How to Respond to Negative Reviews

Reading my first negative review ranks as one of my top five worst experiences as a business owner. As small business owners, our reputation is our livelihood, and using this monstrous beast, the internet, can seem unmanageable, especially when your good name is on the line. Since most people read reviews for businesses before choosing where to spend their money, it's our responsibility to artfully and tactfully respond to what people post about us online.

Table of Contents

Our #1 Tip for Getting Rid of a Negative Review

Before getting into how to respond to online comments, let’s talk about a better way. When you initially see a negative review, don’t immediately start typing. Try to figure out who left the review. Call (or email if you must) and speak with them directly about their complaint and resolve it immediately. In many cases, they will update their review or take it down completely.

This may seem like a simple tip, but it is often overlooked, and we have been able to help our clients remove dozens of negative reviews but directly contacting the reviewer.

Now, we will cover the basic Dos and Don’ts for responding to these unwelcome pronouncements.

What to Do When Responding to a Negative Review

  1. DO Empathize and Apologize (Even if you aren’t at fault)

An apology doesn’t necessarily mean you’re accepting fault (though, if you are at fault, you should accept it). It is more than appropriate to say, “I’m sorry your experience failed to meet your expectations.” Everyone has expectations (whether a paying customer or not), and when they aren’t met, we feel disappointed. You are merely showing empathy for their feelings.

  1. DO follow up.

This is especially important for negative reviews. Accepting criticism with grace and showing how you’ll make improvements based on someone’s feedback only makes your business shine brighter. According to research done by Yelp, following up quickly (within 24 hours) makes the reviewer 33% more likely to upgrade their initial star rating.

  1. DO invite the customer to return.

After making the proper overtures in solving a conflict or righting a poor experience, invite the reviewer to come back and experience your products or services again. It’s been reported that 70% of unhappy customers WILL revisit you if you have fixed the problem.

  1. DO stay calm.

Never reply to a negative review when you’re in the depths of your irritation. Hasty words often lead to an escalated situation. Then you’ll have to deal with the backpedaling or completely write this one off as a loss (including all the other people who end up reading the interaction later).

What to Avoid in Your Review Response

  1. Do NOT delay.

According to the research ReviewTrackers did, 52% of consumers expect their comments and messages to be addressed within 7 days. But, honestly, the quicker the better. No one likes to be left hanging when they’ve had a serious (in their mind) issue.

  1. Do NOT get defensive.

It’s never nice to hear someone complaining after you’ve put in so much effort to create, produce, and serve your best (can we say every night at supper time?); however, approach all negative reviews with empathy. Take the critical feedback with understanding and graciously respond to their disappointment.

  1. Do NOT write a long response.

When you do respond, it should not be a long diatribe in which you are pointing fingers (at them or anyone else), trying to “prove a point” or aggressively pursuing an argument. The goal is to resolve the issues, not create more.

  1. Do NOT be offensive in your language.

This point is a big one. Your response should not have anything objectionable or personal included. This one little point includes everything from swearing to insulting, inviting an argument, or trying to make the reviewer look bad. You may not agree with their comments, but (if you’re going to come out on top and your reputation intact) you must respond graciously and professionally.

Negative reviews
Example of making a sly dig.

The basic formula we use for responding to negative reviews

When responding to any kind of review or feedback, you want to always show a grateful attitude. While this formula is a good start, I would caution you against mirroring someone else’s emotional state, whether positive or negative. The mirroring refers to how they express themselves verbally (or in the written word). Using similar words creates a connection, a feeling of understanding.

Response = Gratitude x (Mirroring + Feedback + Specificity)

From here, when you are writing your response, be sure to:

  1. Personalize the message – use their name, or username
  2. Be sincere in your apology – empathize with their feelings
  3. Resolve the issue – offer a solution to smooth the ruffled feathers. If the situation is more complicated, take it offline and discuss it personally (email or over the phone)
  4. Thank the customer for their feedback – always thank people for leaving comments, suggestions, and yes, even critiques
  5. Highlight company values: be sure to state your company’s policies and repeat all the positive elements of your service
  6. Keep it short – while not minimizing the issue
  7. Sign off with your name – let them know they’re dealing with a real person, not an automation response

Always Keep these 5 Thinks In Mind When You Are Responding to a Negative Review

  • Even though you’re addressing the negative review, you’re actually speaking to the people who will read it later.
  • Your goal isn’t to win the argument; it’s to win back a customer and show others (everyone else reading) that you’re a business owner who cares by offering a resolution and setting things right.
  • Google reviews are NOT conversations, so don’t defend yourself.
  • You can’t please everyone. Focus on building better relationships and treat everyone as though they are your only customer.
  • Negative reviews aren’t the end of the world. Address them honestly and respectably, and then move on.

At the end of the day, the author of a negative review simply wants to be heard and know their concerns or bad experience matters to whoever is listening. Even if you can’t iron things out with that unhappy customer, everyone else coming after to read that review will see your response and appreciate that your business actually cares what your customers think.

It is important to keep a firm grasp on the reviews left behind, so in solidarity with our small business owners, we are in the process of creating a tool from which you can select the perfect response when addressing delicate situations. Remember, though, that templates won’t work for every review; so, “when in doubt, write it out.”

And finally, Check out this article because toward the bottom they give step-by-step instructions on how to remove invalid/inappropriate reviews from various platforms.