Depending on what industry you’re in, positive customer feedback on user review sites like Yelp, Google Places, and social media can have a big impact on your business. For small restaurants, local service companies, and mom and pop retailers in particular, those compliments and four and five star reviews deliver the social proof needed to establish a good reputation and drive in new customers.

As we have witnessed firsthand, there is also the flipside to these sites: the negative customer reviews. Sometimes these complaints are legitimate. Sometimes they’re not. While sites including Yelp use filters to block what appear to be fake reviews, there’s really nothing the business can do to stop users from posting anything they want – as long as it’s not profane.

If and when you get one, how should you respond to a negative online review?

Step 1: Claim your business profiles

If you haven’t already done so, claim your business’s page on the user review site. Doing so will give you greater control over the information on your profile, and you’ll be able to monitor activity and respond to negative reviews. The process of claiming these sites is simple and straightforward:

  • Search the review site (Yelp, Google Places, Angie’s List etc.) for your business and click on your profile
  • Find and click on the link asking if this is your business or prompting to manage the page
  • Fill out any required information and complete the authorization process (this is typically either an automated phone call or mail confirmation)

Step 2: Take a deep breath

There’s a 98% chance that if you get a bad customer review online, the first thing you’ll want to do is go online and publicly obliterate the credibility of whoever the clearly insane person is who would dare speak negatively about your business. While it probably sounds like a cathartic experience, this is not a good idea.

Even if there’s zero truth to your negative review, you have nothing to gain and much to lose by going on the offensive with your response. Before you start writing a single word, take a moment to make sure you are calm and clear-headed.

Step 3: Craft your (civil) response

Consider your bad review an opportunity to showcase and improve your customer service. If the complaint has any shred of truth to it, start your public response with a sincere apology. Assure your customer that you appreciate their business, that you are taking their complaint seriously, and that you are working to resolve the problem so that it won’t happen again. (It’s probably a good idea to actually follow through with this, too.) Most rational people don’t expect businesses to be able to please everyone 100% of the time; if there is a complaint and users can see that you are engaged and care about their satisfaction, you should be able to minimize the damage from the rare negative online review.

If the complaint is unfounded, keep a civil tone while assuring the user (and anyone visiting your page) that the accusations are incorrect.  You should not apologize if your business was not in the wrong, but if you choose to ignore misleading negative reviews, other users might assume that the reviewer was rightfully upset and that your business didn’t even care enough to respond.

Beyond the negative review and the complaining customer, social review sites function on a larger level as a piece of your marketing, and they are part of the face you present to your audience. This is why it’s important not to fight back. Regardless of the nature of the complaint, keep in mind that your response will affect potential future customers as much or more than it will affect the complaining customer. In just about any imaginable circumstance, the viewers of the review will think highly of your business if you respond professionally, and they’ll think poorly of your business if you respond unprofessionally.

Have you had any negative online reviews? How did you respond?

Simple Machines Marketing