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Managing Your Shop’s Online Reviews

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A couple of weeks ago, I faced a fear that I have had for a number a years: a dreaded one-star online customer review. It greatly frustrated me because I have done everything I can to avoid it. We always go out of our way to make sure that our customers are satisfied in the end, even if the shop has to take a small loss or go to lengths that others might think are too great.

Why was I so dreading a negative review? An online review is a permanent blemish and something that every potential customer, referral source, friend and family member can read.

My one-star reviewer was completely happy with our repairs and service on two previous occasions, enough to refer others and bring her own car back a third time. But this time was different. Her biggest beef was with something almost every shop does, every day: a supplement.

Since she was paying out of pocket, when the cost of her repair almost doubled, she could not accept it and asked us to cut corners to save her money. We explained that there was no way to make the panels fit properly unless we repaired the hidden damage and also that some of the damage was structural, and it created a potential danger if the car was hit in the same area again in the future. After a two-hour meeting with both my production manager and customer relations manager, the customer was done and we were done. We explained what we could and could not do, but the customer was irate, demanded we give her car back and promised to smear our reputation online. She made good on that promise, on Google, Yelp and Citysearch.

As hard as those reviews were to see, I’m trying not to dwell on it, as our shop did all it could in this particular situation. There are four strategies I consider when handling online reviews:

1. Focus on your best customers. I recently went to a seminar where the speaker was an author. He has over 250 five-star reviews on Amazon.com. He admitted, though, that early on, his 10 one-star reviews would keep him up at night. He read them and reread them, almost obsessing on them. What he came to realize was that he was never going to get those reviewers to like him, so he devised a new strategy. He quit obsessing on the low reviews, decided to stop trying to get the haters to like him, and instead moved the likers to love him.

My dad, who started his shop over 40 years ago, gave similar advice, telling me not to chase bad customers. He said 20 percent of my customers would cause 80 percent of my problems. He encouraged me to fire that bottom 20 percent and watch the vast majority of my stress and problems disappear.

2. Head off bad reviews at the pass. Clearly explain things like the potential for hidden damage. Under-promise and over-deliver.

3. Many review sites will allow you to respond to reviews. When appropriate, respond graciously, honestly, and clearly. If the review is favorable, for instance, thank the customer. If it is unfavorable, thank them for taking the time to write a review and ask if they would be willing to contact you directly to resolve any issues that you didn’t already cover with them. This lets everyone know you are the kind of shop that does everything it can to resolve problems.

4. Dilute bad reviews with good reviews. Often people see that we are trying to go the extra mile for them and will ask me, “How can I return the favor?” In that moment, I ask them for a review. Also, in a follow-up email to all of my customers, I tell them if they are unhappy with anything, to please call me, and I give them my personal number. If they were happy, I ask them to please write a review, and I include a couple of links right in the email so all they have to do is click and write.

In the case of my negative review, I responded to the review on Yelp and explained things from my perspective, reassuring her that I was happy to help her personally and told her clearly how to reach me. She responded back with a reinforced one-star review but thanked me for responding. In the end, my goal was that prospective customers who read reviews would see me as reasonable and helpful, not perfect.

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