How to Respond to Negative Reviews

July 04, 2011
Tim Fiorito

We hear this all the time, “I can’t believe someone wrote a negative review about us.  Can you remove it?  ”, or “Should we ask our customers to post good reviews to Google Places and Yelp so the bad one goes away?”    While there have always been rumors of how to remove negative yelp reviews, negative feedback about your business is not going away.     Very few, if any businesses are perfect.   If you get a negative review on any of these consumer reviews sites, including SureCritic, we recommend you do the following.

1.  Act Quickly, not Emotionally – Worst case scenario- you have an ex- employee, or someone you have no way to verify was ever a customer writing about your business.  I mean how many places can Mr. A Nonymous patronize at one time anyway?  Seriously, it’s easy to react emotionally; after all, someone is attacking your business, right?   Take a deep breath, and then call you cousin Vinnie to talk about the situation. Scratch the call to the Vinster, retake the deep breadth and, acknowledge that the most appropriate call to action is to respond to the negative review. Now, check your temperature. Is it below 100 degrees? Move on to step #2.

2. Get the Facts - Businesses using SureCritic only deal with verified customer reviews, so it’s easy to look up the date of service or purchase to get more information.  You should try to find out exactly what happened; was the issue known before the customer left your place of business and was there any corrective action already taken.

3.  Contact the Customer – Here’s the tough part. Nobody wants to call an upset customer. Especially after said customer just dropped the dime on your business all over the World Wide Web. By contacting the customer, you’ll get more details and a better understanding of the customer’s real concern.  We regularly hear business owners tell us that they are “shocked” by a negative review and tell us the customer left their place of business without mentioning that there was a problem.  Remember, some people would rather spill their guts to a web page or customer service agent, or an imaginary friend; just not to the guy or girl who manages the business.   Don’t be surprised if you don’t have all the facts without talking to the customer. Chances are the real truth lies somewhere in between what your employee is telling you and what the customer is telling you.

4.  Attempt to “Make it Right” - This is the tricky part.  Every concern resolution scenario is different.  The reality is that this is a customer of your business and there is not enough room in this article to list the reasons why it makes good business sense to make it right if reasonably possible..  I’ll take the liberty to mention the oft quoted fact that acquiring a new customer cost six times more (according to a bunch of really expensive studies commissioned by some really smart people)  than retaining  an existing one.  If you can acknowledge that, then you have to make it right.   Pay to fix the problem.  Provide them a discount to come back in.  Do whatever it takes (within reason) to make it right.  If it was a matter of miscommunication or poor expectation setting, then take the feedback as an opportunity to improve your internal business processes.

Of course, there will be times when you make Herculean efforts to resolve the concern to no avail. In the infamous words of The Captain from the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke, “Some men you just can’t reach”! Which make the next step even more important.

5.  Document the Issue for Others to Read – That’s a fancy way of saying, “RESPOND” to the negative review. This is by far the most important component.  It does involve some work on your part, but it will pay off in spades if you do it right.   First, don’t be condescending or snarky. Do people still use that word, “snarky”? I think it’s a sarcastic way of saying sarcastic, which is exactly what you don’t want to do.   Just reiterate the facts in as much detail as possible.  The more detail the better, along with the context of time to resolve. Let the potential reader know that you resolved the customer’s concern to their satisfaction. If you didn’t, don’t lie and say you did (funny how those things have a way of coming back to bite you), but do tell about how far above and beyond the call of duty you went in an effort to make the customer happy.

Prospects researching your business online will appreciate the fact that you care, and are willing to take the time to not only fix the issue, but write about it.   Prospective customers spend quite a bit of time researching reviews before making a purchase decision.   As a friend of mine once said, “people have been giving reviews since the beginning of time; the only difference now is that businesses can chose whether they want to be a spectator, or an active participant in managing their brand and online reputation. Don’t be a spectator, “Engage Maverick, engage!”.