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All businesses make mistakes: a package doesn’t arrive on time, a restaurant brings out the wrong dish, or a doctor’s office forgets to log a patient’s appointment.
Sometimes those mistakes lead to negative reviews. Other times, poor reviews aren’t even due to mistakes, but simply uncontrollable events or a mismatch of tastes. There are countless negative reviews of the most famous national parks, and my all-time favorite poor review comes from Sandra A. of Portland Oregon who says of the Eiffel Tower: “[Y]ou see the city from high up. Big deal.”
Whether your negative reviews are well-deserved or unfairly given is slightly beside the point: your online reputation suffers either way. And while you cannot control a person’s review, you can control how to respond.
If you’re already rolling your eyes at how dreadfully trite that sounds, consider this: a Harvard Business Review study found that when businesses respond to customer reviews — good or bad — their ratings subsequently increase.
That increase is due, at least in part, to how little people like confrontation. According to the study, customers who see previous management responses decide not to leave trivial or unsubstantiated negative reviews to avoid a potentially uncomfortable online interaction with the manager.
Even so, not all responses are created equal. Critical reviews can make anyone get defensive, and a poorly worded reply will get seen by 89 percent of customers, many of whom will use that information to judge whether or not they ought to do business with you.
With that in mind, here’s how your business should respond to negative reviews to make the most out of an otherwise unpleasant situation.
Acknowledge and Apologize
The reviewer’s experience is their own. You may argue with the facts of the situation (which you probably shouldn’t, at least publicly — more on that below), but you can’t argue with how they feel. It’s how they feel.
A little sympathy goes a long way toward defusing the situation. If the reviewer is complaining about bad service, you can still apologize that they had a bad experience without supporting their criticism of your attention to detail. A simple “We’re sorry to hear about your experience” will do.
Add a Touch of Specificity
A public and anonymous review platform is not the place to mount a serious defense. Yelp isn’t a court of law; you are not going to be awarded justice simply because you proved a reviewer wrong and effectively stated your case.
Even so, it’s often a good idea to briefly speak to the reviewer’s primary concern. Doing so shows that you’re paying attention to their review — that you hear them and care enough to tailor your response to their unique situation.
If possible, this is also a good opportunity to contrast the reviewer’s bad experience with your company policy or what customers usually experience when they visit your business.
Think of it as a way to address the reviewer’s concern while delivering a little backhanded compliment: “We’re usually known for our exceptional customer service and we regret that we didn’t live up to those expectations here.”
Move the Situation Offline
Very rarely will you be able to completely resolve a reviewer’s bad experience thanks to your empathetic online reply. In fact, trying to fix everything in one electronic response can often do more harm than good.
Instead, aim to take the conversation offline. Provide contact information, including the name of a specific company representative, if possible. Doing so demonstrates your receptiveness to feedback and shifts the power dynamic by turning a monolithic organization into a personable one-on-one encounter. It also shows that your company takes customer service seriously enough to have someone in charge of addressing those problems.
“If you’re open to discussing this further, please call us at (888) XXX-1234 and ask to speak with Jamie, our General Manager. We’d greatly appreciate the opportunity to make things right and work toward earning back your business.”
Keep it Short and Sweet
When it comes to responding to negative reviews, less is more. Three to four sentences is a good rule of thumb.
No matter how unfair a negative review, resist the urge to defend every point and prove your case. It may sound counterintuitive, but long-winded responses can actually legitimize the complaint, as if the review needed defending in the first place.
For that reason, don’t go into detail (it can sound defensive) and don’t ask follow-up questions. You want to avoid saying anything that could further incite an upset customer and encourage them to add more detail and negativity to their review.
While your response certainly matters for the individual who left the review in the first place, it’s actually much more impactful for the 89 percent of other customers who will be reading it for weeks or months to come. Keep that in mind as you’re responding to negative reviews and you’ll be much less likely to let your emotions get the best of you.
And, if you’re tired of letting a small number of negative reviews represent your business, there’s always room for improvement.
December 31, 2018 at 08:30AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs