Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, and I hosted a well-attended webinar last week about the all-important topic of negative reviews.

Andy Sernovitz Webinar with Bazaarvoice CMO Sam DeckerAlmost four years ago, when I started at Bazaarvoice, negative reviews were the #1 concern of prospects; we battled this by proving that most reviews are positive with research done by Keller Fay in 2006, showing that 80% of all reviews are positive. With the proliferation of social networks, today brands know that negative feedback is inevitable, and they’re learning to use negative feedback to improve offerings and build trust with consumers.

As always, Andy gave some great insights in the webinar, which boil down to these steps:

Monitor. Google your brand, stay alert on Twitter – always look for ways people are talking about your brand. Do this daily; you don’t want to be caught unaware four days after a negative reaction has spread over the internet.

Respond to negative WOM. Responding starts way before a negative interaction!

1: Preempt The Negative. Create a long-term outreach program, know relevant bloggers in your space, and build authentic rapport. Let your critics and fans interact by bringing your critics “inside the tent,” on your site or in relevant, public interactions with your brand.

2. Let your fans respond first. This is the home-run scenario. Don’t wait too long, though, to say “Thank you” for the feedback and “I’m sorry.” Don’t respond at all when a complaint is so small that you don’t want to give it credibility, when you’re obviously being set up or if it’s a known crackpot that’s pursuing you. Most of the time, however, you should respond. When you do, do it the same day, respond as a human, not a corporation, make sure to put your side on the record, and don’t try to “win” – you just want to look responsive.

3. Know the ethics rules. The best way to respond is to authentically say, “I work for ______, and this is my personal opinion.” This instantly builds credibility, as many people will assume you’re being paid by the company to tow the company line. If you have a PR person or outsider speak on your behalf, give full disclosure; never pay someone to bolster your side of the story. Be transparent.

4. Training. The biggest risk in today’s user-generated, Internet-enabled society is to not be prepared, companywide, for negative feedback. As a company, you want to create a formal policy and training program, and hold your agencies to the same standards as your employees – in writing. The Social Media Business Council has excellent resources for helping large organizations build social media strategies.

At Bazaarvoice, we’ve seen several companies turn negative reviews into big wins – companies have improved products and offerings, built trust in their brands, and decreased returns by setting better expectations. The Land of Nod remanufactured a craft table and Oriental Trading Company improved more than 700 products and/or marketing materials due to negative feedback from consumers.

Our content moderation process also helps clients easily see ratings trends and potential liabilities through moderation reports, so brands can see problems long before they become huge and impact the entire community. We’ve also created ways for brands to communicate directly with consumers and the community to publicize what they’re doing to solve the problem.

Samsung is a good example of this. On one of their refrigerators, the ice machine begins working six hours after it’s plugged in, but some consumers didn’t know this, so they assumed the fridge was broken. Return rates were very high, and Samsung used reviews to uncover the issue. The product manager improved communication around the issue, even creating a video explaining this, which plays in stores. Shortly after this improvement, return rates plummeted, and more people were happy with their purchases.

QVC, along with dozens of other brands, have regular executive-level meetings around negative reviews, using this first-hand customer input to drive continuous improvement.

Today’s consumers have the chance to have a real impact on products, services, and consumer awareness. More and more smart brands are using Bazaarvoice tools to let those consumer voices fuel real operational change.

Want to watch this webinar? Request it here.

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