Negative reviews are not fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re the employee or the business owner, we tend to take these things personally. And get emotional. And those are two things that need to be eliminated before any reaction or response occurs.
Sometimes you might have deserved it – something slipped through the cracks and you have an unhappy customer. Other times, you didn’t deserve it. Someone might have it out for you or they were just downright unfair.
Because of the risk of this kind of behavior, many businesses I work with or talk to object to building an online presence. By now, most of us should know, we can’t put our head in the sand. The conversation is going to happen whether you are there or not. So you best be present so you can appropriately protect your reputation.
How To Respond To Negative Reviews
Monitor your presence
First thing’s first: To be able to respond, you have to be aware, which means you should be watching for, and being notified any time someone reviews you.
Be sure you’ve claimed your pages on the sites appropriate to your business model. This will mean at a minimum, Google Places and Yelp. What other sites are your customers using to talk about you? Do a search for your business type (not business name) plus geographic location and see what sites show up on the first page. Those would be your target. (Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, Viewpoints come to mind.)
Also, set up Talkwalker Alerts. Now you’ll get an email when anyone is talking about you specifically online.
Someone’s dropped an online bomb. You are bummed. Or even, you’re furious.
First let’s talk strategy. You may or may not be able to turn the person who wrote that nasty review. Ideally, you will, but also remember we’re not just worried about the customer in question, but the people who will pass by and read the review. Give passersby the benefit of the doubt: Often, we are able to see a generally unhappy and angry person. We don’t need to be told this. We might just laugh it off. This will determine your approach.
The second piece of your strategy is to put this to rest quickly. We don’t want to engage in a public conversation, nor do we want this to get shared and spread. Acting in any way that will aggravate the situation is a mistake. For example, if the person wrote a long-winded saga with every detail, don’t feel the need to honor it with a detailed point by point response. We want to remain calm, and put this baby to sleep fast.
Also, if you are able to, get a feel for the person who has commented and look at their following.
One more thing before we actually respond; remove emotion from the picture.
Respond to Negative Reviews
Show you understand how disappointing or upsetting the situation must have been. Most people just want to be heard.
Apologize if you owe them an apology.
Here is a fantastic example of an apology from a news station that falsely reported the names of the airplane crew on the Asiana crash landing in San Francisco. They strive for <insert expectations here> and that did not happen today. We are sorry for that.
But sometimes you aren’t wrong! So don’t apologize.
This is when it gets very frustrating. The customer might have been wrong but they are blaming you. It never helps to point a finger back at the angry individual. This will only serve to fan the flames and that’s the last thing you want. Mostly, you want other viewers to recognize that this person is unreasonable and not to take this review too seriously. Follow steps 1 and 2. Apologize not for making a mistake but for the fact that they didn’t have a good experience. Re-state your expectations, and what happens when they aren’t met mutually. Speak in a factual way and stay professional.
Thank the commenter. If appropriate.
Getting constructive feedback is good. It helps you make your business better. Thank the reviewer for taking the time to comment and allow you to address the situation.
Know when to stop engaging.
Some people just love to complain. A troll is someone whose only mission on the Internet is to throw mud, complain, leave negative comments, and generally cause chaos for you in your social media space. Don’t fall prey to this.
Do not continue to engage with this person. Say your piece, and move on. Hopefully, others in your community will come to your defense. If you ignore the trolls, they will eventually go away. Because it’s no fun being a troll when you aren’t getting any reaction.
Whatever you do, never respond in anger or with emotion. Your goal is to put this issue to rest quickly with as little attention as possible. When you respond in anger, it only blows the situation up like these owners of this bakery did.
Address the situation head on. Empathize, listen and thank. If you’re doing everything else right like building a community based on values you all strongly believe in, your community will come to your defense.
Don’t fear the bad guys. A client said to me the other day, “If you stop and kick every barking dog, you’ll never get anywhere.” (by the way, I’d never kick a dog but I thought the expression worked.) You can’t be everything to everyone and if they don’t like you? Let them stroll on by to the next X. Y, or Z company. They just aren’t the customer for you.
Thanks to Tropical.Pete for the image from Flickr, creative commons.[ssba]
Ifdy Perez says
And I JUST responded to a negative review, right before reading your blog post lol. Your best practices are right on––I’d also add, “If you can get someone else in your company to review your response before posting” tip, too. It helps me to gauge how the response would be perceived by someone who’s not as affected as I am. You can come across as one thing you didn’t intend to!
Lisa Gerber says
That’s a great idea – the “Am I being a douchey douche?” filter!
And didn’t you take it personally, even though you aren’t the business owner? It doesn’t matter – negative comments and reviews almost always are a bummer.
Ifdy Perez says
Sometimes I’m in a better “place” to let it slide, and other times I’m not. But that also applies to the negative reviewer. They could be having a bad day, too. 🙂 It’s almost an art on how to manage it.
Laura Click says
Great advice, Lisa.
Question – are you finding that Talkwalker picks up reviews? I don’t think it’s very consistent. It seems to maybe get some but not all. I just discovered Review Trackers and am giving it a try. It monitors most of the major review sites and sends you email alerts when you get them. You can also manage all of your reviews in one place. Could be pretty handy.
Lisa Gerber says
Wow – I have not noticed that, but I’ll check out Review Trackers. Awesome. Thanks.
I’ve missed you, my friend.
Lisa Gerber says
I MISS YOU!!! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Yvette Pistorio says
Thank you for this Lisa…great article and something I’ve shared with my team when we’re responding to reviews.
Lisa Gerber says
Fantastic! glad it has helped! and hi!!! 🙂
Barbara Adler says
Great blog! Not only is the content full of valuable advice and info, the comments are as well. Glad I finally found one worth the read. Thank you!
If possible, I would be beyond appreciative to get your take on a dilemma I’m having regarding a negative review on my Yelp business page. However, before I get into specifics, I think it would be extremely helpful for you to know what I do. I am a Dog Trainer & Behavior Consultant. I do not have a facility, am not a restaurant, do not have a storefront or any employees. I travel to people’s homes, work with them and their dog(s) one on one. This is a very typical method of operation in this industry.
Here’s my dilemma:
The review is written by someone I do not know, have never met, or have had any contact with whatsoever. Since Yelp allows people to use “fake” names and “hometowns” (claiming this information adheres to the First Amendment legalities of the right to anonymous free speech), the fact that I do not know the reviewer by name nor do I service his/her hometown is irrelevant. However, what is relevant and of consequence is the content.
The review itself may or may not be valid. Either way, I wasn’t in attendance at this party. To sight one example, the reviewer makes statements about the appearance of the person being reviewed including: ‘looking nothing at all like her picture, looking completely different and being shocked when she came to the door because she is unrecognizable.’
I can assure you I look like me. The only way I wouldn’t look like me is if it wasn’t me! Clearly, this reviewer has me confused with someone else with the same name as mine.
Never the less, I would like to acknowledge this reviewer with a response that’s affable. Where I’m stumbling is doing so without bringing notice to a “mistake” which might insult or embarrass the reviewer. Truth be told, I’d like the review removed but more importantly, not responding at all looks almost as bad on my part. As it sits right now, I’m immersed in a lose, lose black hole of doom! 😉 Consequently, in an effort to address this debacle with elegance, I researched the situation ad naseam and decided to follow a few steps prior to responding publicly.
First, I went to the reviewer’s profile to find something that might ring a bell. It didn’t (profile picture is an Avatar). Next, I flagged the review and wrote to Yelp for advice/help. No response. I then went back to the reviewer’s profile and sent him/her a private email message via Yelp’s email program. No response.
All that said, how does one handle a situation and review like this publicly? In other words, how do you say; “Who are you?” without being offensive?
Sorry for the lengthily post but, this one has me absolutely baffled.
Thanking you in advance for your patience and any help you can provide.
I look forward to hearing from you and reading your thoughts, and brilliant advice!
Lisa Gerber says
Hi Barbara, Thanks for the kind words, and I’m sorry about the situation you’ve found yourself in!
I’d offer to take this offline. (I understand the reviewer likely won’t respond but as you know, we’re just trying to let others who see this see that in fact you are trying to help but have no idea who he/she is.)
You could say something to the effect of what you describe doesn’t align at all with my values or something I’d do, etc etc. I’ve reviewed my records for your name and don’t see you as a past client. I’m not sure if there is a misunderstanding; regardless, I’d like to resolve this so please contact me at…..
What do you think?
Jon Symons says
Nicely written post that covers all the basics, and I’d support what @Ifdy said about running the response past someone impartial before posting.
As someone who writes review responses for a living, I’d like to comment on Barbara’s post. If they have made a factual error and you don’t recognize them as a past client, it is most likely a competitor who has written or hired someone to damage your business. In that case, I would first off, report the review to the review site. They all have a some flagging system. Be specific and quote the section in the site’s terms of service that the review violates. They all forbid reviews from competitors or previous employees. Look and find a rule that was broken and quote that when you report the review.
Secondly, politely correct the facts that the reviewer got wrong. I had a negative review for one of my clients that mentioned that the restaurant was not accessible to someone in a wheelchair – it said their party showed up and had to leave because there were two steps up to the front door. The way it was written, I was sure it was an attack from a competitor. So in the response, I stated that we have a side door and that we always bring anyone around to who can’t make it up the steps.
Discrediting the reviewer if they are suspect is an effective strategy to minimize or negate the potential damage from a one-star review.
Lisa Gerber says
Great additions, Jon, thanks so much for adding your wisdom/experience here!