Reviewing the Reviewer: How to Respond to Negative Reviews

As a business owner, we’re sure you know that customers are usually more prone to post negative reviews than positive. If your business has ever fallen victim to this, you probably understand the urge to fire back. While some negative reviews of your service and/or products may be completely justified (no one can be perfect all the time), there are those moments when it seems like someone is simply out to get you. In these situations, you want nothing more than to respond back to their review, giving them a piece of your mind. But should you?

An ExampleScreen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.06.44 AM

Take for instance a recent situation at a New Zealand restaurant, Molten, where a couple gave an inaccurate review of a restaurant’s food and service. The restaurant very publicly responded back to the customers, giving them a “customer review” of their own. Here are a few snippets of what the restaurant posted to their own Facebook page to review their customer:

“When we first asked how your meals were you said fine, then ate them in their entirety, then upon the plates being cleared you let us know that it was the worst meal you’ve eaten in a decade and that it was too salty for your tastes… perhaps mention to us before ordering that you have an aversion to heavily seasoned food, then we would be able to steer you away from the dish described on the menu as brined…Also, please don’t complain that the prosciutto on your meal looked like it was bacon in your online review. The simple explanation for this is that it was pancetta. As per the description of the dish on the menu.”

The “review” ended by giving the customers zero out of five stars.

Most of the social media response to Molten’s post has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone, especially other restaurant owners, is raving about Molten’s gutsy response.

So the question is, should your business respond in a similar manner? It worked for Molten, why shouldn’t it work for you? As you might expect, it’s situational and in most cases doing what Molten did is probably not appropriate. Whenever you get a negative review and are tempted to prove your customer wrong, remember to pause and refer to these guidelines before making any rash decisions.

How to respond to negative reviews

  1. Respond in a timely manner – Getting back to your customer within a day of the review or comment shows that you care and are listening to their concerns. If you let it sit for too long, other people could quickly become involved and might be swayed by the other customer’s review. But in your haste to respond, be careful with what you say. It’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you, so make sure to thoughtfully craft your message.
  1. Simple is best – It’s not necessary to write a novel back to your customer, especially if they are one of those “crazy” yelp-addicts who seem to get a high from writing negative reviews. While it’s tempting to do what Molten did by publicly shaming the reviewer, it might not be the wisest idea. If you find yourself in this situation, respond by saying something like “We’re sorry you had this experience. We were unaware of the situation you describe, but please contact us by direct email and we’ll make it right.”
  1. Own up to it – When a customer’s complaint is completely legitimate, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but own up to it. This may be difficult for some businesses owners, but trying to cover up what happened won’t fix the problem. You never know if the reviewer will come back with even more evidence of the incident at hand. Respond back by apologizing for the incident, and offer some sort of deal or service on the house. Also, be careful not to throw your employees under the bus. While it may be true that the new waitress you just hired spilled a drink all over a woman’s dress, never say something like “the staff member is still in training.” Instead, say, “we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” As the business owner or manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure your staff is well trained. There’s always a learning curve, of course, but pointing fingers will only dig you into a deeper pit.
  1. Acknowledge the positive comments – Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on the bad in order to save face that we forget about the good comments. While you don’t need to respond to every single comment or review, it wouldn’t hurt to thank the person for their comment and wish them well. It fosters a positive environment and shows that you are engaged with the good and the bad.
  1. Take reviews into consideration – Last but not least, remember that negative reviews aren’t always a bad thing. See them as an opportunity to improve. While customers won’t always say something negative to your face, their online reviews give you an inside peek into their real opinions of your business. So consider reviews as free research, and make improvements where you deem necessary. If you don’t want to be known for rude customer service, then change personnel. If your products are breaking, improve the quality of the materials. Take a negative review and turn it into a positive result.