Tuesday 10 January 2023

One-Star reviews - some you can ignore, others may stop the phones ringing

It is all too easy to break reviews down - as Google and the review sites do - simply by their star rating. But there's far more to a review, in both content and, crucially, impact on a business, than those stars. In this article we will analyse the different kinds of one-star reviews, dividing them into categories according to their potential impact on the business, and then provide advice born of more than a decade of experience on how to prevent/manage/respond to them. 

But first: a simple but vital point about how consumers 'use' reviews, especially Google reviews (everyone sees Google reviews, even if they have only searched for the business's contact details or website): they will always read the negative reviews. Even in your business scores 4.9 they will, as sure as night follows day, read that one one-star review.

The Rating

A rating is a review with no review. It's just what it says: a star rating on its own. Irritating, because it scores your business as low as can be, but relatively harmless (aside from impacting and diluting your overall score).

Harm done? 

Minimal - as long as the business has many* 5* reviews

 *'Many 5* reviews': we recommend all businesses aim to achieve 200 Google reviews as soon as they possibly can. 50 review is the first benchmark as this means an additional one-star review will have little impact on the business's overall Google score.

Action by the business:

Respond to the review immediately.

Example response:

"Hi [username or name]

As you can see from our other reviews here, we pride ourselves on the quality of [service/advice/care] we provide for our [customers/clients/patients] and so I was most disappointed to see your rating.

If you could contact me on david.smith@anybusiness.com or 0207 222-444 I will be glad to resolve whatever issue led to this rating. If, on the other hand, the rating has been left by mistake, I would be grateful if you could delete it.

With best wishes

Name (always name, never 'customer services' or 'patient manager')

The 'Off-topic'

This is the review that rates something other than your core business; it might be your delivery service or your receptionist's manner (the medical profession, in particular, has been known to suffer from these).

Harm done? Again, minimal, aside from the aforementioned impact on your overall score.

Action by the business: 

Respond with a calm and strictly factual answer. Resist the temptation to make the reviewer look foolish. Remember that it is potential customers who are going to be reading your response - respond as if you are speaking to them.

Example response:

"Hi Mr [Lastname] (don't use first names unless you have no other option),

I'm so sorry you found our receptionist's manner unacceptable when you called to make an appointment; I have spoken to them and they assure me it was not their intention and have asked me to apologise on their behalf. It is no excuse, but calls can sometimes come in at a fairly alarming rate - which we obviously cannot control - and sometimes, in our haste to answer the next call we can appear to be a little abrupt. Please be assured patient care - from first call right through appointment and treatment and ongoing care - are always our first priority, as you can see from the other comments here.

With best wishes

Name (always name, not 'customer services' or 'patient manager')


The 'One-liner'

Harm done? 

Varies. No-one likes to see their business described in negative terms but most prospective customers will take a review like the one above in their stride, as long as all the other reviews of the business are glowing.

Action by the business:

Respond to the review immediately.

Example response:

If you recognise the reviewer...

"Hi Mr [lastname]

I am so sorry you felt the need to leave this review. We [insert details of efforts the business had made to provide a satisfactory service or apologise for whatever issue led to the customer's dissatisfaction].

Be assured we pride ourselves on the level of service we provide - you only need to read our other reviews to see that - and I can only apologise for the fact that we did not come up to our own high standards in this instance.

If you would like to call me on [0207 222-4444] I will be delighted to explain what we will do to rectify matters.

With best wishes

Name (and position within the business). 

Note: do not include private phone numbers - mobile or direct line - in response to reviews.

        If you don't recognise the reviewer 

"Hi Mr [last name or name used to write review]

We have thoroughly checked and we can find no record of [either] your name [or the circumstances outlined in your review]. If you would care to contact me on david.smith@anybusiness.com or 0207 222-444 I will be glad to attempt to resolve the issue at hand.

On a further note - to readers of this review: as you will be able to see from reading our other reviews here, we pride ourselves on delivering first-class service to all our [clients] and I am confident that this would have been the case in this instance. Misunderstandings and miscommunication do occur and we do our very best to resolve them at the earliest opportunity, as I would hope to be able to do in this instance.

Now the two types of review your business really needs to take seriously...

The 'Detailed allegation'

Harm done? 

Read the review and then note the 17 upvotes. It is obvious that significant harm has already been done to the flow of enquiries into this business. 

In this case the 17 upvotes will almost certainly have been left by potential customers/patients of the business (who reads reviews of spinal clinics for fun?). We have long estimated that a single upvote on a review represents a minimum of twenty more readers, all potential customers/clients/patients who will have reacted in the same way - by not contacting the business. In this instance that adds up to 340 - and maybe many, many more.

Action by the business:

Respond: urgently but with maximum consideration for the impact upon future customers. Address the points made by the [customer/client/patient] without disclosing any personal details. In this particular instance the business has not responded - a fatal error, leading many readers to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the 'nil response' is an implicit admission of guilt by the business.

Example response:

 'Dear Mr [Hughes], I was most concerned to read your description of the clinic and the results of your treatment. [Address allegations individually]. I would urge you to contact me personally as a matter of urgency. I can give you my solemn word as a professional in this area of many years' standing that I will do everything in my power to ensure the best possible outcome.'


The 'Well-crafted'

Harm done? 

Potentially significant. Reviews such as these can do considerable harm to businesses in terms of choking off initial enquiries. Consumers commonly read negative reviews before contacting businesses - more so when high value (e.g. legal, financial and health) solutions are being sought - and few transactions are more financially significant than house sales. Note the 7 upvotes as per the 'Detailed allegation' example above.

Action by the business:

Step 1: check with staff involved regarding the veracity of the review. Far too many businesses respond to reviews like this without doing the necessary background research - we see generic responses to such reviews every day ('Thank you for your review, please contact us to discuss...'). 

Step 2: respond, in a considered manner, addressing all the points raised in the review - any point missed and left unaddressed will be seen as an admission of guilt on the part of the business. Resist the temptation to be confrontational - see the response to the 'Detailed allegation' above.


Both of these types of review - the 'Detailed allegation' and the 'Well-crafted' have the potential - if left unaddressed, to act as what regular readers of this blog will know we describe as 'Killer reviews'. Why 'killer'? Because they have the power to stop the phones ringing - and the enquiries flowing through the business's website, and we have seen far too many cases of them having done just that.

Moderation and the importance of inviting the review 

Right at the start of this article we mentioned 'prevention'. There's only one way to head off a negative review (aside from being a perfect business - and even perfect business have imperfect customers) and that is to enable a customer to write a review to the business before they resort to Google. To be sure that reviews accurately reflect your business you need two things: moderation and a mechanism to allow customers - and other stakeholders - to write reviews.


First the mechanism: if you allow anyone to write a review - a button on your website (supported by an email invitation)...

...both your satisfied customers and those who are less than perfectly happy* will use it. This screengrab illustrates this well - you can see the 'Write a review' button next to '418 reviews' (if you would like to see it working live just search 'Winkworth Kingsbury') and those 418 reviews perfectly illustrate just how effective moderation is: every time the business receives a review that appears to be factually incorrect or has the potential to mislead a reader our moderator contacts the reviewer and the business to give them both the chance to set the record straight - all the while the reviewer retains the right to publish their original review or a modified one (or none at all); this keeps the system compliant with the CMA regulations - so the reviews accurately reflect the business. 

At the conclusion of the moderation process the review is published on the business's own website and the reviewer is automatically asked to copy their review to Google.

This business is rated 5 stars on its own website and...

* 'less than... happy': most businesses' first reaction to allowing anyone to invite a review is understandably extremely cautious. Read on and understand why adopting the correct review management strategy will reassure the wariest business and enable the business to be CMA compliant at the same time.

... 4.9 on Google. You can also see just how many of those 418 reviews written to the business's own website have been copied to Google.

This is moderation in action: giving both the business and the consumer comfort that they can rely on those reviews. It also gives the business the vital comfort that it is very unlikely to receive inaccurate, misleading or just plain unfair reviews.

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