in a positive direction.
That wasn’t going to happen though. And that’s when Mr. Prospect…
… Threatened us with a “bad review”!
Have you ever been in this situation? Maybe it happened with a client – the relationship went sour, and they threatened to spread the word about how “awful” you are?
“Bad reviews” left in the right place can be a pretty scary thing to encounter. It’s a bit tougher with digital businesses – as there aren’t really “Yelps” for those kinds of companies – but there are plenty of forums and more that rank really well in the search engines.
And if someone Googles “[your business name] reviews”, it could easily show up and turn away potential clients.
Especially considering that recent polls suggest that as many as 85% or more of consumers seek out reviews before trying out a new business or product.
But never fear! Because here’s a game plan that’ll stop the negative effect of negative reviews, right in their tracks.
Step One: Stay Alert
If you suspect a client or prospect might try to harm your name, for a week or so search “[your business name] + reviews” a couple times a day.
Most of the time if someone says they’ll leave a bad review – it’s just hot air. But by staying alert, you can tackle the review the moment it goes live should they actually post it.
Step Two: Respond (Note: Proceed with caution!)
Next, if you see the review go live, respond to it. But DON’T do it from a reactionary, fear-based place! Instead, gather yourself, and compose something that makes you look like a total champ.
You are NOT leaving this response for the bad client! You’re really leaving it for the potential new clients who might stumble upon it.
For Mr. Prospect in the story above, I’d probably write something like this…
Dear Mr. Prospect,
I’m sorry you had a bad experience with us.
Unfortunately, you had some demands which our firm wasn’t prepared to accommodate. While we understand that limitations can be frustrating, we ask that you please try to keep your temper under control in the future.
The young woman you spoke with was pretty shaken up for the next hour or so after speaking with you. The hostility and insults you directed at her were very uncalled for. Unfortunately, because of this, even if we could meet your demands I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to work with you.
With that said, I’m sorry again that you felt you had a bad experience, and wish you the best of luck.
In addition, if you’d like to discuss this further, we’d be happy to. Please email email@example.com to schedule a time.
Please do this with care though. If you don’t feel you could handle it tactfully and calmly – then DON’T respond! Instead, just skip to Step 3. Also, even if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong – find a way to tactfully apologize. It makes businesses look really bad when they respond rudely to negative reviews.
Acknowledge what the person said, and then politely state your side of the story, and then offer a way to make amends. In this email, I apologized, alerted readers that this guy obviously has temper issues, and then offered to make amends through setting up a time to talk.
With that said…
Even in this scenario I’d be wary about posting my response. Sometimes it’s better to just take the advice of Step 3 and let it go. Respond if you feel you must, but do it with caution!
Step Three: Send in Reinforcements!
Next, contact a handful of your best clients and explain what happened. They know you, and they know you’d never do the things the hot-tempered negative-reviewer described.
As your loyal customers, they’ll be happy to post positive reviews on your behalf on the same website.
Basically, you’re trying to drown out the negative review with a swarm of positive ones. Keep this up over time until that negative review is pushed 20,000 leagues down under.
Now before I sign off, I have to address something…
If you’re getting threatened with “bad reviews” or complaints on the regular, there’s a good chance it’s not the customer. Or it’s not only the customer. It might be time to self-reflect and see what you could be doing better.
Especially if everyone is angrily giving you the same feedback. That could be a glaring hot red flag that you might need to work on yourself.
It’s easy to write off criticism, but true growth comes when we face the uncomfortable, absorb it, learn from it, and move on. I’ve made tons of mistakes with customers, and acknowledging it and growing from it was never easy.
Even to this day I make mistakes. As much as it sucks – I get better and better because of it every time.
On the other hand – if you make your clients happy 95% of the time, then this disclaimer isn’t for you. Keep on keepin’ on and being your awesome self ;-) If you feel this disclaimer is for you – don’t fret it. You can always improve and start fresh. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or anything – just that you have some customer service issues to sort out ;-)
What are your thoughts? Has this ever happened to you? Inspired to share something? Tell me about it in the comments.