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5 Steps for Responding to Negative Online Reviews

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Editorial Team | April 8, 2019 | 0

5 Steps for Responding to Negative Online Reviews

There are only a few things in life that are guaranteed: death, taxes, and for a business, negative reviews.

Unfortunately, the inevitability doesn’t negate the damage a bad review can do to your business.  For example, 86% of people will hesitate to patronize you if they see negative reviews online.

That means your goal in responding to negative reviews shouldn’t just be winning the complainant’s business back.  Your true objective should be showing potential customers you’re a trustworthy business.

Thankfully, the process of managing your reputation online is well-established. Follow the steps below, and you’ll convince wary customers to give you a chance.

Step 1: Keep Calm

Some of your negative reviews will be undeserved.  And let’s face it, even the ones that you earned can be hard to swallow.   But the worst thing you can do is respond from a place of emotion.

Your image will only benefit from responding to negative reviews if you do it the right way: with a polite and professional tone.  So take a deep breath and wait until you can answer appropriately. If you’re having trouble finding your calm, ask a level head to look over your response before you hit post.

Step 2: Don’t Dispute

A public review site like Yelp or Google is not the place to counter someone’s complaint point by point—it will come off defensive at best and hostile at worst.

Remember, your real target audience is the people who are considering your establishment for the first time.  Because many people will recognize a serial whiner when they see one, you should focus on:

  • Making it clear that you care about your customers’ experience
  • Demonstrating that you know how to acknowledge a mistake
  • Proving that they can expect you to make things right if you make one with them

Nowhere on that list is “showing that you can prove that you’re right.”  In fact, that won’t even be the takeaway of your audience if you try.  Instead, all you’ll make them think is “if this business screws up with me, they’ll pass off responsibility and do nothing to fix it.”

And that’s how you lose customers before they even arrive.

For the same reason, avoid criticizing how they chose to air their complaint. Saying you wish they had come to you directly will read as a passive-aggressive desire to sweep things under the rug.

Step 3: Sympathize and Apologize

Even if you don’t think you did anything wrong, express compassion.  That will satisfy A and B from above.  If you can’t apologize sincerely, this might be a review you want to leave unanswered.

Some useful phrases for a professional and measured apology include:

  • “This certainly isn’t the way we want to do business.”
  • “We’re sorry to hear that we disappointed you.”
  • “We didn’t live up to expectations here, and we apologize.”
  • “That was unacceptable, and we want to make it right.”
  • “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We take such comments seriously.”

However you phrase it, make sure the apology is specific to their concern, meets the level of the perceived offense, and is as sincere as you can make it.  People can recognize boilerplate statements and false apologies, and that can alienate customers just as badly as not apologizing at all.

When appropriate, you can clarify a relevant policy or describe the level of service you normally strive for in a similar situation.  This can serve one of two purposes.  It can provide a reasonable explanation for why a reviewer couldn’t be accommodated, or it can set an expectation about what customers usually experience without coming off defensive.

Step 4: Move it out of the public eye

Getting into a drawn-out back-and-forth in a public forum is dangerous, so move the conversation to a private channel with your first reply.  You can do this even if the nature of the complaint is unclear. Use generic language such as “We would like to discuss what went wrong and how we can fix it.”

Offering to work out the issue will demonstrate to other customers that you fix what you break.  Everyone has experienced radio silence in response to a legitimate complaint, and it’s frustrating.  Show that you’re paying attention and willing to work with them should something go wrong. This will go a long way toward customer confidence in giving you a try.

Provide a specific point of contact and their title in your offer.  That will show that you take the situation seriously and put a face to the responsibility.

Step 5: Consider the Concern Seriously

Offering to fix individual errors is well and good, but don’t assume every complaint is a one-off.

Seriously consider the validity of each complaint and consider how your business can do better, particularly if you’re seeing the same issue over and over in reviews.  Are there policies that could be changed or put in place?

After all, the best way to respond to a negative review is to ensure you never make that particular mistake again.

And don’t forget: properly training your staff is the foundation for good customer service.  Using online training courses can be an affordable, effective solution.  We have 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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