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The Do's and Don'ts of Responding To Reviews In The “Messy Middle”

May 16, 2019

Your brand knows how to respond to positive reviews and to negative reviews, but what about those neutral reviews? You know, the ones right in the messy middle? Those three-star reviews that include a mix of compliments and complaints. The writer may have said some nice things about your company, but there were some less than flattering comments as well. The customer isn’t necessarily angry, but they’re not singing your praises either.

So how do you respond? Or do you even bother?

Here’s what Michele Perry, Director of Communications at TripAdvisor had to say on the subject: “In my experience, hotels [ brands] that reply to all feedback—positive and negative—engage the most people and become most successful. Responding to all reviews shows you’re listening and caring about what your guests thought.”

There has been much discussion on how the social web is creating opportunities for ‘conversations’ with your customers and target demographic. It’s your job to remember that the most beneficial conversations always go two ways. If a client of yours goes out of their way to write a review about your brand, then it’s up to you to pick up the ball and carry your part of the conversation. You respond.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer report (2017), 64% of people trust what they find in search engine results when researching businesses online. This means they’re reading reviews and taking notes before making any decisions. Often times, they’re looking specifically for those reviews in the “messy middle” because those are the reviewers they trust. They’re not giving you an overly-glowing and potentially unrealistic endorsement of your brand, nor are they tearing you to smithereens. Instead, they are often perceived as the most honest, trustworthy and reliable customer reviews. These neutral reviews become the bedrock for some of your most important conversations.  

Here is a quick list of “Do’s and Don’ts” to help you respond to those tricky three-star reviews.

The Do’s

  • Say thanks. The very first thing you’ll want to do in your response is to thank the reviewer for taking time out of their day to give you feedback. Thank them by name, and include your own name in the signature. This way they know there’s a real person on the other end, taking the time to really listen to what they had to say. They’ll feel valued and heard. (Which is all any of us really want, isn’t it?)
  • Respond to the positive. If the reviewer included comments on what they enjoyed about your brand, let them know you appreciate their kind words and offer any insights into why their experience was so positive. This should be genuine, fun, and tailored specifically to what the customer mentioned in their review.
  • Apologize for the negative. Chances are if they gave you a three-star review you did some things right... and you also missed the mark in at least one area. Sincerely apologize for any negative aspects of their experience. Do your best to provide an explanation, though we acknowledge this is not always possible. Consider explaining any action steps you’re taking to improve and prevent this same thing from happening in the future.
  • Take the conversation offline. This is a great way to explain more to the customer in a private setting. You may offer your office telephone number or a customer service email address. In taking the conversation offline, you further convey that you value both their feedback and their business.
  • When in dispute, be kind… and direct. There are always, of course, fraudsters and trolls out there. Sometimes you’ll end up with a review of your brand that is downright untrue. There’s an easy way to handle this. Respond simply by stating something like: “We can find no record of this incident and do take this very seriously. Kindly contact me directly if you’d like to discuss the matter further.” Then offer your office telephone number or a customer service email address.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t get defensive. Always, always, always avoid angry, abusive responses, or personal attacks of any kind. We know, some of the things people write online can be outright cruel. Don’t respond when you’re still upset. All accusations or aggressive responses will backfire. We promise. Take some time and focus on something else until you’re less charged by the content of the review. You’ll be glad you did later.
  • Don’t question the reviewer’s legitimacy. Sure, as we mentioned earlier, there are fraudsters, trolls, and spambots out there. And fake reviews do happen from time to time. But generally, you can count on reviews as being written by actual people. Even if what was written sounds like it came from outer space, you still give the reviewer the benefit of the doubt. Respond kindly and take their comment seriously.
  • Do not respond with a discount or coupon. You’re a nice person, (we know this!) and you want to make things right with your customer. But when you publicly offer an incentive, like a coupon, discount, free product or session, you are indirectly encouraging abuse of your company. So don’t do it. Now, if you genuinely feel that you’d like to offer the customer something as an apology, encourage them to contact you offline (office telephone or customer service email address). Better yet, if you can find their contact info, reach out to them directly. They’ll be happily surprised!
  • Don’t respond like a bot.  “We are sorry to hear about your inconvenience and appreciate your comment. We are happy that you have brought this to our attention so that we make make the necessary changes to become a better brand. We are working diligently to make sure your experience with us is much more enjoyable in the future.”  Please, please, please do not use canned responses as your reply. We’ve all read them. They fool no one. If you’re going to respond, respond like a human. And while we’re at it, avoid corporatespeak and jargon as well. This type of reply is confusing and infuriating to your customers. Save the corporate acronyms for your internal meetings and speak to your customers in everyday easy-to-understand language.

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