[Webinar] Managing Negative Online Reviews for your Martial Arts School

Webinar Overview

When deciding between several martial arts schools for her child, a parent will look to your online channels – and straight to where she can find reviews. Reviews can have a huge impact on generating leads, and ultimately students for your school. Learn everything there is to know about negative online reviews and how to tackle them effectively.

Join David Walmsley, Social Media Strategist, as he breaks down:

  • Where prospective students are reading your school reviews online
  • Who should respond to bad reviews and how to turn a negative into a positive
  • Why and how to move the conversation offline
  • How your staff can learn from the experience and improve the customer experience

PerfectMind Inc | 4333 Still Creek Drive 2nd Floor Burnaby, BC V5C 6S6 | www.perfectmind.com

About the Speaker

David Walmsley

David Walmsley is Principal and Lead Strategist at the social media management agency, Social Victory. He works with businesses of all sizes to manage their online presence and grow their communities. Nominated for multiple national awards, his work with a vast array of publicly traded companies, charities and small to medium-sized businesses has given him a well-rounded approach to social media and online marketing.

Video Transcript

Pei En: Good morning, everyone! Or good afternoon or evening, if you're joining us from a little further away. My name is Pei En and I'm the Marketing and Events Coordinator here at PerfectMind ChampionsWay. I'd like to welcome you to today's webinar on "Managing Negative Online Reviews for Your Martial Arts School" with David Walmsley. Before we get started and we're still waiting for a few more people to roll in, let's do a quick sound check. For those of you who are right now, if you can hear me, please type 'yes' into the chat box now. Alright great, looks like everybody can hear me.

Before we jump into the good stuff, I'd like to give a quick rundown of who we are for those of you who are joining us for the first time or are not familiar with ChampionsWay or PerfectMind. Our all-in-one martial arts management software is used by thousands of schools worldwide and enables school owners to manage memberships, billing, belt ranks, promotions and more from a single cloud-based platform. We also provide web development and online marketing services, and if you'd like to learn more about us or want to see some of the free content that we have to offer like today's webinar, visit championsway.com. We've also got an exciting announcement to make at the end of the webinar so stay tuned for that.

Now enough about us, let me introduce today's guest presenter David Walmsley. Many of you who are familiar with ChampionsWay are also probably familiar with David. You've probably seen him on our social or even interacted with him, or seen a previous webinar that he's presented. David is Principal and Chief Strategist at Social Victory and has vast experience in working with companies small large in various industries and go in their online communities and building their social platforms. So he's well versed and he's a social media guru so you're all in for a treat today. Whether you run a large martial arts academy or an instructor in a small school, negative reviews can really impact your business and of course your reputation. So David's going to get right into it and we'll let him take it away.

David Walmsley: Thanks, Pei, much appreciated! As Pei mentioned my name is David Walmsley. I'm the founder and Chief Strategist at Social Victory here in Vancouver. We've worked across Canada, in the States, some work in Europe and outside as well. We wanted to address just the kind of overall idea of reviews online to start with getting into how and why to manage your negative reviews, where to find them, and how and why the way that you deal with these might impact your martial arts school. So let's dive right in!

For starters, just as a primer - what is review? For our conversation today, I think it's important to differentiate a review from simply a comment. Online reviews are a specific mechanism in which someone came and leave their experience, usually with some kind of commentary as well as a numeric rating. Classically on most platforms you're going to be weighted out of 5. This is the platform specific function for leaving review as opposed to simply a comment.

Why should the business owner or the martial arts instructor care about this kind of reviews? Reviews, especially with small medium businesses can say a lot about a company in terms of your quality, your effectiveness and just the overall public interpretation of your school. So consumers of all kinds often check reviews before making decisions. A lot of people kind of have their personal platform that they check the most for reviews. When it comes to children especially, this can make a huge difference. Parents as an audience are more likely to use reviews before making purchasing decision when involves their children. There's a lot of other audiences. So especially if you run children's programs, this is going to be very important for you.

04:58

People are more likely to review services and clubs than they are direct products as well, outside of Amazon because that's where they are very forward facing. So having a service and working with kids especially are going to be kind of the switch / for reviews or just would be the antithesis on importance.

Do these impact my business, my team member, my bottom line? Most definitely. It can directly impact your bottom line. It can be a source of accomplishment. When you get a great review from somebody, can kind of make the team feel validated in the work. You need a bit of a source of animosity. If you don't agree with reviews or if part of the team gets a negative review and not the rest. It can also be used to troubleshoot and build your business plan and services, so you can use this kind of reviews to improve on your offerings. So there are a lot of ways in which they can directly impact your school.

Which platforms will actually allow you to interact with reviews? Now there are a lot of sources for online reviews. The central ones in terms of base small medium business, in terms of martial arts schools, are going to be your review on Google, your review on Yelp, and your reviews on Facebook. All three of these will allow to you interact with the reviewers if you have your business (page) set up. So if you have your business page set up through Google, through Yelp and through Facebook, you do have the ability to directly interact with reviews. I would very highly recommend having all those accounts set up properly, if you do want to be interacting with your reviewers, and you most definitely should be.

In order to comment on these, if you're signed into Yelp, you can go directly from desktop or through your phone, and then go to the Reviews section. You can write responses, you can send direct messages. It's fairly useful and the sense that you can get directly to people.

Google reviews - a little bit less in depth of what you can do. You can directly respond to the reviews itself as business owner through both desktop and on mobile. I use to just sign in to Google My Business and go to Manage location in Google reviews. That will often be less likely to get a response directly to the person who left the review, so it's a little less engaging in terms of being able to interact with them directly.

And then Facebook. People will get notifications if you respond to a review, so they're more likely to get your responses that way. And with that, if you have your business page set up and you see a review, you will get a notification either way. So you can directly click through quite simple.

One thing to remember above not all else, but it's a very high priority, is that expediency is a key factor in creating a positive outcome. So if you have a negative situation whether it is an altercation between a student and your staff, whether it's something about your services, your pricing, times of classes, anything like that, if you are able to respond to these inquiries, comments and reviews quicker, you're much more likely to have a positive outcome.

Something that I often have to remind companies like the smaller ones, individual martial arts schools that just have a couple instructors to larger ones, to large corporations, this is a great way to help improve your overall customer service, just based on having this kind of interactions and being able to turn them around. A lot of people will have immediate major reaction when they see a review that they don't like. It's natural when someone is rating you and you don't completely agree with it, that you get defensive. You want to deny allegations, you kind of feel like you're backed into a little corner sometimes. The way to react to this is you want to be aggressive, you want to show them that you understand there's an issue that you want to help them work through it.

09:58

And that you want to improve the customer service in your offerings overall, because as small business owners, as medium business owners, we need to be constantly trying to improve over and beyond. And from most martial arts discipline that is also a central tenet, so it works really well with the type of industry that we're in as a whole.

In terms of organization and who within it is going to be the best respond to review, a lot of the time that will depend on the size of your business. Many martial arts school owners do a fair amount of their own administration, they don't have a lot of office staff. In other larger ones they'll have somebody in administration. They may have of a marketing department in itself that will be most likely be engaging with it. One thing that I do recommend here is that specify the people who are going to be responding to reviews, so they know to look out for notifications, they always know where to look. You can maintain the same voice in terms of coming across in a similar manner when you do it, you can be consistent. That's going to be a key is just identifying the staff members who are going to be responsible for those. It's also recommended that it be some kind of a stakeholder or somebody who is going to be a good go-between, in between your different faculties. They need to be somebody who can get a hold of the instructors, the owners, admin, people doing the scheduling, someone who's going to be very central.

You can save a lot of the negative reviews you come across and create a positive outcome, and that's exactly what we're going to be looking for. It's very easy to have an ex-student who wasn't happy for some reason. Maybe you move class times to better fit a larger number of your students and they couldn't make class. Potentially you had your pricing changed, you move to a different school, a lot of different reasons why you might receive this kind of reviews. But the overall goal is going to be taking these negative situations and creating a positive outcome. A part of that is going to be remembering to stay polite, stay positive and be working towards resolution; instead of simply trying to shut them down to deny everything. Because you want to show that you care about your customers, you care about your students and your staff, and that you want to be giving the best teachings and the best community forward as possible.

Part of the way to take these reviews and use them as a sort of loop to learn from is that constructive feedback in and of itself can help you build your business, no matter the size. So what you really want to do is learn from these reviews instead of dismissing them. Like I said near the onset, it's very easy to kind of have that defensive mode come on when you see something negative about your work, but what we want to do is kind of pull apart these situations, trying to get down to the root causes of any kind of friction, and to figure out a way so that those aren't going to happen the same way in the future. Part of that is going to be building the feedback directly into your business plan. When you receive this kind of feedback whether negative or positive, the constructive feedback should be used to help build and improve your business. Like we talked about earlier, this could be around pricing, it could be around your schedules, it could be around different service offerings. There a lot of these different modules that should be a part of your business plan and of your marketing plan. If you have those in a natural written format which we do recommend, there are some awesome team members on the Success Team on PerfectMind ChampionsWay that will definitely be happy to give a few pointers there. If you get in touch with us I can definitely make some recommendations on who to best talk to, but that's something to always remember is that this should be an ongoing project. Your business plan and your marketing plan are something are that always going to be evolving.

14:55

However, it is important when you first receive a review to assess the situation for validity. So depending on how intensive their review is, how many topics it covers, you may want to get back to them with something very simple. Saying that your story here about XYZ or about the situation, you're going to investigate it or you're going to have certain team member follow up with them, if you aren't able to get this information directly on the fly. So sometimes you're going to need to talk to a specific instructor, a specific administrator in order to see what happen in the situation from your school's point of view, because there are going to be times where in the heat of the moment they can exacerbate an issue, or make something seem a lot more intensive than it is. There are others where it could just be common misunderstanding, so coming to a common ground there will be a big help for you.

One thing to remember is that it's the person who is having a negative experience is much more likely to go out of their way to leave a review, similar with politics and a lot of other things in life. The person who is the most enthralled, angry, just energetic about something, they're more likely to go out of their way getting involved in a situation. So with reviews, people are more likely to leave this kind of things if they are in a heightened emotional state.

Part of the way that you can combat a bit of that is to ask for reviews from your students. Make it so that they understand they can leave an honest review because you want that constructive feedback. So go out of your way to ask those people who have short term and long term experience with your school what their experience is. Be open and honest about it that you want that feedback in order to grow the school and to improve what you're able to offer them as martial artists and practitioners; and be proactive about it. Make it so that it well understood that they can leave this kind of feedback and that you're actually going to act on it, that's a big thing.

Always remember to measure your success at implementing this feedback. Whether this is once a month the collecting all the reviews, all the feedback you have, have a meeting with your team, seeing exactly what you can work on, who's going to be responsible for what, very highly recommended in order to make sure that these voices are being heard. Because it's one thing to be able to say, "Hey we understand this problem, we're really working towards fixing it, thank you for the feedback." And if another thing entirely to actually go and do it and be able to prove that you are working through these steps, and that you're trying to do this for the better good for your students and your school.

Trolls are something that almost everyone is going to come across online from time to time. I've worked through a lot of emergency management for campaigns. I've done some with government clients, NGOs, larger corporations, small businesses, where they have been kind of at the mercy of internet trolls. So trolls kind of an overreaching definition are people who go out of their way simply to mess up your business, your public image. They will harass people, not necessarily you. They could go after your students, they could go after your company pages. Generally speaking, what they want is to cause chaos and strive for other people because it gives them entertainment value or some kind of an advantage. You will sometimes find in the most unfortunate circumstances that companies or competitors can create their own pages and profiles purposely to attack others. Underhanded best practice I highly recommend not giving in to any of those urges if you have them. Generally speaking, they will somehow find a way of coming out in the end and it does not look good on your business if someone finds out that you are doing this. So what can you actually do about it?

19:58

This is going to depend where you are interfacing with them in exactly what they're leaving. Most platforms where there is the ability to leave a review, there are ways to report reviews that you do not think actually are related to your page. So if you're simply getting negative copy-paste commentary that doesn't have anything to do with your business, as an anecdote I've worked with a couple companies in the past where they were getting copy-paste negative reviews that in the comments left in the review, they specifically named something that was outside of what their business even offered, and we were able to get some reviews taken down because of that. On Facebook we did that / Google as well. It is something you can do there.

Outside of that, depending on what they're saying and how, there are sometimes ways to block it if it is inflammatory. Also very easy to remove if it's directly inflammatory or they are using people's names specifically or giving away sensitive information like contact details, also ways for removal based on that. And outside of that if these are just inflammatory comments and it's not something you can remove, you can still be proactive about it. You can directly come out and say, "Hey thank you for your feedback but this does not directly relate to our business." Make sure that you are comfortable addressing most commentary. If it isn't directly inflammatory towards you directly, if it's just negative, if it's just somebody pushing buttons who isn't directly related to your business, don't be afraid to call that out, just don't do it in a really aggressive manner.

There are some situations where legal advice might be necessary. If this is ex-client who are purposely going out to attack your business, if these are competitors attacking your business, ex-instructors that you had a bad break with, there are a lot of different situations that can arise that may require legal advice in terms of what they're spreading about your company. I've dealt with a couple on the past where the larger company was offering a service that some people didn't agree with and they went out of their way to give people's specific names and their telephone numbers. And we did end up going to legal with that and they had everything removed. So obviously that's the last thing you want to have to do but in certain situations, / this is are in order. Obviously last resort but that is something that can sometimes come up.

One thing to remember is that you don't have to go through every step of dealing with review online. Sometimes it can be a lot faster and a lot more effective to move things offline. A lot of that can be just being able to actually get into exactly what's going on, on a social media platform, on review platform a lot of the time it's brevity, it's kind of the name of the game. So a lot of people they'll just leave a sentence or two, they're googling something relatively simple. Sometimes it is in your best interest to move these conversations offline in order to be able to react effectively and also quickly. If you are going in between your social platform and then calling one of your team members or emailing them, having them get back to you or back to the customer directly. There are a lot of reasons to why it can be a lot faster to move it offline. Allow this extra time to give you the advantage of getting the right information from the right team member. So if you're trying to deal with things quickly as we talked about before, it's important that you're able to reach the right team member who is directly involved with whatever the service is.

24:57

Let's say you have one team member that's responsible for working on your pro shop, and you have somebody who is not happy about pricing or they were accidentally overcharged or whatever the issue might be. It's important to be able to reach that team member directly and get the right information.

And always remember to follow up with a public comment. If you know that an issue has been resolved, follow up with it. So say, "It was great talking with you today, happy we're able to work through this. Please let us know in the future if X, Y or Z." Show that you were progressive and proactive, show that you were able to answer the inquiry that you did it quickly, and that goes a long way for people who are reading your reviews. So even if you had some kind of a negative outcome, it looks really good on you if you address it quickly and if you went out of your way to work through that problem.

Kind of potentially the most important note with dealing with negative reviews - always be authentic. You want to be improving this negative situation that you're coming across through these reviews because it's important and not just because you feel like you have to respond to them. The best way to go about this is because you want to improve your work, you want to better your business, and you want to have happy customers; not just because this is a mechanism of your business that you are begrudgingly having to commit to. That can come across pretty easily. It is very important that you address this kind of things authentically. You will want to succeed, you want to improve.

You can directly show and prove that you're being proactive. A few points earlier, being quick about it, getting the right information, being positive that you can get a better end result, and also leaving those comments afterwards saying that we talked on the phone or I left you a couple of emails trying to work through this, to show them that you are committing to:
1. Answer these reviews

2. Actually going through it and taking that criticism to heart, if it's valid and becoming better because of it.

Part of that where a lot of this authenticity is going to come from is embody your martial arts practice. Especially in the more traditional martial arts, the philosophy comes from a very authentic place - bettering yourself, bettering the people around you and the communities that you build in your martial arts school and the community outside of that that are something that you would want to commit to and contribute to. So treat this as part of that audience. You want to embody your martial arts practice and you want to show people the good that your business, that your training and that your philosophy has in your team members, your instructors, your school and the greater community, and use that to respond to these negative reviews in a way that is directly authentic and that really speaks to your business.

Now I know Pei has an announcement and I believe we'll jump in to the Q&A session right after that.

Pei En: Thanks so much, David that was a fantastic presentation! It was jam packed with lots of useful insights about handling reviews and a lot of things that we don't even think about, like trolls and copy pasting negative reviews, that's unfortunate but it does happen so it's great that you touched on that. And as David mentioned we do have an announcement.