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Top tips for dealing with criticism and fake online reviews

We bang on about social proof a lot. We know it works. Unfortunately, there are times when you might get a negative (or even fake) online review.

This week we bring you a practical guide to dealing with negative feedback on the rare occasions it happens.

First up, some general points

It’s important to get your response right. Handling criticism in the right way can turn an unhappy client into an advocate. Handling it poorly will cause the relationship to break down completely.

Take a minute: If you get a negative review take a step back before doing anything. The temptation to start bashing out a reply (usually defensive and often unhelpful), might be overwhelming but knee-jerk reactions are rarely helpful.

Don’t get defensive: Easier said than done. It’s natural that your first reaction is to defend your work. However, the reviewer might just have a point. Staying on the defensive means you’re not going to address their feedback effectively or learn from it.

Deal with criticism head-on: As hard as it is to do, never run and hide from criticism. Once you’ve taken a minute (you might need longer!) to collect your thoughts, develop a strategy for dealing with it:

  1. Put in a holding call or email to the client to acknowledge their criticism and confirm that you’re dealing with it
  2. Consider whether the client’s criticism is fair
  3. Ask the relevant members of your team for their view
  4. Go back to the client with your findings and apologise. Even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong, you’re dealing with their feelings and their reality. Then tell them what you plan to do and ask if they’re happy with that
  5. Consider what you should change in your business based on their feedback.

As we said, dealing with criticism effectively can turn an unhappy client into an advocate. That’s why you should always…

See criticism as an opportunity: Praise is great. It’s lovely to hear that you’ve done a good job for a client. However, it’s not as useful as constructive feedback, even criticism, because we can use that to learn and improve.

I know it’s hard to see criticism as an opportunity. I have a very thin skin when it comes to our work (it’s something I’m trying to improve!) because I know the blood, sweat and tears our team put into every client.

That said, we don’t get everything right and try to learn from all client feedback, which is why one of our core values is: “We give feedback constructively and accept it graciously; learning from it and incorporating it into our future work.”

So, if your client:

  • Suggests your fees are too high; ask yourself whether you could communicate your value more effectively
  • Questions investment performance; ask yourself what more you could do to communicate the value of financial planning
  • Wants more communication between review meetings; ask yourself whether you should be picking up the phone more often or introducing other forms of communication such as newsletters.

Don’t let the thought of negative reviews stop you from collecting social proof: We’ve heard some advisers and planners say that they won’t collect social proof because they are worried about negative reviews. Once we’ve pulled a few locks of hair out in frustration we make three points:

  1. Your clients are probably very happy with the service you provide, it’s unlikely that you will get any negative reviews
  2. Even if they do say something negative, wouldn’t you rather know what they were thinking rather than continuing in ignorance?
  3. If someone wanted to give you a negative review online they could do it easily enough now by visiting your Google My Business listing, signing up for a Trustpilot account and so on.

As Alex Whitson, Managing Director at VouchedFor, says: “Advisers should not fear negative reviews. They are rare in the advice space. And when they do happen, they can be turned into a positive.”

The positive benefits of social proof outweigh any potential negatives, which rarely happen. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared, though!

Google and VouchedFor reviews

We recommend using both Google and VouchedFor to collect online reviews.

We’ve developed this view because we know most prospects will carry out a brand search before contacting an adviser/planner. So, when they search for the firm, Google reviews should impress them and when they search for an individual adviser/planner VouchedFor reviews will have the same effect.

Get ahead of the game: Negative reviews will have far less of an impact if you’ve already got plenty of positive reviews. That means getting ahead of the game by running a project to ask all clients to review you online, followed by further requests after periodic review meetings and after you’ve taken on new clients.

Last week’s blog explained our tried and tested process for collecting online reviews. Click here to read it.

Report fake reviews: Very occasionally we see firms, and individual advisers/planners, fall victim to fake reviews. Naturally, you will want to get all fake reviews removed.

If this happens on VouchedFor their system should catch the review before it goes live. Alex Whitson tells us: “If someone who is not a client tries to review an adviser, the adviser will have the ability to flag that before the review goes live. In this case, we would request evidence from the reviewer that they are a client. If they can supply this, the review stands. If they can’t, we remove it.”

Google is harder. We had a fake review last year, which we managed to get removed. It wasn’t easy though and I’ve seen other firms struggle to get fake reviews removed. Click here to learn more about flagging and reporting fake Google reviews.

If you’re unlucky enough to attract a fake review here’s what we recommend:

  1. Check your records to confirm that it is indeed a fake review
  2. Leave a polite response questioning the authenticity of the review, explaining that you have no record of working with them and inviting them to contact your office to discuss their review
  3. You then need to tell Google that the review is fake by clicking the small flag sign next to the score
  4. In our experience one person simply flagging a review is not usually enough to get it removed. So, ask other people to flag it as inappropriate too
  5. If this doesn’t work you need to escalate it further by logging in to your Google My Business platform:
  • Scroll down the menu on the left-hand side and then click ‘Support’
  • A pop up will appear, scroll down to ‘Contact us’
  • Type in ‘Removing fake Google review’
  • Click ‘Next step’
  • Click ‘Remove reviews’
  • Click ‘Next step’
  • Click ‘Email’
  • Complete the form and submit the form

Respond: If you get criticism on either Google or VouchedFor, start by working through the five steps we outlined above. Then, once the client is happy, ask them whether they still feel that the review reflects their current feelings. If they confirm it doesn’t you might suggest that they amend the review, add a further comment, or remove it.

Naturally, there will be times when the review remains online, perhaps because you can’t solve the issue to the client’s satisfaction. In those circumstances we recommend leaving a polite reply:

  • Apologise, even if you don’t believe it’s your fault
  • Acknowledge mistakes, don’t hide from them
  • Don’t debate, there’s no point arguing about the facts in public
  • Explain what you’ve done to address the problem, taking care not to reveal any personal information or break any confidences
  • Note that the experience of this client is an isolated example and that your other clients are overwhelmingly happy. Use your online ratings and reviews as evidence
  • Keep it brief – you’re not writing War and Peace. The response should be enough to satisfy the client, but (perhaps more importantly) the other hundreds or thousands of people who might read it in the months and years to come
  • Sign off the review with a person’s name in your organisation who the client (or anyone else) can contact if they have questions.

Alex Whitson again: “Writing a reply to a review is an adviser’s chance to demonstrate their personality and their commitment to great service. Put yourself in the shoes of someone comparing two advisers. Adviser A only has glowing reviews. Adviser B has mostly glowing reviews but one or two less positive ones, to which Adviser B has replied professionally and empathetically. Adviser B will often win.”

Next week, client surveys

We recommend running client surveys every year or two, as well as before large marketing projects.

The results of these are usually extremely positive. However, some clients can be critical (and, why not, you’ve asked them for their opinion!). Again, though, it needs to be handled carefully. Next week we’ll explain our process for running client surveys and handling any negative feedback.

In the meantime, if you’d like to chat about this blog or how we help firms develop their social proof, please email [email protected] or call 0115 8965 300.

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