It’s inevitable. Sometimes you do your absolute best, and a customer or client leaves a negative review on your website anyway. How you respond to this can have a drastic impact on the future of your organization, so you should be prepared to respond in the proper way.
Why respond at all? There’s a whole article on the topic over at RevLocal to answer this very question, but the simple answer is because customers expect you to. The person who left the review expects you to respond, and potential customers/clients want to measure your response against the initial review to see if they can be confident in your product or service.
While every situation is going to be different, and we can probably think of exceptions to almost every rule, we’ve assembled a set of guidelines that will help you deal with negative reviews in a way that leads to a positive outcome for your business or organization.
Don’t delete it
This might sound counterintuitive, but having a single negative review on a product or service is actually better than having no reviews at all. You don’t have to take our word for it. There’s an interesting article at Prospect Genius that walks through a case study involving a negative review. Read that full article if you want a much deeper dive into the topic.
There are two simple reasons for this seemingly contradictory statement. First, Google will prioritize products and businesses with one review to those with none, even if that review is negative. That means your website ranks higher, which means more people visit it.
Second, any review shows evidence that you’ve had a customer/client interaction, and a negative review is much more likely to be genuine than a positive one. Think about it this way: While some companies might hire someone to write fake but positive reviews, it’s unlikely they’d hire someone to write a fake negative review. So a negative review has a stronger likelihood of being genuine.
Google sees a negative review as an authentic one, and potential customers or clients do too. It would be better if the review was positive, of course, but a single bad review isn’t going to sink your business – and it might even help grow your online presence.
You can find plenty of examples on the internet where a local mom and pop shop gets lauded for a snarky response to a particularly troublesome customer. While we admit that this works every once in a while, we definitely don’t recommend trying it yourself. Remember the old expression, “Don’t try this at home?” The reason we say this is that you could instead use this as an opportunity to address the issue and leave a positive impression on that person directly, or on potential customers/clients indirectly.
If someone leaves a negative review, they believe they were wronged in some way. You can stir up conflict with them, or you can try to rectify the situation. The latter response is going to be the correct response in almost every situation.
Any advice about responding to negative reviews is going to bring this up, and we’d be failing in our duty if we didn’t mention it here as well: You need to apologize to the person who left the review.
It doesn’t matter if you think they’re flat-out wrong; you still need to apologize. If you think their review is unreasonable, you can always say something along the lines of “We apologize that you had this experience,” or “We’re sorry your service wasn’t up to our standards.”
This shows that you care about the customer/client experience, regardless of whether or not they’re right. It also lets others know that if they happen to have a bad experience in the future, you’ll treat them with kindness and respect. That goes a long way.
Demonstrate that you understand the issue
This might be the single most important piece of advice in this entire article. You absolutely, without a doubt, need to show that you understand the issue the person is writing about.
We’ll invent an example based on an imaginary pizza parlor to clarify what we mean by this. Imagine a customer leaves a review that says, “Our service was terrible and our food was cold by the time it arrived.”
Here’s a bad response: “Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t like our pizza. We apologize.” You can see how this doesn’t address the customer’s actual concern – they said the service was terrible and that the pizza was cold. They never mentioned not liking the food (perhaps they thought it tasted fine but wished it were warmer). Someone who reads that bad response would assume that you didn’t even read the review.
A good way to respond to this would be, “We apologize that you felt your service was inadequate. We understand that you expect our food to be hot and fresh, and that’s exactly what you deserve. We have already begun investigating the issue, as ideally, no guest will ever have an experience like yours at our restaurant. Can we make it up to you with a generous gift card?”
And that brings us to…
Offer the customer something in return
Some companies are hesitant to publicly offer customers anything as a reconciliation. If they offer one person something, they could get hit by a barrage of negative reviews from people who just want something for free.
But in reality, it becomes clear very quickly when someone is abusing the system. People reading these reviews will be quick to spot unusual behavior, and they’ll see those reviewers as less trustworthy.
But there’s something else to consider. Earlier in this article, we mentioned a case study about how one negative review can affect you positively. Well, here’s a blog post that explains why you should have as many bad reviews as possible, as weird as that sounds. Definitely give that a read if you want an interesting perspective on customer reviews.
What’s important to consider is that people leaving reviews are doing you a service. People tend to trust products and services that have a lot of reviews over ones that have none – even if those are negative (yes, we covered this earlier). They’ve also given you some valuable feedback. Perhaps they’ve pointed out something that’s been a longtime blind spot for you company. This can guide you to fixing some of the minor issues with your business that you’ve been overlooking.
Either way, the reviewer put time and effort into writing their review, and it doesn’t hurt to reward them for that. It also shows other people that you have enough faith in your own business to make sure every customer or client walks out satisfied. And that’s almost certainly worth more than the cost of the free thing you gave away.
Don’t shift the blame
Let’s go back to our pizza example from before. Here’s a bad way to respond to this complaint: “You came in at a bad time. We were understaffed and overbooked. We apologize.”
Do you see how this shifts the blame onto the person leaving the review? Instead of admitting that this happened because the store was understaffed (your fault), it suggests that it happened because these customers came in at a bad time (their fault).
There’s no quicker way to show that your apology is disingenuous than by shifting the blame. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to be in the “hot seat” in any confrontation, but shifting the blame to the customer is the wrong way to respond here. It leaves a bad taste in the reviewer’s mouth, and it could be a red flag for other potential clients/customers.
Edit, edit, edit
Before you post it, edit your response, then edit it again, and then edit it another time for good measure. Make sure your response is free of grammatical errors. Ensure the tone is friendly, and that you’ve not missed any essential information. Show it to a handful of people to let them know if they see any problems with it.
By the time you hit the “Publish” button, you should make sure you’ve said exactly what you meant to say without any mistakes.