How to Respond to a Negative Review

If your business receives a negative review online, don't panic. You may be able to win over your dissatisfied customer.
May 09, 2018

One of the most effective ways to improve your online ratings is to monitor review sites and respond to reviewers quickly and professionally—but how prepared are you really to handle a negative review? And do you have an approach that is well understood throughout your organization? If you answered “no" or “I don't know" to either of those questions, then it's time to step back and formulate a strategy.

No company likes to be on the receiving end of a negative review, but, if managed properly, a bad review can be a great opportunity to engage with customers, get ahead of issues, and may even help win future business.

You're in Control of Your Ratings

Small increases in your company's ratings may have a significant impact on your business over time.

To see impacts in your own company, you need a streamlined monitoring and response strategy that's well understood by all who handle reviews throughout your organization. If you're just starting out, this might sound like a big mountain to climb. As with any journey, it starts with a single step—so let's start with the process for handling a single negative review.

1. Check your emotions at the door.

It can be easy to get worked up and respond emotionally to a negative review, or rush to the conclusion that anything negative needs to be flagged for removal—but that's typically a mistake. Unless the reviewer is engaging in an outright violation of the review site's policies—for example, using hate speech, sharing inappropriate content, or making statements attacking your business that are unconnected with a direct experience with your company or that are based on an obvious conflict of interest—then it benefits you to move forward with a response. A major exception would be if the reviewer has raised a legal issue, such as if they were injured by your product or discriminated against at your location. If they have, do not respond unless a public statement written by the legal department can be provided. 

If there are no legal issues present and the reviewer has presented a legitimate concern in a rational way, then it's time to reply.

2. Respond quickly.

You don't need to resolve the issue in this first reply, but you do need to reach out and let the reviewer know you've heard their concern.

You may still be fact-gathering at this point. If you need more information from the reviewer, this is when to ask for it. If you need more time to investigate the issue on your end, tell them that. Either way, be sure to follow up.

No company likes to be on the receiving end of a negative review, but, if managed properly, a bad review can be a great opportunity to engage with customers, get ahead of issues, and may even help win future business.

This is also a good time to evaluate whether this conversation should be occurring publicly or in private. If there is personal information to be discussed, consider taking the interaction offline by asking them to contact you via a business channel such as a customer service email address or phone number. If at any point you find yourself with a he said/she said scenario, or the issue involves credit card, money or theft issues, take the conversation offline.

3. Determine where the fault lies.

Once you've figured out the issue, the next step is to determine who is at fault. The goal here is not to exonerate your company—if you're at fault, you need to own that. If you're not, you have a right to explain.

If the fault does lie with your company, and you already have a fix for the issue—great! Fix it. Write a genuine, friendly and polite response that acknowledges the issue, outlines the fix and directs the reviewer to company resources.

If you determine that the issue is not your company's fault, draft a reply that accurately explains the situation. Be polite and take care to ensure that the response is not patronizing (for good measure, you might ask a colleague to read it before you hit “publish"). Again, if there are sensitive matters to be discussed, be sure to take the conversation offline.

If you are unable to understand the issue or determine a fix, then the best approach is to apologize and let them know you would welcome the chance to deliver on a better experience next time.

If at any point during your discovery process you determine that the review was actually meant for a different business (which does happen from time to time) explain the mistake and, if there's alignment, consider using this as an opportunity to win a new customer by suggesting ways your business could assist in the future.

4. Get creative and turn the problem into a solution.

As you're evaluating the issue and planning your response, you should try to determine if you've received feedback on this same issue in the past. If you have, trust me when I say you may be staring directly at an opportunity to improve your business.

For example, a large shopping mall in the U.S. knew that reviewers were concerned about crowded parking lots during the holidays. Although building extra parking spaces was not possible, they treated the reviews as a challenge for creative problem-solving. They formed a partnership with a popular ride-hailing service, comping a shopper's car ride if the shopper spent over a minimum dollar amount. Not only did this solve for overcrowded parking lots, but it was also a promotion to drive shoppers to their stores.

5. Take time to evaluate.

Once you've gone through this process—having read the complaint carefully, engaged the reviewer, and responded to their concerns—it's time to evaluate how you did. The first metric to consider is whether you've made the reviewer happy. If you did, great! You've likely kept them as a customer—and maybe you've even inspired the reviewer to go back and revise their original evaluation.

If they're still not happy, that's okay, too. You can't win them all—but rest assured that your efforts were not for nothing. Perhaps you've impressed other customers along the way, or maybe this effort will inspire a future fix. You also now know how to treat the next negative review like an opportunity.

6. Teach your team.

Now that you know how to handle a negative review, you need to get everyone on your team in lockstep. Assign a business champion to spearhead your company's efforts monitoring and responding to reviews, if you're not the one doing so already. The business champion will be in charge of training others and also checking in to make sure that the team is always following the best practices outlined above.

Remember, the vast majority of online reviewers are rational human beings who just want to be heard. Treat them as such and you can come out ahead.

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