Bad Online Customer Reviews: 12 Do's & Don'ts For Health Clubs, Yoga Studios & Wellness Centers

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Uh-oh. Your health club’s got a nasty online review from an unhappy member. Should you ignore it? Call your lawyer? Or respond? Could it have been prevented?

When it comes to negative online reviews, it’s easy to make a bad situation worse.

These twelve do’s and don’ts (plus two bonus tips) help you safely navigate the tricky waters of bad online customer reviews:

1. DO monitor reviews

At least monthly, check Yelp and Google reviews and ratings for your health club, yoga studio or wellness center.

Keep an eye on Facebook reviews on your business page and Twitter comments, too.

If you sell wellness books, CDs or anything else via Amazon, check those reviews. And check any community sites like NextDoor that tend to have reviews of local businesses.

2. DO accept responsibility

It’s not particularly convenient to post a negative review. It’s much easier to fill out a comment card or mention a problem to a staff member.

So you have two problems if you’re getting frequent negative reviews:

  • First, you’re routinely disappointing, annoying or frustrating members and clients.
  • Second, clients and members don’t feel that your wellness business gives them easy, effective ways to resolve these problems.

If you’ve got comment cards, they don’t think you act on them. If they’re telling staff, they’re not seeing resolution or action.

3. DO restate their specific concern

The major online review sites allow business owners to respond. Make it clear you really heard them: “It sounds like you were looking for a more energetic class.”

Reply to positive reviews, too, especially when they praise something specific:  “such helpful counselors” or the “calm soothing environment” or “the first time I feel like I know how to eat healthy.”

4. DO explain how you plan to fix their concern

“I’m so sorry that the women’s room has been out of toilet paper several times. That’s awful! We are now checking it four times every day instead of mornings only.”

If you can’t or don’t plan to address their gripe, say so:

“I’m sorry that you didn’t like the music we use in our QuietSoul class. Most folks feel that it adds to the tranquility but we know that music’s a very individual taste. The SilentSoul class doesn’t use music at all. Please accept our invitation to try it at no charge and see if it’s a better answer for you.”

5. DO tell the whole story

Sometimes a customer presents a one-sided complaint without mentioning all the things you did to try and resolve it.

“These people talk constantly about compassion and kindness but they don’t care at all about their clients, only about MONEY. I had a serious last-minute personal emergency and they have absolutely refused to refund my fee or do anything at all to make it right.”

Respond with a short but complete description of the situation. Avoid emotion. Let the facts speak for themselves:

“We’re sorry to hear that you’re unhappy about your registration cancellation. When you registered for the mindful living workshop, you signed a form which stated in large bold type that 50% of your fee would be nonrefundable if you cancelled with less than 24 hours notice. You called us 30 minutes before the program started to say that you had a flat tire and said you didn’t want to take the program because you would be arriving late. Jane, our manager, explained that the instructor would be happy to catch you up on what you had missed during the lunch break. We also offered to let you transfer your registration in full to any other program during the next six months. We’re sorry that none of these alternatives worked for you.”

6. DO encourage positive reviews

If you’ve got lots of positive reviews, a few negative reviews won’t matter. Use these tips to encourage your clients and members to post online reviews.

7. DON’T rely on generic responses

Cut-and-paste replies like “We’re sorry you did not enjoy your experience at Club SweatALot, where we want every member to experience world-class service and life-changing experiences” just sound phony and insincere.

Especially when that’s your response to every negative comment!

Write like a real person. “I’m so sorry that you feel like our equipment breaks down too much. We have maintenance contracts on everything and we try to get stuff fixed within 24 hours but it sounds like we need to do better.”

8. DON’T respond defensively

I know your business is your baby, and someone just called it ugly. Hey, it happens. You’re not a hundred-dollar bill. Not everyone’s gonna like you.

And it’s hard not to take a review like this one personally: “Not recommended. This weight loss program really needs to be updated. There is a lot of new information about which foods are good for you and which ones should be avoided and they don’t cover that at all. ”

But a defensive response like the following example just increases the negative reviewer’s credibility. You make yourself look like someone who won’t even consider the possibility that you’re not perfect:

“This reviewer clearly doesn’t know anything about this field. Everyone says this is by far the best weight loss program they have ever seen. I developed it based on over ten years of experience and four college degrees. Everything you mentioned has been tried and failed which is why we don’t do it here.”

Well, look – “everyone” doesn’t think it’s great, or you wouldn’t have this negative review, right?

9. DON’T hate the hater

Never criticize reviewers. Saying something like “You would understand if you knew anything about sports conditioning” is just another way to look like you can’t handle criticism.

10. DON’T treat every review equally

Sometimes it’s obvious that someone’s just having a bad hair day. Or a bad hair life. If that’s the case, skip over their comment and don’t reply at all.

11. DON’T forget the flag feature

Most review sites allow you to flag potentially inappropriate reviews – for example, clearly posted about your business in error, or multiple reviews with suspiciously similar wording that you believe were posted by a competitor.

Flagged reviews will often be eventually removed, although it may take several reports to the review site before it happens.

12. DON’T bother with lawsuits

First and most important: Relax. consumers can tell when a reviewer has an ax to grind. As long as you’ve got lots of great reviews, one or two nasty ones won’t matter.

Legal action usually isn’t worth the time or money, even when someone’s written a maliciously untruthful review.

You’re not likely to win a court case – but you are likely to get even more bad publicity for your business when your local media outlets report the dispute.

Rarely, you may suspect that a single individual is posting multiple negative reviews. This isn’t how emotionally stable people behave, so avoid online and in-person confrontation that may escalate feelings. Not every review needs a response other than “I’m sorry that you weren’t happy with your experience here.”

If you know who’s doing it, and you think they may pose a safety risk, talk to your local police department and implement your own appropriate security procedures, too.

Finally, two bonus tips:

DON’T “pay to play”

Don’t pay for review sites from companies like Merchant Circle that promise only positive reviews will show up. These paid review sites have very little influence with consumers.

If your business frequently sees negative reviews, don’t pay “reputation management companies” to fix the problem. Despite their promises, they don’t have special access to get negative reviews removed from sites like Google and Yelp.

Spend your time and money on fixing your business and the negative review problem will take care of itself.

DO read your competitors’ online reviews

It’s a great way to peek inside their business. You’ll learn about what’s upsetting their customers. Then, use that knowledge to avoid those problems in your own business, differentiate your business from theirs, and get new ideas for what this target market really wants from you guys.