Dealing with Bad News and Publicity
Word of mouth and referrals have always been the most powerful forms of advertising. Today, social media and business review websites like Yelp, Yahoo, Google Reviews, and Angie’s List can instantly spread the word about a business to potential customers you never dreamed existed.
While everyone wants favorable reviews, pleasing each and every customer is not always possible.  Still, it’s a mistake to ignore negative reviews and descriptions of less-than-pleasant experiences with your business.
Whitney Lemon, a member of Google’s Get Your Business Online Team, notes that in a recent edition of the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a consumer who has enjoyed a positive experience with a brand shares that experience with an average of 43 people.  A consumer who has a negative experience with a brand or service tells an average of 52 people.
“In other words, negative experiences tend to move people into greater action,” Lemon says.  “They want to spread the word farther, and make sure as many people find out about it as possible.”
In some businesses like restaurants, negative reviews are almost expected.  But they should never be brushed off.  If the reviewer has a legitimate complaint, take steps to remedy the problem immediately.  Though taking the discussion off of the public forum for speedier resolution may help, Lemon says a transparent strategy works best.
“Use the same medium as the customer did to reply to their statement, even if you’re directing them offline for a resolution,” she says.  “Future users who stumble across the information online will see your business is responsive and quick to resolve issues.”
While some negative reviews or comments may have merit, others may be inaccurate or entirely wrong.  To prevent wrong information from being perceived as fact, Lemon recommends calmly and respectfully open a dialogue with the user.
“Many customers who leave negative feedback are mainly looking for recognition that their voice is being heard,” she says.  “Addressing their concern and informing them of a way to be in touch with you, offline or online, to further the discussion and reach a resolution is usually appreciated.”
Use the same approach if misinformation about your business reaches the mainstream media.  Contact the media outlets that have run negative stories and respectfully request the opportunity to share your side of the story.  Don’t just say “it’s wrong;” explain why the information is wrong and provide facts to back up your case.
Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you should also consult with an attorney and a public relations consultant with expertise in handling bad news and crisis situations.  This is also a must if the accusations are true.. Don’t just hope the negative publicity dies down.  People may not forget what happened quickly, but they’ll also remember that you took a sound, responsive strategy to address the situation and put things right.


This Ask SCORE column is provided by the SCORE Central Oregon Chapter.
SCORE is a nonprofit association with 11,000 volunteers, business experts in 320 offices in communities across the country.  SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration.  To request a free small business mentoring session go to