Posted On: April 8, 2019

How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

Every business will get its share of negative reviews; it's inevitable.  Unfortunately, those reviews can and will damage your business.

86% of potential customers will think twice about visiting you if they see negative reviews online.

That means your goal in dealing with negative reviews can't just be about winning back the reviewer.  It has to be about demonstrating to everyone else that they can trust you to fix any issues that come up.

Luckily, there are simple rules for turning a negative review around. Below, you'll find the secret to combating potential customers' hesitation.

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5 Rules for Responding to Negative Reviews Online

Rule #1: Stay Calm

The stakes are high and your business is your pride and joy—it's natural to be upset or angry when you see a poor review. 

So don't respond right away.

While you need to respond to reviews within a few days to show that you're paying attention, some cooling off time is fine.  Take a day to consider the validity of the complaint and ask around with your staff to get a picture of what, exactly, occurred. 

Then take a deep breath and craft a polite, professional response.  If you're struggling to strike the right tone, ask someone more objective to review before you post. 

Rule #2: Don't Argue Your Case

Your brief investigation wasn't to gather evidence for a public trial—it was mostly for your reference.  It should inform your response but disputing someone's claim in great detail won't help your case. 

Don't forget that your real target audience is potential customers.  And they only need three things from your response:

  1. For you to demonstrate that you're invested in customer satisfaction
  2. For you to show that you can own your business's mistakes
  3. For you to prove that you'll try to make up for any problems they experience

Being too defensive will lead them to believe that any problem they run into will turn into a fight, and they'll choose to go somewhere down the street.

For the same reason, avoid any reference to the public nature of the complaint.  Implying that the issue should have been dealt with quietly will only make readers wary of how you do business.

Rule #3: Keep It Brief

The key is to offer a short public response that covers the key points above, then move the business of "fixing it" onto a private channel.  You're courting disaster if you let the conversation carry on beyond that.

This is also why it's important to calm down before your response.  You want to get it right the first time so there doesn't have to be a second.

Write 2-3 sentences acknowledging the problem and offering to fix it, then drop names.  Give a specific manager to contact, with their title.  This will demonstrate that you take issues seriously and the buck stops somewhere.

Rule #4: Say You're Sorry

An apology can go a long way, even if you don't think your business was at fault.  Keep it honest—most people that read reviews online are savvy enough to recognize when a baseless complaint.  If you can't honestly address the comment in a constructive way, it might be a comment you shouldn't reply to (no matter how much your fingers itch).

Sometimes, the complaint is valid but you're still not at fault.  A response that acknowledges their feelings is appropriate here, along with a measured explanation.  For example:

We're so sorry we disappointed you by discontinuing [your favorite dish].  Unfortunately, [a key ingredient] is out of season right now, so it's just not a cost-effective offering.  Come back in [a future month] when we can get our hands on [that ingredient] and we'll happily satisfy that craving!

This demonstrates sympathy for the customer's feelings, provides a reasonable explanation for the problem without getting defensive, and since it's possible, offers a practical solution that invites their return business. 

When the review is caused by a mistake on your end, you'll need to take unwavering responsibility.  But keep it in proportion with the problem and stay honest.

We're disappointed to hear that we got your order wrong repeatedly—that certainly isn't the way we want to do business. We'd be grateful if you gave us a second chance.  Please contact our General Manager Amy at 555-555-5555 to discuss what we can do to win back your business.

This acknowledges that you did poorly but doesn't make excuses.  It shows that you want to make it right without getting too specific.  That gives you leeway to tailor compensation based on the size of the error.

You can use this method even if the poor review is not specific (for example, a 2-star rating with no text explanation).  Just keep it general:

It looks like we failed to meet your expectations.  We take that seriously!  We'd like to discuss what went wrong and how we can fix it.  Please call us at 555-555-5555 and ask to speak without Todd, our General Manager.

Rule #5: Make It Constructive

Take complaints seriously, especially if you're receiving the same one over and over. 

If you're getting repeated complaints about something you don't provide, consider the demand even if it wasn't part of your vision for your business model.  Is your commitment to not offering wifi really worth lukewarm reviews?

For actual screw-ups, make sure you understand why the error occurred.  Are there policies you can put in place or SOPs you can change to prevent it in the future?

The best way to avoid more negative reviews is to make sure you're not repeating your mistakes.

Properly training your staff is the foundation for pleasing your customers. Using online training courses can be an affordable, effective solution.  Learn2Serve has up-to-date, state-specific coursework to ensure your staff learns exactly what they need to know, and our business solutions make it easy for you to assign, track, and organize documentation of their training.

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