No one likes to see a negative review of their business, especially in such a visible location like their Facebook page or Google Business Profile. Negative comments from customers can make a business owner feel like someone is taking out their frustrations on them. It can even be tempting to hope that the bad review will get ignored by everyone else if you ignore it.
All those feelings are understandable. After all, small business owners usually deal with negative customer reviews themselves and cannot leave the job to someone else.
But you must respond. Ignoring a bad review is like ignoring a fire in your business. It’s only going to get worse. But unlike a fire, a bad review can become a positive for your business if you know what to do. Here is what I advise:
- Keep the endgame in mind before you respond. The purpose of responding to a review is not to win an argument. (Arguing will only make you look defensive to everyone who reads your reply, including potential customers.) Neither is your goal to make someone happy. (You are not responsible for a customer’s happiness, but you are responsible for their customer satisfaction.) Your goal should be twofold: learn from the review (has your customer brought up a service problem that you need to address before your business really suffers?) and to turn a negative into a positive by showing that you care when your customers are unhappy.
- Act quickly, but not rashly. The longer you leave a review unaddressed, the more unresponsive you look. It’s important to respond as soon as you can even if you need additional information to resolve the problem. A quick, “I am sorry you had a bad experience and I want to make it right,” is a terrific way to defuse the situation and send a message to everyone else on social media that you take reviews seriously. But don’t respond until you are in the right frame of mind. Tired? Take a break first. Angry? Shut your laptop or your mobile device and take a deep breath.
- Get help. When you get a flaming review, you might not know how to respond. Perhaps a customer has brought up a problem that appears to be off-topic, or they might have said something inappropriate. Or perhaps after counting to 10 and trying to calm down, you are still feeling annoyed. Consider asking a trusted friend or colleague for help crafting a response to make sure you are using the right tone. If a review seems abusive and/or off-topic, report the review to the platform where the review appeared (Facebook, Google, etc.). But make sure you understand each platform’s guidelines for what constitutes an inappropriate review. (Google publishes its guidelines here, and Facebook publishes its guidelines here).
- Be personal and positive. Thank the customer for bringing a problem to your attention (even if you might not be feeling that way at the time). Address the specifics of their issue and be as personal as you can (for example, respond to the reviewer by name). Explain the steps you are taking to address the issue. Most people who have had a bad experience want to be heard. If they see a generic, all-purpose response that ignores their specific issue and does not resolve to do anything, they are going to feel like you’re not taking them seriously.
- Take the conversation offline. Invite the customer to have an offline conversation with you to discuss the issue, especially if you need more information to resolve the problem or have questions for the customer. Leave your contact information (phone and email) and invite them to call you directly; better yet, reach out to them directly as shown in the example below.
- Be ethical. Don’t ask the customer to remove a negative review, and certainly don’t offer them an incentive to do so.
- Learn from the review. Don’t forget to share the negative feedback with your team and figure out how you’ll improve your business. Remember the end game: using the experience to get better.
- Be proactive. Ask all your customers to review you. This is an important tactic that will more than balance out the occasional negative review. It’s human nature: people are more likely to leave a bad review unprompted than a positive one. Your satisfied customers just need some nudging.
The bottom line: all reviews are a gift from your customer. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. We’re living in a feedback economy powered by your customers. Get onboard and start winning.
Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. SIM Partners was acquired by Reputation.com in 2018 and now Adam is currently Director of Product at Reputation.com where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.