Handling Negative Reviews: an Interview With Jay Baer

Columnist Brian Patterson interviews New York Times and Amazon best-selling author Jay Baer on how businesses and marketers can approach negative reviews.


Jay Baer is one of the sharpest minds in marketing. When his book, “Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype,” came out, I read it cover to cover, faster than any other book I’ve ever read. As someone who does a lot of online reputation management (and spends a greater-than-normal amount of hours on Yelp), I found his approach to adding value and helping clients refreshing.

Because of this, I was super-pumped when I heard about his new book, “Hug Your Haters.” In short, “Hug Your Haters” goes over the mindset of a hater, how to respond to one, and oftentimes, how to win one over. Dealing with negative reviews can be an organizational struggle, and this book provides the blueprint for responding to negative reviews in a systematic, routine and helpful way.

I reached out to Jay to interview him about the book and ask some of the more tricky questions we all come across when doing reputation management. (For disclosure, I’ve never met or spoken to Jay before this interview — I’m just a fan of his work.)

How does it benefit a business to reply to negative reviews?

In two ways. First, answering a customer complaint increases customer advocacy by as much as 25 percent. Second, every customer complaint gives you information necessary to improve your operations and make your business better.

Is there a framework or guideline that should be followed when replying to reviews?

Absolutely. Speed is important, as is empathy. And don’t require customers to switch channels. If they reached out to you on Facebook, there’s a reason for that, so don’t immediately ask them to call you. If they wanted to call, they would have done so.

Do your response guidelines change depending on which review platform the review is posted on?

Not really. You should answer every complaint, in every channel, every time. Just realize that an increasing share of complaints are online, in public. Customer service is very much becoming a spectator sport. So when you respond to that customer online, you’re really responding to tens, hundreds or thousands of people. Proceed accordingly.

How should a business owner handle replies on some of the less impartial review sites, such as Ripoff Report and PissedConsumer?

Some of those sites do not allow responses at all, so there’s not much you can do. Other sites allow you to respond if you pay their fee to do so. To me, many of these sites are legalized extortion schemes. They actively seek negative reviews and publish them so that businesses will feel compelled to pay the ransom to be able to respond. I’m not saying you shouldn’t participate, but be cautious about doing so.

Some companies are more prone to negative reviews, such as those that use a “hard sell.”  What type of advice do you give those companies?

If you keep getting the same types of customer complaints over and over again, there’s a good reason why that’s the case. You might want to do an analysis of what your business model and operations processes are actually costing you in lost customers and negative word-of-mouth.

Maybe it’s worth it to just keep on doing what you’ve been doing. But now that so many complaints are public, perhaps the math has changed? If you haven’t actually studied it, you’re just guessing — and that’s a dangerous way to run a business.

What are some things companies can do to get more positive reviews?

Audit every customer interaction and touch point and find ways to gently remind customers that reviews are important to your business. I wrote a blog post recently about an amazing example.

During a recent trip to Mexico, my team and I visited a wonderful restaurant that relies heavily on TripAdvisor reviews for business because they are closed during the summer months. Our server, Ramon, explained that for every TripAdvisor review mentioning his name, he gets paid for one summer day.

I thought this was a brilliant and creative way for the business to encourage its staff to solicit reviews in a human way.

Final thoughts

I hope you found those answers from Baer helpful. Reviews permeate many parts of digital marketing that we care about: social media, rankings, local SEO and reputation management. If you aren’t currently focused on online reviews, aren’t monitoring all of the review platforms our customers use, haven’t built a strategy for handling negative reviews or aren’t working to obtain positive reviews, the time to start is now.

Reviews aren’t going anywhere, so we must learn to use them to our advantage.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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