How to respond to negative reviews

Reading Time: 9 minutes

No matter how great you are, you’re likely to receive the odd negative review every once in a while. It’s okay. It’s not deadly. While it may not seem like it, a negative review can be good for business if you respond appropriately and sprinkle a little marketing magic on it. 

For every customer who complains, 26 others remain silent. That means if a business gets a bad review, there could be dozens of other people who had the same experience and aren’t saying anything.

We all crave feedback, so what could be better than receiving quick criticism from someone who has tried your business? Of course, there will always be trolls and people that nit-pick every single thing. No matter how great you’re doing, there will always be a few people who wish the soup had a little bit more seasoning, the rooms had a bit more fragrance, or the waiter had a better-pressed shirt. 

“For every customer who complains, 26 others remain silent. That means if a business gets a bad review, there could be dozens of other people who had the same experience and aren’t saying anything.”

If you keep that in mind, negative reviews can start to feel a lot less like a kick in the gut, and a lot more like what they really are: a great source of feedback. In fact, negative reviews can alert business owners to problems they didn’t know about.

The customer behind the negative review

Here are a few things to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews: 

Don't ignore it.

Ever! Imagine if a business’s competitors were taking out ads saying how terrible they were and the business just did nothing. Granted, the negative review may not be written by a competitor, but the chances are that more relevant people will be reading the review than would be seeing an ad in traditional media.

These people have already searched the business and are deciding whether to give it a shot. Make sure that you are part of the online conversation going on about you every single day.

Take some time to respond.

Not a lot of time, you want people to be able to rely on your quick response, but make sure you don’t react purely based on emotion. Because you probably care a lot about your company, it’s difficult not to take a bad review as a personal attack. While you want to ensure that you don’t let your emotions take charge, it’s important to write with sincerity. If you don’t, you might run the risk of sounding sarcastic or disingenuous.

Be kind and genuine.

While you’re responding to one person – and your response should come across that way – remember that the audience is potentially much larger and far-reaching. Not only will other people who visit the review site see the response, but it’s possible that those people could share the review and response with their own networks.

Be specific.

If a customer mentions something in particular about the business, use that in your reply. Not only does this demonstrate that you are not a robot, but it makes the complainant feel heard and understood.

“While you want to ensure that you don’t let your emotions take charge, it’s important to write with sincerity”

Remember that feedback and criticism can be helpful. 

This reviewer has taken the time to invest in the business in an attempt to make it better — thank them (even if you don’t agree with them). If you’re always looking for a way to better understand the customer experience, there is no better tool than a review. The reviewer may have a relevant point about the business, so it’s important to consider the content without going on the defensive. If each negative review says that Carl is the worst, maybe Carl needs a serious talking to. Or a firing.

Offer to take the conversation offline. 

You would never want to have a less than pleasant dialogue with an unhappy customer in a physical store with other customers around, so why would you do it in front of more eyes online? Offering a phone number and a way to connect privately ensures the reviewer that you want to fix the situation for them, not just for the digital audience. Also, if you decide to offer a free or discounted service to make up for the bad experience, it’s best not to do this in front of other customers and potential customers — that might encourage bad reviews to get free stuff. You know who loves free stuff? Me. And everyone else.

Key Takeaway

Remember that the reviewer came into the business to give it a shot. Then they took some of their valuable time to offer feedback. It’s possible to turn a naysayer into a brand ambassador. People are not looking for perfection (that’s clear when we look at our elected politicians, isn’t it?). And as Salvador Dali once said, “have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.” Consumers want to feel heard. They want to know that a brand or a local business is authentic. Give them that feeling. 

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