Business Learning Series – Lesson 6: Address Negative Reviews Immediately and Effectively

No matter what you do and how hard you try, negative reviews will inevitably appear sometimes. Some of them will be justified, some won’t be. All of them will be frustrating.

Justified or not, as the owner or manager, you must not let the frustration get to you. Stay professional, count to ten if you must, and then respond. The sooner you reply, the more likely you are to turn around the situation. In most review sites you can set notifications to be sent directly to your emails. Make sure to check that setting so you’re always notified when a new review for your business is posted. If you have an extremely high volume of reviews, there’s typically a daily digest setting as well, although it is definitely better to react immediately.

Not only do you need to quickly respond to reviews, you need to effectively do so. Put aside deciding whether the customer is right or wrong and start by acknowledging the customer’s feelings: “I’m sorry you did not have a great time at our establishment.” With that you are showing empathy and understanding. Continue with reaffirming your commitment to customer satisfaction. For example: “We aspire to providing excellent experiences to all our customers”.

From there you can address the feedback directly but you must delicately do so. Your goal is not to prove who’s right but rather to recover that customer and turn them into a happy advocate. Along the way, you are showing prospective customers that you care about them and their experience.

Often, you will not know enough details from the review to really understand what went on. To the customer, it does not matter. They were disappointed and the exact details may have been forgotten or not fully observed. Unless you have good reason to believe the review is fake, understand that this is how the customer felt in the moment and recovering them as a customer does not necessitate establishing the exact facts.

A fairly common way to make the customer happy is to invite them to experience your service again, either on the house or at least with a generous discount. It may not work for everyone, but the gesture will be appreciated by many – both the customer and more importantly other potential customers reading the review and your response to it.

When you offer compensation, don’t make it about the money. The compensation should be tied to what went wrong in the first place. If someone did not enjoy their steak because it was too dry, invite them back to try the steak again. What they later do with the gift card is irrelevant. You need to show them and other readers that you believe in your product and if they gave it another try, you’re sure they’ll like it.  

You don’t always have to offer compensation. Sometimes acknowledgement and an explanation is enough. For example, if the complaint was general and not related to service or product (e.g. the place is noisy). A complaint about pricing is another example. You should explain what the components of pricing are but you don’t have to compensate for that as long as the customer was aware of the price ahead of time.

Lastly, when directly connecting with customers such as when replying to a review, always sign with your full name and title. Don’t forget to address the customer by name if they provide one. It’s not only more personal, it’s also more professional.

All this is not to say you shouldn’t get the bottom of exactly what happened that brought on the negative reviews. It’s perfectly okay to ask for more details so you can investigate further. The goal of that is not to ascertain who’s right, but rather to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it next time. For example, it could be that the customer misunderstood something explained by the staff. There is no fault to assign but there is a potential change in the way things are explained that could be in order. More about learning from your reviews, in the next post.   

Time commitment:
At least 20 minutes to deal with each negative review. This includes logging in to the relevant review site, crafting a response and following up when necessary.

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