10 Keys for Effectively Responding to Negative Online Reviews

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It’s understandable that negative online reviews are a cause of anxiety and frustration for most businesses. However, no business is immune from getting bad reviews. Even with the best of intentions, people still make mistakes and sometimes bad things just happen.

The real test is how a business responds to bad reviews. And “respond” is the key. Ignoring negative reviews won’t make them go away and in most cases will cause long term damage to your brand’s reputation and worse — lost sales.

Instead of getting defensive, savvy business owners embrace negative online reviews as an opportunity. For them, responding to poor reviews provides the chance to:

  • Engage with that customer and turn a negative situation into a positive.
  • Reply not to just the reviewer, but everyone who reads their response — including potential future customers.
  • Use the feedback to fix the problem and improve the customer experience.

By making responding to negative reviews a part of your marketing strategy, you too can see these same benefits.

So if your business gets a negative review on Google, Yelp, Facebook or any of the other major review sites, what do you do? Below are 10 keys for successfully responding to negative online reviews.

1. Step Back and Calm Down

When facing criticism, it’s natural to get angry and defensive. Your business is your life and for someone to criticize something you’ve sacrificed so much for is likely to make your blood boil. Trying to write a constructive response in this situation is probably not a good idea. If your emotions are running high, take some time to cool down.

2. Assess the Situation

Before crafting a response, ask yourself these questions. Do you know the customer? (If so, review any information regarding your relationship, order history, support issues, etc.) How bad was the review? Does it require involvement from legal counsel? Are there any privacy issues to be aware of? What website was the review originally posted and what are their terms for posting a response? The answers to these questions will help shape how you respond.

3. Respect the Customer’s Privacy

In your response, you should avoid referring to the customer by name or including any details about the business transaction or service provided. Even if the customer volunteered this information in their review. For healthcare providers, this is a must as privacy laws are much stricter. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restricts the disclosure of a patient’s identity, conditions, diagnosis or treatments. Be sure to understand this and other privacy laws before you post.

4. Respond Promptly

Time is of the essence when responding to negative reviews and people have little patience when it comes to customer service response times. It’s best to reply within 24 hours, but don’t wait more than a few days. To facilitate a fast reply, have a process in place for drafting, reviewing and approving review responses. The other reason to respond quickly is that you want to be the first to post a response. Having your response buried beneath other posters drowns out your message and shows a lack of interest in your customers.

5. Apologize

From the customer’s perspective, they have been wronged or hurt in some way during their experience and are looking to be heard. You should recognize this by starting off your response with an apology. And, the proper way to apologize is to use the words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry” — not “My bad” or “We regret”. In cases where the customer has accused you of wrongdoing in their review, an apology may not be in your best interest given the potential legal ramifications.

6. Maintain a Positive, Respectful Tone

Always be respectful and polite when responding to negative reviews. This can be difficult when someone has just left a scathing review about your business for all to see. When writing your response, give yourself time to draft a well thought out, positive reply. Give credit to the customer for bringing the issue to light and thank them for their feedback. Showing genuine care for your customers will elevate your business in the eyes of others reading your response.

7. Keep it Short

Being short and to the point is the best approach when responding to a negative review. For most responses, 3 or 4 sentences should be enough. On rare occasions you might consider posting a longer reply if the customer has a list of issues. This is advisable only if the tone of their review is constructive.

8. Take the Conversation Offline

One of your objectives should be to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to provide a name and direct contact number for the customer to call you and resolve the issue. This shows that you care and are genuinely interested in engaging with the customer to fix the problem.

9. Provide a Solution

Responding to negative reviews is great, but make sure you solve the problem. If you’ve solved the problem already — great! Say so in your response. If not, at least indicate how you plan to address the issue. Customers want solutions, not lip-service.

10. Post an Update

Once you have talked to the customer and resolved the issue, post a (brief) follow up stating the matter was resolved and any next steps you will take to improve the customer experience. You will win points with both the customer and anyone else that reads your post. (Don’t be surprised if the customer posts a positive follow up and / or takes down the original review as well!)

Businesses should embrace not fear negative online reviews. By engaging with these customers and solving their issues, you will be rewarded with a better reputation and more sales.

Malcolm Stone is the founder of ReviewIgnite, an internet marketing company that helps businesses leverage online customer reviews. Malcolm has more than 15 years of experience in the areas of brand marketing, reputation management and customer experience.


Originally published at reviewignite.com on May 17, 2017.