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How to Handle Online Haters in a Time When It’s More Important Than Ever

In a world of stay-at-home orders, your online reputation is everything.

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IT WAS ALREADY every business owner’s nightmare. Now, it can truly be a matter of life or death for a pet store or service provider: that 1-star rating and nasty review talking about what a dreadful experience a customer had. Not only does it hurt your pride, it hurts your bottom line. In a world of stay-at-home orders, where face-to-face contact is minimal or non-existent, your online reputation is everything.

The facts: 91 percent of consumers read online reviews and 84 percent trust them as much as a personal recommendation, according to Inc.com.

Fear not, petprenuer, here’s how you can turn those online haters into a big positive for your business.

  • Monitor your online reviews at least weekly. This is a great task to delegate if you have a team. Make sure someone is looking at Facebook, Yelp and Google, and letting you know immediately about anything especially good or bad.
  • Say thank you for each positive review. Your team member should respond to each reviewer from that week, thanking them for the feedback. This should happen as part of your workflow, unless that review is escalated to you because of negative feedback. This shows everyone that your business is responsive and caring, a big positive for potential customers.
  • Never respond to a negative review with your gut. Criticism, whether it’s true or not, can be hard to hear. If the feedback is valid, take a day to think about how you will address it in your business, then respond to the reviewer letting them know that you have heard them and formulated a plan to make your business better. You don’t need to give specifics, but thank them for the feedback and chance to do a better job next time. Potential customers reading the reviews will view you more favorably for it.
  • Implement the changes you need to. If a customer had a bad experience with a specific associate on your team, help that associate change their habits by providing new training, or consider ways to streamline the process and make it easier for everyone. In this way, negative feedback can help you ensure a better experience for every customer in the future.
  • Ask your loyal customers for help when needed. Ask for help if you have a reviewer who isn’t being rational, or you suspect to be a competitor. Reach out via email and social media, and let them know you’ve been spammed. Then ask them to leave an honest review about their experience with your business to help you provide the best help you can to more pet parents. Customers will often step up when you’re in need, and the wave of good, honest reviews will outweigh any spammy or irrational ones you get.

Using these five tactics, I’ve successfully turned an online attack from spammy haters into a love-fest — and simultaneously earned the attention of iTunes, which resulted in a free feature of the brand by Apple. In that way, the negative reviews for this client turned out to be the very best kind of PR that money simply can’t buy!

Jane Harrell is President of 'cause Digital Marketing, a boutique marketing firm focusing on delivering real ROI for pet businesses of all breeds and pedigrees. Jane is also co-owner of WorkingWithDog.com, the marketing club for petpreneurs and small pet businesses. In 2013, Jane won the Rising Star Award from Women in the Pet Industry for her work with Petfinder.com. She’s a regular contributor to many pet-industry publications, focusing on topics that bring tangible results with less work. Jane's enjoying a busy COVID-19 quarantine living with her partner, their six animals and their foster son in Maine.

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