How to respond to a negative online review

Kristi ShmyrBusiness and Technology Series

Most businesses, regardless of how hard they may try, eventually find themselves the subject of a negative online reviews. Especially if you are a smaller business, or in a very competitive field, these reviews can feel devastating. It can be tremendously difficult not to react defensively, especially when you don’t feel as though the reviewer is being fair or entirely truthful. But responding to a negative review can actually be a huge opportunity.

First, it is important to understand how important reviews are. Having just five reviews increases your conversion of leads to customers by 270%.  But the truly wild part is that having five 5-star reviews actually isn’t the best-case scenario. In fact, the likelihood of purchase actually peaks at about 4-4.7 stars. Because of this, you shouldn’t necessarily fret too much about one bad review. In fact, G2 Crowd and Heinz Marketing found that 67% of business-to-business buyers actually want to see a mix of positive and negative reviews, and that those reviews can actually build credibility. Almost all (95%) of consumers become suspicious when there are no bad reviews, and that makes all of your reviews less credible.

Negative online reviews are not only not terrible for business, they are an opportunity. How you respond to negative reviews will be very important to not only the person leaving said review, but to those reading it. ReviewTrackers found that “78 percent of consumers say that seeing management respond to online reviews makes them believe that the business cares more about them.” And customers who receive a helpful response and resolution to their problem are twice as likely to buy from you again than someone who didn’t get a response. So not responding isn’t really an option, either.

So how do you respond effectively to a negative online review?

Let’s begin with some general rules of thumb:

  1. Never respond when you are angry. If possible, have a neutral third party help you craft your response.
  2. Keep it to about 3-4 short sentences.
  3. Don’t argue.
  4. Don’t respond more than twice to the same issue in a public forum.
  5. In fact, don’t just respond – make a sincere effort to fix the problem.

In terms of crafting an effective message, there are 4 basic principles that you want to include:

  1. Apologize. Don’t say “I’m sorry you feel this way” – people hate that. Apologize genuinely that they had a bad experience. Acknowledge their problem – that’s often all people really want. And you might even consider thanking them for bringing the issue to your attention.
  2. Establish a baseline. Make it clear that this isn’t how you intended for their experience to go. Explain that you pride yourself on good customer service (as long as you actually do), and you are eager to rectify the issue. This isn’t the time to market, just to make it clear that you stand for something. If you have ever been accused of being too salesy, have someone help you with this part. You do not want this to come across as a sales pitch.
  3. Solve it offline. Make a direct and specific offer to solve the problem offline. Give them a name and direct number for someone to talk to about solving their problem. Make it clear that you want to resolve the issue, not argue it.

For example:

“I’m so sorry to hear that you weren’t happy with your latest experience at Fuzzy Cat Inc. We think it is so important to provide our customers with the very best fuzzy cats on the market, and we hate to let anyone down. If you call Frank at XXX-XXX-XXXX, we’d love to come up with a solution to this problem. Thank you for providing us with honest feedback and helping us to be better.”

If you take these steps, you still won’t please every customer that you serve. But if you act with a little humility and professionalism, you can actually make your business stronger.