5 steps to respond to negative reviews without losing customers

These days, bad reviews go viral. Breathe deep and respond with grace to bad reviews
A defensive response to a bad review may quickly get you more attention than you could ever want. (Photo: Dmytro Bilyk, Dreamstime)

This is Part 2 in our series on online marketing and how to actively use consumer reviews in a digital marketing plan, rather than a passive influence that business owners can’t control. Click here to read Part 1.

Nobody’s perfect, and since you simply cannot please everyone, a few negative reviews are inevitable. They will hurt a bit, and your first instinct may be to try to have it removed (in most cases, you can’t). However, negative reviews actually add a degree of credibility and authenticity, as consumers are often suspicious of companies that only have positive reviews. Instead of pulling your hair out, reframe the experience as an opportunity to have an honest, public discourse about your services, and remember that 70% of consumers will give your company another chance if you demonstrate that you’ve fully addressed a problem.

Here are five steps to crafting a response to a negative review of your business without driving away other customers or potential clients:

1. Take a deep breath. If reading the post angers you, don’t hit the “Reply” button right away. Instead, get up and walk away from the screen, take 15 minutes to calm down and allow rational thought to resume control. Making comments in anger isn’t likely to resolve anything, and berating customers will only exacerbate an already precarious situation.

2. Respond promptly. As with most things, sooner is better than later, so try not to let a bad review fester for longer than 24 hours. Much beyond that, and it starts to look like you’re avoiding the issue.

“As soon as I see a negative review, I’ll respond,” says Tim Lindgren, owner of Fort Collins-based Lindgren Landscape. “That’s unless I have to go and talk to someone about it first, do a little research or get more information, but I make that a priority.”

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3. Apologize, take ownership and remind viewers this was an aberration. Even if you’re not really at fault, assuming responsibility for a problem goes a long way.

“It’s typically something small or trivial,” Lindgren says about the nature of negative reviews. “Something that we can diffuse the flame on just by apologizing and saying we were wrong.”

“I’m so sorry Steve was late to arrive at your home. We take pride in our 96% on-time rate, as punctuality is very important to XYZ Landscaping. This was an unusual occurrence that reminds us there’s always room for improvement.”

4. Address the negatives—and your plans to fix them and make it right for the client. Once you determine the root of the complaint, be sure to discuss the situation with any employees who played a role in the interaction. They often have a different perspective, and may also be able to offer greater clarity and a good explanation, all of which can help inform your response. Stay professional and conversational in your response, acknowledge and apologize for the problem, and clearly indicate your plans to a) ensure it never happens again and b) remedy the problem to the customer’s satisfaction.

Crucially, including your direct contact information and encouraging an offline conversation demonstrates how much you value your customers. You can also consider offering a discount on future services, but just be sure it doesn’t come across as a bribe.

“Apologize and acknowledge their frustration without getting defensive,” advises Lindgren. “Saying things like ‘we’ll improve,’ ‘we’ll work on it’ and ‘we’ll get better at it’ also help. The response isn’t going to change anybody’s opinion, so it’s really that the next homeowner can see we’re on top of things and that we handle difficult situations with grace.”

“We’ve spoken to Steve, who informed us he was late because his previous project took longer than expected. While things don’t always go according to plan, this is still unacceptable for XYZ Landscaping. After sharing some time management tips with Steve, he now understands he should have phoned you the minute he realized he’d be late. Please accept our sincerest apologies. To compensate for your valuable time, we would like to offer you 20% off your next service with us. If there is anything more we can do, or if you’d like to bring anything else to our attention, please feel free to contact me directly at 555-555-5555 or [email protected]

5. Reiterate the positive points and be original. Even negative reviews sometimes have a modicum of positivity, so be sure to reinforce them in your response. Furthermore, take the time to customize each response. Canned replies are obvious to consumers, and will only undercut your efforts.

“While I’m happy to hear you’re thrilled with your garden’s overall aesthetic and curb appeal—we always try to keep those factors in mind when creating custom gardens—I am saddened to learn you feel a few of your plants don’t look healthy. After researching your account, I wonder if you might be talking about your new shrubs. These bloom in the fall, so that may be the problem. We’d love to come out and do an inspection. Our policy is to replace any plant or flower that fails within the first year, so if there is a problem, rest assured we’ll take care of it.”

Handling poor reviews with honesty, accountability and sincerity helps inspire trust while demonstrating your commitment to customer satisfaction. The best way to overcome the sting of a negative review? Bury it with more positive reviews, of course.

Part 3 of this series to will address what to do if you think someone has written a fake review about your business. Have you successfully integrated online reviews in your marketing plan? Use the comments to share your experiences with your peers or email Danielle Andrus, managing editor, to tell your story.

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