handling negative online reviews

Whether you’re just starting out as a home inspector or have been a proud business owner for years, one thing’s for sure: at some point, you will have to deal with a negative review. Once upon a time, an unhappy customer could only shout into the void, perhaps sharing their thoughts with a few friends at a neighborhood barbecue or around the office water cooler. 

But now? The internet has changed the whole ballgame, and it might seem like a bad review on Yelp or a negative comment on social media will haunt your business for a long time. Once it’s out there, any potential customer can find it—sometimes for years after the incident that prompted the review in the first place.

Though the internet gives your reviewers a big platform, it’s also a powerful marketing tool for your home inspection business. And if you know how to respond to negative customer reviews effectively, you can snuff out any potential issues before they become the next viral sensation. 

Here’s how to do it.

The essentials of dealing with negative reviews online

Step 1: Encourage customers to review your business

First things first: in today’s business climate, you need to embrace online reviews. That may feel counterintuitive. After all, aren’t you trying to avoid a negative review? 

Of course negative online reviews are less than ideal, but they’re just part of the price of doing business. Think of it as a client no-show. Sure, they’re annoying, and they cost you unreimbursed time and gas money, but you wouldn’t stop working with a particular real estate agent over one miscommunication, right?

Encouraging customers to review your business online helps make sure that you have as many positive reviews out there as possible, which will work to offset a random bad one when it comes. Most of your clients will be completely satisfied with your work. According to Inc. magazine, it can take up to 40 positive reviews to undo the damage of one really bad online review. The truth, however, is that most people expect to see a negative review or two. These won’t harm you if you’ve got lots of good reviews as well.

To build a solid foundation of customer reviews, you have to request them. It’s best to automate this by setting up TRM (Time Release Messaging) to go out to all of your clients after they receive your home inspection report. Starting out with a request for Google reviews gives you the most bang for your buck, since these will also boost your online presence when people search for home inspectors in your area. But you can also request customer feedback on Yelp, Facebook, and more—just be sure to focus on one or two options that are popular in your region.

Pro Tip: HomeGauge also provides a home for online reviews of home inspectors—and you can make them viewable directly on your website.

Step 2: Actively manage your online reputation   

Now that you’re encouraging reviews, you’ve got to keep track of them. As a business owner with a packed schedule, you don’t have time to log onto review sites to check for negative feedback every day. Instead, set up a Google Alert with your business name. This will send you a message every time your business comes up on the internet, so you can see what people are saying about you right away. 

You can also use similar tracking tools to monitor online review sites and social media.    

Step 3: Take action on a bad review

Let’s imagine the worst: you get an alert, and that new review is from a spitting-mad customer who warns everyone to avoid your business at all costs. Here’s your game plan:

  • Take a breath. You never want to respond to a bad review in the heat of the moment. It’s important to be proactive, but it’s okay to feel hurt or angry for a bit. Take a moment—or a few hours!— to let your initial reaction pass.
  • Review customer’s inspection report. Go back through your files and pull up the report from that day to jog your memory about the job. Can you recall anything that went wrong? Were there unusual circumstances or events? Were the results of the report disappointing? 
  • Be honest with yourself about the criticism. Based on your memory of events, does the reviewer have a point? Are there things that can be improved? It can help to make a list of what went wrong and how to fix these issues, either for this customer or for the future.
  • Use negative feedback to improve. Consider what changes you can make to ensure that this particular problem never comes up again. Would improved customer communication before the inspection help? Are your reports detailed enough? Is there a way to manage expectations about certain property types? Use this experience to put new systems in place to improve customer satisfaction moving forward.

How to respond to negative online reviews of your business

Once you’ve taken a hard look at a negative review and have decided how to use it to improve your operations moving forward, it’s time to respond to that unhappy customer directly. Try these tips to make the process as painless as possible:

  • Respond promptly. It’s important to take your time in coming up with a response, but you also need to address a negative ASAP. This will show future viewers that customer service is a high priority for you. 
  • Be polite and professional. No matter how that bad review was worded, your job is to reply in your most neutral, professional voice. Never resort to personal attacks or crude language—even if the reviewer started it. 
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Start your response by echoing their feelings so they know their complaint has been heard. Try opening with something like “I’m so sorry your inspection didn’t meet your expectations” to get the ball rolling.
  • Take the conversation offline. You don’t want to litigate the issue in public! Explain to the customer that you want to resolve the problem, and promise to reach out directly to them. This lets future customers browsing the reviews know you’re responsive while keeping the details of the resolution private.
  • Follow up. Call or send that email immediately after you post your response, and keep at it until you connect. You definitely don’t want a follow-up comment saying you never got in touch!

It’s up to you to work out the problem with your unhappy customer directly, and that could take many forms. Sometimes it’s enough just to listen to them to make them feel better. Other times, you may be able to clear up a misunderstanding about your report and your services. 

If you did make a mistake, or if this customer has the potential to put a serious dent in your online reputation with continued comments, you may consider offering a full or partial refund, or perhaps some other compensation. This is totally up to you!

Dealing with false reviews

Occasionally, you might get an online review that is inaccurate or incomplete in its description of the problem. It’s also possible that a review is a complete fake, placed by a competitor or someone who has never actually used your service. 

If this is the case, you should work to have the review removed. Fake reviews are illegal, so the hosting sites have an interest in taking them down. Google makes it easy to flag reviews as inappropriate if you think they’re fake.

If a fake review remains posted, consider responding to it with evidence. For example, you could politely explain in your response that you have no record of conducting a home inspection for a particular client, location, or date to let potential customers know to take that review with a grain of salt.

Turning negative reviews into positive marketing

When you respond appropriately to a negative review, you have a huge opportunity to make yourself look good. Any increased mentions online—even in the form of a bad review—will make search engines like Google sit up and take notice. This means that your business could come up higher in search listings when clients search for home inspectors online.

The big caveat, of course, is that you don’t want the first thing they see to be your worst review or a scathing post by an angry blogger. When you respond to a negative review, it keeps your business in the limelight while at the same time giving you a chance to put your best foot forward. 

Your response is also a chance to show the world that you’re always improving. If your review pointed out a true weakness, use your review response to explain exactly what your business has done to address it. What changes are now in place that future customers will benefit from? 

For a full marketing response, you could even highlight those changes on your website or publish a blog post about them. Then you can use your social media accounts to push that new information out to customers and real estate agents, creating some positive buzz about your business. 

Tips to avoid negative online reviews

Though there are ways to turn a bad review into a positive experience, it always makes sense to avoid negative reviews in the first place. Try these tips to get as many good reviews as possible:

  • Automate your request for customer reviews to build a solid foundation.
  • Reach out to your best customers in person to ask for testimonials to publish on your website.
  • Make sure your contracts are clear and thorough so customers aren’t surprised by the cost or what’s included in your services.
  • Consider ways you can educate customers about the purpose and value of a home inspection.
  • Make sure you have a system for keeping appointments, reports, and invoicing organized so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
  • Remember that buying and selling a house are emotional transactions. Try to show empathy for your customers while remaining honest about the property.

Remember, a negative online review doesn’t have to be the end of the world. When you respond quickly and professionally, you’ll bolster your online reputation and make sure that future customers see you as a great choice for their needs. Managing your presence on the internet takes some time, but it’s well worth the effort as you grow your home inspection business.