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How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

 |  Reputation Management

There’s no denying that online reviews are now one of the largest drivers of new business for small and medium-sized businesses. More than 81% of consumers use reviews as the first step when making a buying decision, and this number is only growing. With new sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Foursquare joining internet stalwarts Google and HomeAdvisor, there are more channels than ever for consumers to engage with brands and leave reviews. While positive reviews can drive considerable business and new customers for brands, there is another side to the story: negative reviews.

While negative reviews stink, they’re also a natural part of being in a customer-focused industry. Even B2B businesses have to deal with negative employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor. While the first response to negative reviews might be “just deliver better customer service next time and you’ll see positive reviews,” customers don’t always work like that. Many times, negative reviews have nothing to do with the service, brand, or product at all and just have to do with the mood of a customer. While companies and employees should always strive to deliver exceptional customer service that warrants glowing online reviews when a negative review does come along it’s time for a response.

The number one rule of negative reviews is to always respond. This is important for two reasons. First, customers love to see business responses to online reviews. These responses can help turn a prospect into a new customer even if it was a negative review they saw. And second, responding to negative reviews gives your team a chance to clear the air. While you should never make an excuse or blame the customer in a review response, you at least have a chance to tell your side of the story.

Here are a few negative review response best practices to jump-start your review response strategy:

Respond quickly. Don’t wait around when it comes to negative reviews. All of your customers know you’re checking your reviews constantly (because you are!) so it’s best not to feign ignorance. Try to respond to a negative review within 36 hours if possible. This allows your team to try to reframe the conversation and rein in the negative comment before it spirals out of control.

Remain professional. Sometimes negative reviews make zero sense and seem to come completely out of left field. Trust us, we get it. But even the most ridiculous review can have a serious impact on your business in the long run, so it’s important to treat it with a level of professionalism. Reiterate that this isn’t how you typically operate and that you’re sorry for the poor experience, and offer some sort of solution if possible.

Be personal. Whatever you do, stay away from response templates! There’s nothing worse for a customer than seeing a review response is exactly the same as the one below it. This is a sure-fire way to lose customers. Instead, personalize every single response by addressing the reviewer by name, restating their issue in a polite tone, taking responsibility, and apologizing for the situation.

Aim for a sympathetic tone. While it can be tempting to come off as accusatory in a review response, never (ever!) put the blame on the customer. This is the time to swallow your pride and simply say sorry. Taking a sympathetic route might even serve as a way to endear your business to the customer on a return trip.

Offer a way to continue the conversation offline. If the issue warrants further discussion, or if the customer brought up other questions or concerns in their review, then it’s a good idea to offer a way to continue the conversation – offline. Try to avoid an online back-and-forth as much as possible by posting an email address, phone number, or text line in your response. Then, when the customer reaches out, just make sure your staff is prepared to deal with the issue in a timely manner.

Just remember: negative reviews happen to everyone. Don’t panic, hold your head high, and respond quickly. Your customers – yes, even the one that left that negative review – will thank you. You can learn more about how online reviews can help grow your business here.