Google Places business listings intends to be number one among all business listing tools on the web. They have the right location to accomplish this. The only thing left to do is provide such a robust environment for both owners and their customers that both will spend time, energy, and money here rather than at Yellowpages, Yelp, Yahoo, or other competitors in the online local search engine and directory world.
According to conversations I've had with managers at Yelp and CitySearch, and according to many articles on the subject by various pundits, the real competition is in the reviews. And online business reviews are real trouble. Flames from competitors, unreasonable expectations from consumers, and a propensity to complain and ask questions later, has resulted in lost business for otherwise excellent businesses.
Yelp has been at the center of the controversy, including various lawsuits on the subject. They started offering owner responses several months ago. Now Google is following that lead, and in a way that is very unGoogle-like. They have given rules, recommendations, and even examples of do's and dont's for handling the responses. And at least at first blush, they have made the process simple. Could this be a forerunner of better customer care by Google in the future, or just a recognition that anything less might create lawsuits for Google?
In order to make a response to a review on Google Places, you must have claimed your listing. Amazing, but true, there a millions of businesses who have not yet claimed their listings. Once you have claimed your listing, you will see the reviews section on the Place Page. There you will also see "Respond publicly as the owner." Merely click here, make your response and click publish.
Google has posted rules for the review and response section as follows:
• Don't spam or post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.
• Don't post or link to content that is sexually explicit or contains profanity.
• Don't post or link to content that is abusive or hateful or threatens or harasses others.
• Don't post or or link to any file that contains viruses, corrupted files, "Trojan Horses," or any other contaminating or destructive features that may damage someone else's computer.
• Don't post any material that violates the copyrights or other intellectual property rights of others.
• Don't impersonate any person, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity.
• Don't violate any other applicable law or regulation.
• Don't use comments as a forum for advertisement.
And google has posted their thoughts and ideas on what to say or not say when you post a response.
These are very common sense ideas. You can see their suggestions here.
My thoughts are these. Acknowledge and validate their feelings and concerns while not necessarily agreeing with their facts. If you do agree with their facts, make it clear that you would welcome a chance to make it right. If you don't acknowledge their facts, make your own clear statement of your position with a very "nice" tone. In many cases, even if they don't have a leg to stand on, you can create great future goodwill with them and others by graciously offering to meet them somewhere in the middle.
Be sure to provide a response to every issue. Sometimes a good review might contain a slightly negative element. Profusely thank the person for their good review and use the guidelines above to respond to the negative part.
By far the best response to negative reviews is lots and lots of postiive ones. Explore ways to generate positive reviews and make it a part of company policy to encourage such reviews. http://www.ShoutDog.com is one online company offering some methods for getting more reviews.