Reviews are important — both to authors and to everyone else outside of the publishing industry.
In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that 82 percent of American adults say they “sometimes or always” read online reviews for new purchases. And more than two-thirds of regular review readers believe that they’re “generally accurate.” Negative reviews, in particular, seem to dramatically influence our buying behaviors.
So reviews are important, right? Which means we creators should pay attention to them and use them as metrics for the quality of our art — right?
Well, not exactly.
Consider the online reviews available for The Great Wall of China. Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of China and its long and vivid history, the Great Wall was originally conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the third century B.C. as a means of preventing incursions from barbarian nomads. To this end, it was effective. The online reviews would likely reflect that, right?
Again, not exactly.
Consider this one-star review from Great Wall patron Dirk Guthrie: “The wall is broken in lots of places, and it costed [sic] me all of my money to get there and i [sic] did not know what the natives were speaking.”
Adds Billy Bottoms: “I don’t see the hype in this place it’s really run down and old… why wouldn’t you update something like this? No usb plug ins or outlets anywhere.”
My personal experience with bad reviews predates the internet. I was a sportswriter for a small-town daily newspaper in Roseburg, Oregon. When I’d report — accurately, I might say — that little Johnny fumbled in the big game, I’d get tons of letters criticizing me. This was decades before email, so it was envelope, paper, and angry red ink. Since the letters mentioned me, I had the duty of typing each complaint into the newspaper system myself.
This was my first job out of the sanctuary of college, and it was by far my first experience with this kind of critique. At first, it was devastating. How could so many people seem to not like me or my work?
Soon, though, I began to develop a thicker skin, mainly because I had to. There wasn’t a mechanism to respond to critics back in the day, so I had no choice but to put on a smile and keep reporting the facts.
I brushed them off, in other words.
That’s something all creators — whether of companies or of books — must know how to do.
The reason, again, is that most negative reviews don’t matter.
Some, however, very much do.
In those cases, you won’t be able to just brush off a negative review. Sometimes, it will be crucial that you respond and that you take the review seriously, especially if the review pertains to your company or a process you’re otherwise in charge of. In these scenarios, a response is necessary.
Here’s what to remember in those kinds of situations.
Yes, it’s hard not to take negative reviews personally. But responding to a negative review — whether it be on social media, via email, or on your company website — with a defensive or angry outburst is guaranteed to makes things worse. Other customers will see your angry response and interpret it as proof that the negative review was, in fact, warranted.
Instead, take a deep breath and respond only when you are calm, collected, and possessing of perspective.
If you can’t get to such a tranquil mental space, consider passing the task of responding off to someone on your staff who’s perhaps better at customer service and who’s less connected to the product, story, or feature in question.
This is particularly important if the review in question focuses on things like:
If you identify any evidence of wrongdoing on your part or on the part of people you’re responsible for, it behooves you to investigate that.
It’s a matter, in such cases, of being responsible.
Furthermore, negative reviews can often teach you a lot about your product or service. Oftentimes, they can shed light on areas where your business can improve. Smart executives use such reviews as an opportunity to make their business better.
Don’t be afraid to do this, either.
We all know the internet can be a sewer of profanity, xenophobia, etc. If you receive a negative review on your site which strikes you as “too-far” — indeed, if it violates the terms of whatever review site it’s on, including yours — the best thing to do is flag it or take it down and ban the user.
Sometimes, negative reviews are warranted. But there’s too much hate and filth in the world to encourage these kinds of negative reviews.
At BookBaby, when we receive a public negative review or message that we think necessitates a response, here’s what we do: First, we respond quickly. That means within 24 hours — and ideally less. By responding quickly, you show that you’re in tune with customer feedback and that you’re an active participant in your business.
Next, we try and fix the problem. If this means offering a freebie, we do it. But I’ve found that much of the time, customer issues can be resolved by simply listening and communicating.
Finally, we strive to be authentic in our correspondence. Customers want to know it’s an actual human being responding to them — not a bot. So, keep your conversation genuine, and also, keep it polite — it’s important to take the high road.
At the end of the day, yes, negative reviews are a part of life, and often they’re not worth listening to.
Sometimes, though, they are.
And when they are, it’s critical you know what to do.
Originally published on Medium.
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