How Not to Deal with Negative Reviews About Your Business

There is nothing more disheartening than to read a negative review a customer has left about your business. Yet they are also a normal part of life. A negative review can be published regardless of your business’s product or service quality or of how many people do love your business.

There are two ways to go about responding to these types of reviews: a right way and a wrong way (a third way is to not respond at all, but we don’t recommend doing that!). To understand how to respond in the right way, here is how not to deal with the negative press so that your company’s online reputation will remain positive.

Fighting Fire with Fire

We know how it feels to suddenly realize someone has left a negative comment or review about your business. You breathe faster, your heart rate goes up after skipping a beat, your face may get red and hot and flushed, and you may get so upset your hands start to shake. Now you need to reply to that review…right?

NO! The first way to not deal with a bad review is to respond to it immediately when you’re in this state. Instead, take a few steps back, breathe in deeply, and count to ten. If you’re still feeling too angry, come back to the review later.

Really analyze what is being said in the review. Is it a legitimate complaint? Or was it written for the sake of causing a fight? Does the customer’s complaint sound similar to one you’ve heard before about your business? Whatever the reason, you should fully analyze the review before you respond to it. You should handle your response online as you would in real life: professionally, and with the customer in mind first.

Not Responding at All

This is a tricky one because some reviews may actually not be worth responding to at all. People will go so far as to leave fake reviews about your business for the sake of causing trouble. On that note, please don’t be the one to leave fake reviews about yourself, especially good ones—people (and softwares) are smart enough to figure it out! Other comments may exist that are outright wrong about your business or they’re made by people who have never visited your office before.

However, when you don’t respond to even the good reviews, that can make you look bad as the company owner. Not responding to anyone will make you seem like you don’t care about your customers, or that you are willing to listen to what they have to say. The end result? A lot of customers who will not ever return to your business—including the good ones.

Defensive Responses

Naturally you will want to defend your business if someone has said something bad about it. However, there is a difference between defending your company in a good manner and getting defensive about what the other person has said.

Whatever you do, do not respond in a defensive manner and claim that your company did no wrong. That is the opposite response you should have. What you should do instead is acknowledge that whatever it is that’s been done wrong that you are sorry, even if the fault doesn’t lie with you.

Remember, you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. How would you feel if someone responded defensively when you provided a legitimate complaint? If the answer is “Not very good,” there you go.

Not Responding to Reviewers by Name

An apology never sounds sincere if you don’t acknowledge or address the person who wrote the poor review in the first place. Customers want to feel like they are part of the conversation; that’s mainly why they made a review in the first place. To fail at addressing these people by their exact name can make you come across as rude and discourteous.

It’s better to try and respond to everyone individually and by name, and to make sure the apology you are sending to each person is sincere. If there is no name attached to the profile or message, that’s when a standard “Hello,” or “Hi there,” is acceptable, or even say “Hello Anonymous” (it happens).

Responding to Reviews in Private

Anytime you receive a review, you should respond to it in public. This includes any thanks you have to give to the most positive reviews you’ve received. Responding to them in private, however, will not show your gratitude to your happy customers—or show that you are responsive at all, for that matter! In addition, review websites such as Yelp will not count your  private responses to positive reviews towards your star rating. Even if you respond a lot, if it’s in private, it doesn’t count. So, make sure all your responses are posted publicly.

If there is an instance where a public message will only escalate the problem a customer has instead of lessening it, tell them publicly that you will contact them in private (only do this if it’s a REALLY negative or 1-star review).

Using Humour Inappropriately

Sarcasm is one of the most widely used responses online when people want to respond with a humorous tone. However, humour is subjective and sarcasm is not very easily detected online (at least to most people!). That means a sarcastic response to a negative review can be taken the wrong way entirely, and it may only make the reviewer angrier (and a fight would break out on the site, escalating the problem).

This relates to the ‘fighting fire with fire’ point we made before because inappropriate humour will make a bad situation even worse. It makes you, the owner, look unprofessional and even immature. There are, however, examples of humour being used that actually improved a business’s reputation, such as these examples (the best one is the bonus photo at the bottom!).

Asking the Reviewer to Take Their Review Down

Not every review remains online forever. Sometimes a reviewer will take their review down after a situation changes or when they feel they were wrong about what they said. In websites like Yelp, if the review is fake, you can report it and they will take it down. As long as they agree with you, of course.

Likewise, you should not ask a reviewer who left a terrible review to take what they wrote down from the site. This is because it will not make a situation better, it will only make it worse. Also, try to make sure the complaint has been heard and responded to accordingly within 24 to 48 hours.

Things Good Responses Have in Common

The key traits of a really good response to bad reviews should be all of the following:

  • Responsive
  • Fast
  • Public
  • Private only when it’s really bad
  • Sincere
  • Professional
  • Courteous
  • Understanding

We can actually learn a lot from even the negative reviews of our business. For example, if they are all coming from good customers with a common complaint, it might be time to re-examine that weakness in your business and come up with a solution to fix it. It could be that your customer service is lacking on social media and that you simply haven’t had time to use it, or you’re alone in juggling multiple tasks all at once. Whatever the case, you should always respond to your reviews, even the negative ones.

If there are far too many negative reviews to deal with and you’ve been too slow to respond to every single one of them, a late apology is better than nothing at all. Coming up with responses can be a delicate art, so when in doubt talk to a reputable digital marketing agency or a reputation management expert. If your struggles are currently with Yelp right now, check out our blog post on how best to use your profile on there.

Daniela Torres

Daniela Torres is the founder and Creative Director of KIAI Agency Inc. With over 12 years of experience working as a journalist, press officer and graphic designer, Daniela is a brand strategist that has been leading design and marketing projects for multiple industries. She’s also the author of the book “Build Your Brand – The 10 essential steps before launching your business”.

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