When you run a business, your customers may have strong emotions about their experience with your brand. As much as you want all of your customers’ opinions to be positive, you will encounter a few negative reviews from time to time. One key difference between good businesses and really great ones lies in the way they handle unfavorable reviews.

Knowing how to respond to negative reviews is a skill every business owner should learn. Even if getting a bad review stings, especially if you’ve put your heart and soul into your product, responding to it well could turn your customers’ sentiment in your favor.

Today, we’ll learn about the impact of negative reviews on your business and how to deal with them in a manner that strengthens your reputation and increases customer loyalty.

Impact of Negative Reviews On Your Business

We’ve heard a lot of stories about a negative review single-handedly ruining a business. While many of these stories tend to be exaggerated at best, we cannot dismiss the effect of negative reviews. Here are a couple of statistics that should convince you that negative reviews have a real impact on companies:

  • One bad review is enough to make people avoid your business. A survey conducted by ReviewTrackers says 94% of consumers started avoiding a business after reading a bad review about it.
  • Online ratings affect customer behavior. Around 93% of consumers say online reviews have an effect on their purchase decisions, and they will avoid transacting with any business that has a rating lower than 3.3 stars on a 5-point scale. 

Even if your business has a lot of positive reviews, a few bad reviews are all it takes to lower your overall rating and reduce your revenue stream. 

Even if you’re doing everything you can to release a great product, you cannot avoid getting occasional negative reviews online. The best you can do is mitigate their effect. In fact, you need to embrace negative reviews as a learning moment for your brand (if you are at fault) or a teachable moment for your customers (if you feel they didn’t use your product or service correctly).

Why Should You Respond To Negative Reviews?

While a negative review by itself is bad news, the good news is that you can still turn things around in your favor. How? Simply by responding well to negative reviews.

Most customers who post negative reviews don’t do it for fun. Their reviews come from a place of disappointment. They expected certain things from your business and didn’t feel like they got their money’s worth. A review is a chance for them to express their disappointment, and it’s also a chance for you to make things right for them.

Among customers who post negative reviews across various channels, more than half expect businesses to respond to those negative reviews within seven days. Surprisingly, around 63% of businesses never respond to reviews. This tends to make customers feel like the business does not care about their user experience.

On the other hand, when brands respond to reviews, they tend to convert those reviews into revenue. More than 40% of consumers say they are more likely to visit businesses that respond to negative reviews, although the type of response is also a likely factor. 

In the restaurant industry, responding to 1- or 2-star reviews could result in a 33% probability of a customer coming back and upgrading their review, according to the study we linked above. In many cases, these customers are so satisfied that they give the business five stars on the second try.

What are our key takeaways here? 

First, responding to reviews is not just the polite thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. When you respond to a review within a week, the customer who posted the review will feel their opinion is valued. If they didn’t leave their contact details, you might be able to find their email address using an email finder and respond directly to them with a polite and professional email.

Second, you have lots of potential customers reading your reviews. When your prospects find your reviews and see that you don’t respond to them, they might consider it a red flag and look for another vendor with a higher review score. 

Third, responding to your customers will help generate exposure for your business, especially if you handle criticism with class and respect. If you play your cards right, you can even use it for marketing purposes, such as introducing a new product or sales promotion to encourage a dissatisfied customer to give you a second chance. 

Fourth, a response to their review will prove to your customer that you are serious about improving your product. It implies that you’ve read the negative review and are taking steps to resolve the issue and keep it from happening again.

Finally, your Google reviews will affect your search engine ranking. Responding to customers can potentially lead them to upgrade your business rating, which in turn will play a role in your Google search results. 

Not responding to negative reviews will make your customers feel disrespected or taken for granted. You need to actively respond to reviews, whether they’re positive or negative. When you respond to negative reviews with respect and empathy, your customers will feel better and you’ll build a unique identity for your brand. 

7 STEPS FOR RESPONDING TO NEGATIVE REVIEWS 

The contents of a negative review aren’t the most important thing in the long run. What really dictates the outcome of the situation is the way you respond to it. Let’s look at seven things you can do to respond to negative reviews and turn critics into believers.

Step 1. Create a response plan

It’s good to have a response plan for negative reviews in place even before you formally launch your business. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses learn the value of a response plan the hard way when they’ve already started operating and have received their first major negative review.

To spare yourself the stress and confusion that comes with figuring out what to do next, create a response plan centered around the following elements:

  • Timeliness: More than half of customers who leave reviews on your site or review sites expect a response within seven days or less. The seven-day clock starts ticking the moment the customer clicks on “Post Review”, and the longer it takes for you to respond, the more impatient they’ll become. You may set up your site or social pages to send you a notification as soon as a customer posts a review, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Process Ownership: If your business is a very small operation, the responsibility for replying to reviews usually goes to the person in charge of marketing. However, as your business grows, you might need someone to deal with all reviews. Get someone who knows how to defuse a volatile situation and provide helpful information at the same time.
  • Review Policy: If you operate multiple sites, each site might have its own point person for reviews. You need a standard review policy that everyone responsible for responding to reviews, regardless of location, can follow. This policy should cover elements such as tone, language, escalation paths, the information your employees are allowed to disclose to customers, and timeliness. 

While creating a review response plan takes a bit of time and effort, you’ll thank yourself once you succeed in converting a negative review into a positive testimonial. It happens more often than you think.

Step 2. Create response templates and use them creatively

A review response plan also includes response templates. These templates should contain all the elements we’ll be discussing later on: an issue acknowledgment, an apology, an explanation, an offer, and an invitation to discuss the issue offline. However, customers know when you’re using a template to respond, so you need to personalize your responses and maintain your brand identity at the same time.

The goals of this interaction are to understand where the customer is coming from and to give your business a human face. Whatever your reply, there are two things you should always include in your responses: the customer’s name and your name (and position). Look at the sample template below:

This template is short and straightforward. It addresses the customer by name, introduces the writer of the response and the company they represent, acknowledges the issue, offers an apology, and commits to action. While some situations call for different types of responses, you can use this template as the basis for all the other templates and responses you might need.

In the next sections, we’ll discuss the five elements of great negative review response.

Step 3. Acknowledge the issue

Even if you feel your business is not at fault, it’s still important to acknowledge the customer’s issue. You may start your response like this:

“Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention”.

The nine words above hold a lot of power. The sentence sets the tone for the rest of the response and tells the customer that you’re aware of their concern. More importantly, your business is paying attention. It reassures the customer that you’re not just sitting back and that you care what they have to say. 

That sentence is also a sort of agreement between your business and the customer. Since you’re paying attention to the problem, it also implies that you’re doing something about it. Whether it was your fault or not, you need to follow through on it and take the first step towards a resolution.

Wendy’s (@wendys) Twitter account is one of our favorite examples. While they are notorious for their witty tweets, they are also experts in dealing with negative reviews:

The review above is a very serious matter, as staff not wearing their face masks properly represents a public health risk. Wendy’s acknowledged the customer’s complaint about the crew in one of its locations, and when the company’s initial response failed, the Twitter account offered to fix it directly with the customer. This proves that the company takes the complaint seriously.

Step 4. Apologize to the customer

Acknowledging the customer’s concern is pointless if it isn’t accompanied by an apology. Even if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s better to issue an apology to deescalate the situation and show that you care about providing great customer service.

Here’s a good example of an apology that works:

This apology is short and straightforward. It also assures the customer that something is being done to improve the customer experience and invites them to give the business another try. Finally, it closes with a “thank you” for the customer’s feedback.

You might be wondering what you should write if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong, or if the customer was to blame for their subpar experience. While some businesses take a sarcastic approach to those incidents, this is unlikely to come across well and might put off potential customers. There’s also a subtle but important difference between “we apologize” and “we’re sorry”.

When you say “we apologize”, you acknowledge that it was your business’s fault and take responsibility for it. On the other hand, “we’re sorry” is a safer approach – you can use it to empathize with the customer without saying that it’s your fault. You may also use “we’re sorry” for negative reviews that were caused by things beyond your control. 

Step 5. Provide an explanation

There are times when an apology is not enough to make a situation better. Aside from offering an apology, you may also have to provide more information that explains why a customer’s experience of your business was less than satisfactory. 

There are no clear-cut rules that state when you need to provide an explanation. If you feel you need an explanation for a customer’s negative experience, never do so in a way that throws a member of your team or another service provider under the bus.

If you feel the customer was to blame for what happened, you may also provide a factual explanation and emphasize, politely but firmly, that what happened was a consequence of the customer’s actions. Write it in a way that assures other customers that your company is there to provide support as long as they transact with you properly and use your products the right way. 

The response above was made because of a negative comment left by a customer who was confused about pricing. It seemed like Danny misread what was written on Priority Plumbing’s trucks and made incorrect pricing assumptions as a result. Austin was able to explain their side properly by emphasizing the offer they made to the customer and by comparing their prices to other service providers. 

Explanations play a crucial role in your negative review responses. They don’t just make sure that the unhappy customer understands what happened. They also let potential customers know what to expect from you. As long as you keep your responses professional, these customers will expect you to act professionally and will be more inclined to put their trust in you.

Step 6. Offer an incentive to the negative reviewer

For a business, a bad customer experience might not be a big deal, but for the customer, there’s nothing worse than the feeling of seeing their hard-earned money go to waste. Your customers appreciate the apology, but it won’t bring back the time they wasted or the money that could’ve been spent elsewhere. 

Sometimes, the best way to convert a negative review into a possible one is to offer an incentive to the customer. An incentive can be a free replacement item, a discount, store credit that the customer can use on their next visit, or even priority scheduling. Small gestures like these go a long way in changing your customers’ opinion about your business and building strong client relationships.

Your business won’t lose much if you compensate your customers for bad service, but you risk losing a lot if you brush off negative reviews without offering anything to make up for it. 

Step 7. Take the discussion offline

The last step in resolving a negative review is taking the discussion offline. When you keep the discussion on the negative review thread, you might end up scaring away other customers, and the customer might start getting tired of the constant back-and-forth. 

When you talk to the customer personally through email or a phone call, you’ll be able to resolve their issues more effectively and reach an agreement more quickly. To invite the customer to discuss it offline, you may add something like this to your response:

Once the customer sends you an offline message, respond as soon as you can. If the customer wants to talk on the phone, ask them about their availability. But whatever you do, don’t ask the customer to remove the review. If they’re happy about the way your offline discussion went, they might choose to take it down themselves. Otherwise, consider it a learning opportunity for your business.

BOTTOM LINE

While negative reviews can sting badly, responding to them should be part of your business strategy. It’s important to acknowledge negative reviews and create a response plan for them without taking them personally. 

A good response to a negative review consists of the customer’s name, your name and title, an apology, an acknowledgment and explanation of the issue, an incentive (if applicable), and an offer to take the discussion offline. These responses don’t take more than five minutes to compose (less if you use templates), but not responding to reviews in a timely manner might haunt your businesses for a long time. 

Brushing off negative reviews will make customers avoid your business and give them a reason to share their opinions with other potential customers. On the other hand, responding to reviews can lead to a better reputation and increase customer loyalty.

It’s better not to be scared of negative reviews. Instead, you should treat them as an opportunity to make your business better at what it does and to convert a critic into a believer. 

Author Bio

Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at ZoomShift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising.

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