Ways Small Businesses Can Respond to Negative Reviews
Getting a bad review for your business can be insanely irritating, especially given how hard you’ve worked to make your business perfect. So, what do you do when Yelp, Google or social media notifies you of a customer complaint about your business?
When you do get a negative review, it’s certainly important to watch your temper and not shoot back an angry response, because that will just make matters worse, nor can you afford to ignore it, as a survey from Trustpilot found that 89% of consumers worldwide read reviews online before they buy a product. Responding to reviews also lets the world know that you value every customer and don’t take them for granted.
“Always respond to negative queries,” said Todd Ramlin, manager at small business Cable Compare. “The story has two sides to it, and your business’ version needs to be heard. Even if it is just to apologize. We get it wrong from time to time. In some cases, customers may be willing to change their minds and perhaps remove the review. Reach out to them offline, make things right by them. Change their last memory of your business.”
What Type of Negative Review?
Getting a negative review of your business, however, doesn’t have to leave you stranded between a rock and a hard place. When you get a bad review, the first thing you need to do is determine what type of review it is, as they usually come in three types of flavors:
- The Enraged Review– In this type of negative review, the customer simply hurls insults and
makes little sense. For example, you can see an enraged review in the actual Yelp review below of a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York called Roberta’s. In this review, the customer complains about not being seated after the restaurant closed, and then goes on a diatribe about how she’s going to hold a grudge. This type of review is difficult to respond to, as there often won’t be any rational points to address with the customer.
- The Angry-but-Legitimate Review – This type of negative review also may include some well-placed
insults, but it may be over a legitimate gripe with your business. Perhaps your company didn’t serve your customer as well as it should have? In this case, the customer complains that no one from the fencing company got back to them after the initial consultation. This is most likely one of the easier negative reviews to respond to, as you can specifically address the complaint in an apologetic tone.
- The Factually Wrong Review – Some negative reviews are simply factually wrong and unfair to your business. In this case, a customer of a boutique hotel accuses the valet parking attendants of damaging her
car. In this case, the hotel owner expresses sorrow over the damage to the car but explains that after an investigation that the hotel was not responsible for it.
Make Sure the Review is Real
As we all know, the world is full of dishonest people, and as a result, you may get negative reviews from supposed customers. These customers, however, may be competitors or people who hold a grudge against your business. These types of fake reviews are more numerous than you may imagine.
“I’ve woken up to 3 fake reviews in one morning,” said Nathan Smith, manager at Falconer Removal. If it isn’t real and they aren’t a customer we’ve worked with, I will persist in contacting that person until the review is removed, on some occasions they’ve actually changed the review to 5 stars after hearing our story.”
If you do get a review that you think is fake, check out the reviewer’s profile to see if he or she has given similarly worded reviews of other businesses; look for specifics in the review – a genuine reviewer will often have a specific complaint and have detailed knowledge of your business, and finally, look for repeated mentions of a specific brand other than yours. If you believe a review is fake, alert the administrator of the review site and respond to the review anyway.
Use Honey, Not Vinegar
Every day small business owners whom we contacted said that regardless of whether the customer is right or wrong in their review, it’s always best to respond to them in a soft, and if necessary, conciliatory tone.
“It’s important to be understanding and use a soft tone of voice, as this helps keep people from getting very angry because you aren’t matching their energy,” said Harrison Baron, CEO of Growth Generators.
“Apologize; regardless of who is wrong in the situation – it’s easy to apologize and take the blame. Once the customer understands they aren’t wrong, even if they might have been, it now allows you to move forward with a solution. Then do what you can to make the situation right, and if your company did mess up, it’s easy to send something edible or buy them lunch on Doordash – that makes a world of difference to the customer. They may even take down their review.”
Clyde Steuber, marketing manager at Independent Fashion Bloggers, said that the old adage that “the customer is always right” should still apply, even if they’re wrong.
“From my point of view, you have to treat the customer as if he is right – even if he is not and the facts they shared are not true. Depending on the type of business you have, you can offer discounts, vouchers and/or upgrade the customers loyalty program. I would also recommend contacting the client again and ask if he used what you offered and if he’s satisfied. If you get a positive response, you can kindly ask him to change his review.”
Correct Them Without Arguing
In some cases, negative reviews are not factually correct or don’t provide accurate information. For example, in a review on Yelp of a local Tex-Mex restaurant in New Jersey, a customer complains that his flank steak was well done when he wanted it cooked medium rare. The owner of the restaurant, in a polite voice, corrected him by pointing out that first, a flank steak is about a quarter of an inch thick, meaning that it’s so thin that it’s nearly impossible to cook it medium rare, and second, he got it as a to-go order so the steak kept cooking even after it was taken off the grill. The exchange ended there.
Other business owners caution against losing your cool when this happens, and still try to respond to the review with a gentle voice and offer some perk as a consolatory gesture.
“Bad reviews are unavoidable in the corporate world as you cannot make every customer satisfied with your services,” said Ryan Nieman, CEO at Solitaire. “Sometimes, it’s the expectation a customer has that prompts them to give a bad review. Regardless of the reasons, we try to provide complete support to the customer to make amends for our service.
“We try to fact check, by confirming the customer reviews through the help of a survey, which clarifies the reason for their dissatisfaction. If the customer ensures cooperation, we reward them with complimentary gifts and discounts on their next purchase. We do not lose our cool or present ourselves void of etiquette and courtesy, reflecting on the entire company.”
Carsen Schaefer, founder and CEO of SaaS company Trust, said it’s important not to get defensive when a customer is wrong and instead, show empathy.
“If the customer has a valid point, it’s important to admit that you’re wrong and that you didn’t provide the right quality of service, that your product missed the mark or something else,” said Schaefer. “Own up to your mistakes and offer at least one way to solve their problem. On the other hand, if the customer isn’t right, it’s important to show that you understand their point of view. Don’t get defensive and try to correct them right away. Instead, tell them that you can resolve their problem and point them to the right person for their problem or offer them to contact you privately to resolve the issue.”
Limit Engagement With “Crazy People”
Some people are just angry at life and will leave negative reviews that make little sense (such as the one about Roberta’s restaurant above) and just express blind rage rather than constructive criticism. Small business owners said that when this happens, it’s important to limit your engagement
Stefanie Siclot, SEO supervisor at Growth Rocket, said it’s important to let other people see that the customer is wrong in your response to them.
“What we do is fact-check first and really check if that customer is really our customer or just someone who wants to destroy our business. [Once we figure that out] then that’s what we comment on so it would have an impression to other users that the negative comment or review is not valid,” she said.
“Another strategy is by giving complimentary service or product just in case the experience is really the fault of our business and with that – hopefully – it will have an impression to viewers that we try to amend our mistake.”
Respond to Positive Reviews
Sometimes small business owners get so caught up in how to respond to negative reviews that they forget to respond to the positive ones as. When you’re responding to positive reviews, you should respond quickly (within 24 hours); keep it short, express gratitude to the customer and even ask how you can improve their customer experience. Responding to positive reviews will let the public know that you appreciate each individual client.
In all, while responding to reviews is time consuming, you should recognize that doing so is a crucial part of managing your company’s public reputation. It shouldn’t take that long and personalizes your business in that you are showing the public that every customer is important.