Responding to Negative Reviews

Topic: Best Practices


Should you respond to negative reviews? The short answer is, without a doubt, yes. As a business owner, you’ve made a commitment to your customers. And whether they are complaining or singing your praises, they are the lifeblood of your company. You’ve got a responsibility to uphold. After all, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.

Now, where do you start?  

1. First Things First: Identify The Issue

If you don’t understand what went wrong, you won’t be able to write a sincere and helpful response. After you read the review, the very first thing you’ll have to do is identify where it was that things went wrong on your end. The customer is always right, right? This is a line you’ve heard a time or two before. Fortunately or unfortunately, it holds true in today’s digital age more than ever before. Your response will be out there for all the world (including your potential customers) to read. Before you post, make sure that what you write is genuine and addresses the actual concerns of your customer.

2. Follow Up. And Always, Always Customize

Consumers today can sniff out a canned customer service response from a mile away. They’ll know if you’re “responding because brands today are supposed to” or if you mean what you say, are saying it with heart, and offering a solution. Here are a few best practices to use when responding:

  • Listen to both the spoken and unspoken concerns expressed in the review. There’s often more to the issue than what is explicitly stated. Dig a little deeper. Look at what other reviewers are saying. If you’re getting similar feedback from a few customers, chances are you’ve got a real problem on your hands. (And if that’s the case, we’ll address it in the next step.)
  • Be prompt. Depending on the nature of the complaint, and how much work is needed before a genuine and helpful answer can be crafted, response time should be anywhere from a few hours after the complaint was posted to one week. Anything longer ends up looking like you’re not listening.
  • Address your customer by name, if possible. Then sign the response at the end with your name. In doing so, you are building a relationship and fostering trust with your customer. She feels like she is a real person who matters to you. In giving your name, you become a real person connected to her as well. Rather than feeling like she is dealing with a faceless organization, she feels she’s being taken care of by someone who cares. And you do.
  • Be specific in your response. By providing a customized response tailored to the individual complaint, addressing the exact issue expressed in the review, you’ll reassure the customer not only that they made the right purchase decision, but also that they are dealing with a customer-focused organization that operates with integrity. That is to say, you’re a company who cares and is committed to doing what’s right.
  • Offer to take the complaint offline. Propose another method by which the customer can contact you. An office telephone number or customer service email address are great ways to do this.
  • Spell check. A little typo can go a long way. So can a little conscientiousness. Your response is contributing to the voice of your brand. And you want to make sure your voice conveys both professionalism and respect. Something like a quick spell check can make sure your initial faux pas doesn't become an even bigger one.

3. Final Step: Get Your Act Together

The final, and most important, step you’ll take in the process of damage control is to identify the problem on a systemic level and take actions to correct it. The issue that resulted in the negative review may be on the service, operational, or product development level. Be a detective. It’s your job to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes the actual issue didn’t originate in the department you’d first assumed. Was the customer complaint really the delivery department’s fault or was it an error within the online ordering system itself? Do a little digging before you mark the case closed. The extra time could end up paying huge dividends in the end.  

Once you’ve addressed the issue, keep monitoring for similar negative feedback in the future. Iterate, iterate, iterate until you get it right. When you do solve the issue, the silence you’ll hear will be golden. An even better scenario: you may just find you’re now getting positive reviews in that area you fixed. Like a broken bone, it's the areas in which our systems are broken that we often end up strongest in the end.

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Best Practices