10 Steps for Responding to Negative Online Customer Reviews


You can try your hardest to do everything right all the time, but sooner or later, every business gets a bad review or write-up on Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, a blog, or somewhere else on the web. Sometimes, even the best employees have an off day. Sometimes, miscommunications happen. Sometimes, things beyond your control go wrong. And yes, sometimes customers have unreasonable expectations that go unmet.

Poor feedback isn’t the end of the world. In fact, if you keep an open mind, it helps you improve your products, services, and processes. It also presents PR opportunities to show how seriously you take your customer service and satisfaction—and your reputation.

It all comes down to your way of responding to negative online customer reviews. Let them go unanswered or handle them the wrong way, and they’ll hurt your business. But deal with them the right way, and they can actually help you.

Keep a close eye on your business listings on user review sites. Set Google alerts for your brand’s name (and your own if you’re closely associated with your brand). Also, consider investing in a basic online reputation management tool that lets you know what the public is posting about your company.

Hopefully, most of what people say about your brand is positive. Be gracious about the good stuff, and show your appreciation to customers who take time to say something nice about you. And then, when necessary, follow the below advice for responding to negative online customer review.

Dealing with Negative Online Feedback

  1. Don’t get emotional. It’s so important to remain objective and professional. If a bad review gets your blood boiling, either step away for a little while or, if you just can’t return with a cooler head in a reasonable amount of time (obviously you want to respond promptly), hand off the response to someone else. Always take the high road.
  1. Actually listen to the complaints. Refrain from getting defensive and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Consider the situation from their perspective, and realize that they don’t see things from yours—nor is it their responsibility to.
  1. Decide whether you want to respond. Yes, there are times when it’s best to just walk away. If it seems like the negative comments are coming from a troll who possibly didn’t even have a real experience with your company, just let it go. It happens a lot on the internet. Getting sucked in won’t accomplish anything—except drawing more attention to the conversation.
  1. Decide whether you want to respond publicly or privately. This is the next step for all those other times. Usually, it’s smart to respond publicly. That way, anyone seeing the negative comments gets your side of the story too and sees that you made the effort to set things right. If you successfully resolve the problem in private, the customer may update their bad review to say so, but it’s out of your hands. If you respond privately, make a quick public comment to let others know that you’ve done so.
  1. Acknowledge that the customer was disappointed. Whether or not you believe it’s justified, the customer is upset. There’s never a path to resolving the situation in a positive way if you don’t acknowledge that.
  1. Acknowledge and apologize for any missteps on your end. People easily spot when a company simply refuses to take any responsibility for an interaction that didn’t go well. And they don’t like it. But they respect when a business is willing to say, “Yeah, we didn’t deliver up to expectations or our own standards, and we’re sorry and would like to make it right.”
  1. Give your side of the story, but not as an excuse. If there were extenuating circumstances or factors out of your control that contributed to the complaints, explain them. But not in a way that just makes it look like you won’t accept responsibility. Consumers don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, and an explanation can help account for problems. After explaining, conclude with something to the effect of, “But we realize you had a negative experience and that’s unacceptable to us, and we’d appreciate the chance to fix this.”
  1. Offer to make it right (or ask for another chance). Ask the unhappy customer respectfully for an opportunity to show you can do better. Provide an incentive for their willingness to let you try again, such as a free or discounted item. This is a good step even if you don’t believe the person has a legitimate complaint (but not if you think it’s just a troll).
  1. Thank the customer for giving you an opportunity to improve. Express that you see negative feedback as a valuable tool for improving what you offer and how you deliver it. Thank them for taking the time to let you know that something went wrong and giving you the opportunity to address any issues.
  1. Act on what you learn. Everything above is just lip service—and it won’t help you brand improve and grow—if you don’t apply anything from the feedback you got. Employees need to know when things go wrong, and they need direction for avoiding similar problems in the future. If shortcomings in your product, services, or processes have come to light, address them.

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