How to Respond to Negative Reviews

Negative review responsesHere’s a truth every business owner should embrace: Websites and social media outlets that offer opportunities for customers to leave reviews are a good thing. This is true whether a review is good or bad.

A good review tells you what you’re doing right, and potential customers that your establishment might be worth checking out. A negative review often reveals areas where your business can improve. You need that sort of information.

Note that I included the word “often” in that sentence about negative reviews. Not all negative reviews are constructive. Sometimes people use them to exact revenge if they feel they have been wronged. You can’t control that, and I believe that over time, the system has a way of leveling out.

An incident happened recently at a Lakeland establishment that has prompted this particular post. The way this business responded to a negative review was so off-the-charts inappropriate, I figured it was time for a refresher on how to respond to negative reviews.

The Back Story

A friend patronized this business and the staff there had difficulty getting her drink order correct (it took three tries). When the friend mentioned this to the person who brought that third drink (one of the owners), she was told not to be an asshole; that they were busy.

Let’s establish this: It is never OK to call a customer an asshole. Even if your customer is acting like one (she wasn’t- yet).

This friend works in social media (he didn’t know that- yet). The friend tried to resolve her grievance privately and when that didn’t work, she took to social media. After posting her negative review on several review sites, and after numerous unfavorable social media conversations among friends about her incident, another (level-headed) business owner reached out to address the firestorm. All is well now. The friend finally got her apology nearly a week later, and she deleted her reviews.

All of this could have been avoided by following these tips:

1. Don’t respond in anger

If you don’t have the temperament to respond calmly in situations such as this, you are not the right person to handle social media for your business. Find someone on your staff who is capable of crafting appropriate responses, or hire a social media manager to monitor your platforms and offer timely replies.

2. Say thank you

That’s right. You should thank them for letting you know that their experience wasn’t as they had expected, and thank them for addressing it with you  and giving you an opportunity to correct it.

Saying thank you doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.

3. Apologize

This may sting a little, particularly if you don’t feel your business did anything wrong. But you can apologize for the negative experience. Let’s face it, you’re sorry that someone came to your establishment and didn’t love it, right? Say so. Ask what you could have done differently to prevent the negative experience. If it’s reasonable, invite the customer back and tell them what you’ll do differently next time. If you think the suggestion is unreasonable, thank them for the feedback and tell them you value their input as an opportunity to get better every day.

Here’s what my friend suggested as an appropriate response to her complaint. It’s spot-on: “Thanks for your review. We’re sorry that we didn’t live up to your expectations.”

4. When they complain to you privately, keep it private

When a customer reaches out to you privately with a complaint, be grateful. This is your best opportunity for addressing the situation in a manner that doesn’t result in a public negative review.

5. When they complain to you publicly, take it private

Don’t get into a public, online arguing and finger-pointing match with a customer. You need to publicly acknowledge the complaint and request to reach out privately to resolve the situation. Once everything is resolved, the customer might delete the negative review. If not, you can leave a follow-up comment on the review  to explain what you did to correct the situation.

6. Remember that everyone is watching

You need to do No. 5 because of No. 6. It’s social media, and a sad truth about this is that for every kitten video that people take viral, there are far more negative comments and reviews that go viral on a hyperlocal scale. People read negative reviews. How this business owner initially responded to my friend’s public negative review made jaws drop. It was an online conversation topic for days. That’s not the way you want people talking about your business.

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