Negative customer sentiment is, unfortunately, inevitable for any business regardless of the level of quality and service they provide. While dealing with unhappy customers one-on-one can be challenging, dealing with unhappy customers who are publicly airing their grievances online adds an extra layer of complexity: potential customers will be able to see the entire exchange for years to come. For this reason, it is imperative to approach negative reviews with care. Below, we’ve outlined some prudent steps to take when confronted with negative online reviews as a part of your online reputation management strategy.
Before Responding to Negative Reviews
It may be tempting to jump right in and defend yourself as soon as you see that an unflattering review has been posted. But before you start typing, take a few minutes to follow these steps so that you can prepare yourself with a more collected and informed response:
1. Take a deep breath.
Negative reviews can be upsetting, but it’s important not to take them personally. Give yourself a few minutes to cool off so that any negative feelings you have don’t come across in your response. Very few responses made in the heat of the moment have yielded positive outcomes.
2. Search for the customer in your system.
Based on the information left in their review, try to find the customer’s order or account information in your system. This very well may not prove helpful, but it could give you some additional background information into their experience that you can use toward fixing the problem.
3. Determine the root of the complaint.
Read the review a few times to fully understand why the customer is upset, and what they are hoping to gain from their review. Is the product a bad fit? Did something in your process fail? Did the customer have unrealistic expectations? Are they simply lashing out? Put yourself in their shoes and determine what kind of response would satisfy you if the roles were reversed.
4. Aim for a quick turnaround.
If you can, try to respond to the review within 24 (business) hours. However, don’t rush with a response—it is more important to have a thought-out strategy than to respond quickly. If the problem is going to take several days to fix, respond publicly that you are working on a solution and then continue working to address the problem offline.
How to Respond to Negative Reviews
With a calm mind and the background information you need, you are ready to write a well-informed response to your negative review. As you draft what you’d like to say, make sure you incorporate the following concepts:
1. Use a professional, yet sympathetic tone.
As you begin writing your response, make sure you are approaching it in a manner that will reflect well on your business, and that makes the customer feel like they are heard, understood, and valued. Of course, if your business’s general tone is a bit more playful than professional, you can approach similarly—as long as you do it well (consider KFC’s relatively well-received 2018 apology ad).
2. Address the reviewer by name (if provided).
In a world where personalization is taking a front seat in all areas of customer service and marketing, this adds a personal touch to your response—plus, it helps the customer feel like you are viewing them as an actual person rather than a completed sale.
Whether you are apologizing for the misunderstanding or the inconvenience, or because you messed up, an apology can go a long way. This doesn’t mean that you are wrong, but it doesn’t hurt to admit that you are sorry the person had a bad experience. It also shows potential customers that you care about their experience.
4. Don’t be defensive, accusatory, or aggressive.
There have been many instances where business owners have responded in this manner and it backfired, resulting in everything from lawsuits to losing the beloved business they were simply trying to protect in the first place. It also just plain looks bad—consider whether you would want to do business with someone who responds in that manner.
5. Be brief.
This will help you steer away from being defensive if you lean toward that type of response. The main objective of a response is to let the customer (and others) know that you are willing to improve the experience of someone who is dissatisfied—you don’t have to explain everything that happened.
6. Take the discussion offline.
In a best-case scenario, you will be able to communicate with the customer back-and-forth to try to resolve the issue to their satisfaction—but the rest of the internet doesn’t need to see every single aspect of that interaction. As long as the public gets the impression that you are willing to work with the reviewer in some way, that will go a long way in repairing their opinion of your business.
7. Try to solve the issue.
This should go without saying, but make sure you really are doing what you can to make the customer happy offline. Some people simply cannot be satisfied, but as long as you’ve made an effort to meet them in the middle, they should have some appreciation. After all, if you promise to work offline with the customer and never follow up with them, they could very well leave a second review calling out your response for empty promises.
Handling Responses to Your Review Responses
The last thing you want to do is create an endless public back-and-forth with a customer who cannot be satisfied. However, some unhappy people will do everything they can to have the last word and make your business look bad. If you cannot reach a resolution with the customer and they continue to respond publicly with negativity, leave one final comment politely apologizing that an agreement could not be met and stating that you consider the matter closed. Do not respond to any additional comments or responses. If the customer’s demands are unreasonable, potential customers will likely be able to recognize it themselves from the discussion.
Learn from Your Negative Reviews
While negative reviews seem terrible, they can provide valuable learning opportunities on how to improve your business (and prevent future negative reviews). With each negative review, consider whether anything could have been done beforehand to prevent it from occurring. If a problem is easily preventable, adjust your process to accommodate a fix. If you see the same complaint repeatedly that is not a small fix, you may need to make some bigger changes.
While you cannot fully satisfy 100% of your customers 100% of the time, it's important to understand that most customers simply want their frustrations to be heard. As people are increasingly turning to other shoppers’ advice when making purchasing decisions, handling negative reviews in a positive manner is pertinent for the success of businesses. Keep in mind that your customers are your greatest learning tool for discovering ways to improve.