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Don’t let a Hostile Review Ruin Your Business: How to respond to negative reviews

Young man shouting, angry. Images of negative online reviews such a 1 start out of 5

Whether you’re managing an e-commerce marketplace or an automobile repair shop, you’re likely to primarily focus on the “traditional” elements of running a business. Things like handling shipping logistics, preparing marketing materials, and fine-tuning your offer usually come first.

While these are all extremely important, you’re often left woefully unprepared to handle a commonly overlooked part of conducting business – responding to negative reviews.

No matter how hard you work to provide excellent customer service and sell only the finest products, chances are someone will leave a negative review. When this happens, you shouldn’t lose heart. Customer feedback, including positive and negative reviews, is an integral part of the business.

Online reviews are now more critical than ever. With the vast expansion of the digital world, even the smallest small businesses are expected to have some online presence. Nearly 9 out of 10 consumers look at online reviews before making a purchase, and 54.7% of them read at least four reviews before committing.

The sad truth is that negative reviews often carry more weight than positive ones. They can spread like wildfire when left unattended, leading to an avalanche of bad reviews. 

Over 53% of customers expect companies to respond to their negative reviews within a week. Combined with the fact that only four negative reviews can lead to 70% customer loss, the importance of responding to an upset customer becomes apparent.

Therefore, it’s paramount you get on top of customer complaints on time with a well-thought-out review response. This is a skill in itself, but good, solid guidelines to follow can help you in this endeavour.

Here, we’ll go through how to respond to negative reviews, backed with examples and useful templates to assist you in handling negative feedback. Let’s dig in.

Table of Contents

Why are reviews so important?

Before we head into the dos and don’ts of negative review response practices, we should take a closer look at why businesses must take online reviews seriously.

One thing you should understand right away is that reviews, positive feedback included, can shape and define your business’s public image. This may seem like a commonplace assessment, but business owners might not be aware of just how powerful reviews can be.

Glowing reviews from happy customers are usually the most effective marketing tool at your disposal. If potential customers do some research about your company and find predominantly positive assessments of your services, they’re likely to become buyers.

It's paramount you get on top of customer complaints on time with a well-thought out review response

At the same time, a publicly posted negative experience can shatter your standing among customers. Research shows that people tend to trust negative reviews more than positive ones. Not only that, but consumers are more likely to leave a negative review than share a great experience or post nothing at all.

But why do customers give credence to an online review, especially if it’s negative? This is because reviews are regarded as an organic, truthful representation of customer experience. If people question the credibility of a review, they’re more likely to believe a 5-star review is fake than one criticizing the business.

Infographic: More Likely to Vent Than to Recommend? | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

This is partly because businesses sometimes create fake reviews to attract more customers. You’ve probably seen them before – reviews containing exclusively high praise, accompanied by generic-sounding usernames and stock image photos.

In many cases, damage done by negative customer reviews is challenging to repair, even if you throw thousands of dollars into marketing.

Unattended or poorly managed negative reviews can:

Is this unfair? Probably. Still, you can’t change how our brains are wired to interpret business reviews. However, what you can change is what you do about every bad review that comes your way.

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The rise of online review sites

We have already touched upon how the massive switch to the digital sphere has transformed how we approach shopping. In a globalized world, we can no longer rely solely on word of mouth to make purchasing decisions.

There are so many companies out there that it’s practically impossible to find friends or family that have had an experience with all of them they can share with you directly – you have to rely on other customers and their experiences.

The easiest way to quickly assess whether a business is trustworthy and provides quality service is by visiting a review site and checking its rating.

Check out how we handle reviews

Handling reviews is not an easy task. If you check out how we handle negative reviews on Trustpilot, you will see some of our tips in action.

Be aware

There will always be negative reviews, what matters is the overall qualification!
Check reviews

Available data clearly shows that people tend to perceive online reviews as a trustworthy replacement for the opinions of people they know directly. According to statistics, 88% of consumers trust online reviews and personal recommendations.

When the pandemic hit, most people were forced to stay at home. This also contributed to increased reliance on online reviews to get a glimpse into what kind of customer experience they can expect from the business in question.

This became true for local businesses as well. As folks switched to ordering online, they lost the ability to visit the brick & mortar shop and assess the quality of the products offered by themselves.

Review sites

Yelp

There’s plenty of review sites out there. Probably the biggest dedicated review site out there is Yelp. By the end of 2020, Yelp had 224 million submitted reviews in total. This represents a 9% year-over-year increase, another indicator of how important online reviews have become.

Besides dedicated review sites like Yelp, the most significant websites for leaving positive and negative feedback haven’t started as review sites at all. We’re, of course, talking about Google and Facebook, two tech giants that have become hugely important for any business’s online reputation.

These two services evolved from being a search engine and a social media platform; respectively, they expanded into business repositories. Nowadays, they’re the prime location for finding positive reviews and negative reviews, outnumbering even Yelp when it comes to the sheer number of reviews posted.

Google reviews

Google reviews have become especially important both for international and local businesses. The first step you take when researching a business is to Google it. With the advancement of Google’s My Business platform and thanks to how the searches relating to businesses work, Google reviews are the first place consumers look.

Customers checking Google My Business Reviews
60%

The data proves this as well. 60% of customers check Google My Business reviews when searching for a local business. What does this mean for you as a business owner?

With Google being the primary way people do business research, and simultaneously Google reviews being the favorite place for voicing customer feedback, any negative reviews of your company will be very much public – not hidden on some obscure review site.

This also means you need to know how to respond to negative reviews on Google and other sites. Like it or not, they’ll be there, publicly available and in need of a response.

Facebook

After Google, Facebook is the most popular site for leaving reviews, followed by TripAdvisor and Yelp. These four sites make up 88% of all online reviews left by customers. Whether you’re looking to thank a positive review or respond to bad reviews, these four sites should always be in your line of sight.

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How NOT to respond to negative reviews: 5 don'ts

Taking criticism is hard. Whether it’s justified or not, we sometimes tend to respond defensively or even aggressively to criticism in our personal life or business. While human, this isn’t the tone you want to go for when replying to a negative review.

Many of our first instincts don’t produce an appropriate negative review response. As in life, you’re better off trying to find ways to accept and react to negative reviews constructively and pleasantly.

Here, we’ll go over some of the most common pitfalls a business owner might encounter when responding to unhappy customers. Learn to avoid them, and your interaction with customers and your online reputation is sure to improve.

1) Avoid being overly defensive

As we hinted at the beginning of this segment, being defensive or angry isn’t an excellent way to respond to a bad review.

If you formulate your response in a way that signals you interpret a bad customer review as a personal attack, you will come off as unprofessional and suspicious.

Let’s see how that looks in practice. For example, a customer felt dissatisfied and wrote “This service is terrible, the sneakers took ages to arrive and were of poor quality”.

You should avoid responses that imply the customer is lying or doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even if you have item tracking data that shows otherwise, don’t respond, “That’s not true, we sell only the best sneakers and we have proof you received your item on time”.

This would just give off the impression that you’re petty and uncooperative. Instead, give the buyer the benefit of the doubt and offer to help with the problem and dispute their claim later down the line if they were wrong.

2) Never insult your customers

You’ve probably poured your heart and soul into forming and running your business. There are countless hours of long grueling work behind it, and you regard it as a monument to your capability and qualities.

It’s no surprise then that you might view bad reviews as an attack on you personally. This can push you to respond to negative reviews in a way that won’t help anyone and will just make the situation worse.

When you take things personally, you might resort to straight-up insulting your customers. Saying that this leaves a negative impression is an understatement – insulting upset customers is a surefire way to tank your public image.

Therefore, you must learn to separate business from your reactions and avoid spewing insults or channeling negative feelings into your response.

3) Don't blame your employees

An often-used tactic you’ll encounter when browsing review responses is shifting the blame to an employee or employees. Usually, this will be a low-level employee working in retail or customer support.

Responses like “Sorry, it was our intern Brian, we fired him afterward” or “that was our customer service replacement Susan” are something we encountered too many times.

There are several problems with you responding to negative reviews this way. First, throwing employees under the bus can speak volumes of how you treat your workers, especially entry-level ones. No one likes a company that blames everything on its low-ranking employees, and it signals that the business is too ready to sacrifice them to save face.

Also, the employees themselves are sure to interpret this as a betrayal of sorts. As a business owner or manager, you too are responsible for how your team functions and acts. Even if the employee in question did make a mistake, there are other ways to acknowledge that.

You could say something in the lines of “we are aware that some of our staff made a mistake and we’re willing to rectify it”. Even better, you can leave that out of your public response (when possible) and iron it out with the customer in private correspondence.

4) Don't make jokes

Trying to be funny with anyone you have a purely professional relationship with, let alone angry customers, is the definition of a slippery slope. Sure, if you have a knack for it and the buyer in question is receptive to humor, it might pass as a good response. However, you’re much more likely to aggravate a negative reviewer even more.

Hence, it’s best to avoid jokey responses altogether. This doesn’t mean that your review responses have to be drab and corporate, but you should always try to aim more for “amicable” than “funny”.

Positive reviews are another thing entirely and leave much more room for jokes and the like. Just make sure that whatever you write stays in line with the public image you’re trying to build as a business.

5) Don't engage trolls

Typically, you shouldn’t ignore a negative review, even if it’s a raging customer writing in all caps. Responding to negative reviews on time is, after all, the most helpful advice we can impart.

However, some people will leave a nonsensical, insulting, or fake review with a desire to bait out a reaction or ruin your reputation.

Don’t waste time preparing a thorough reply when you encounter a bad review that doesn’t mention a concrete situation or seems focused on simply insulting your company.

This doesn’t mean you should always completely ignore them. Still, you’re better off leaving a boilerplate negative review response – “We apologize for the inconvenience. Feel free to contact our customer support at (CS contact info) and they’ll be happy to assist you in solving your issue”.

How to respond to negative reviews: 5 do’s

There’s no company or product out there without a single negative review. Even if you have the most knowledgeable staff, top-tier products, and military-grade logistics, someone is sure to walk away dissatisfied.

Each customer’s experience is bound to be somewhat different. Your approach to negative online reviews can define whether potential customers will become buyers or avoid doing business with your company.

Unfortunately, many business owners, especially those without any official management training, are ill-prepared to tackle negative reviews.

Thankfully, heaps of market research and empirical data allowed us to develop an effective strategy for responding to bad reviews.

Whether you’re just starting your business or you’ve been running one for years now, the following tips can help you formulate an excellent response for every negative review.

1) Respond quickly

The first advice for responding to negative reviews is to respond quickly. We’ve already mentioned that most customers expect a business to respond to a negative review within a week. However, a third of surveyed consumers leave you with an even smaller time frame of 1 to 3 days.

Of course, you won’t have time to respond right away. After all, you have a business to run. You need to handle work shifts, shipments, restock on items, and so forth. This is all even harder to manage if you’re a solopreneur.

Still, you can’t take longer than 1-2 days to respond. Late responses come off as insincere and uncaring, and you need to show that customer experience is of utmost importance.

Writing a response doesn’t even take that long. Unless the situation is incredibly complicated, you can usually write a proper reply AND check what happened in the back end within 10 minutes. If you use a negative review response template, you can significantly cut down on the time it takes you to respond.

Furthermore, even if a particular situation does require a more extensive review – checking support chat logs, looking at shipping times, or looking at camera footage – it’s wise to leave at least some response immediately. This response can include a simple apology and contact information for the disgruntled customer to reach you.

2) Try to respond to every negative review

A business that only takes time to respond to positive reviews, ignoring any negative experience posted, is sure to appear sketchy and uncaring.

Furthermore, responding to a negative review only in a case of emergency is also a self-sabotaging approach. You have to keep in mind that reviews are practically another marketing area. Always respond, and customers will notice and appreciate you taking the time to look at their reviews. Sometimes a response in itself is enough to calm angry customers and make them feel appreciated.

Around 63% of customers say they never responded to at least one company they reviewed. On the other hand, responding to a 1- or 2-star review leads to a 33% chance the reviewer will come back and upgrade the rating they gave you.

Proper review management is a win-win situation. If you respond to customers and rectify your mistakes, people will appreciate you owning up to your shortcomings. Alternatively, if you respond and end up being right, potential customers will be reassured of your service quality.

3) Apologize and show empathy

You should always try to apologize when responding to a negative review. The apology has nothing to do with whether the customer is right or wrong. Even if the customer’s tone in the review was hostile, it’s your job to be polite, understanding, and professional.

An apology is not an admission of guilt – it’s simply an acknowledgment of the fact that a customer is unsatisfied with your service. Apologizing is also crucial because it shows you empathize with your buyer.

Empathy can be compelling. Whenever you’re angry, disappointed, or sad, having someone empathize and understand how you feel can be calming and helpful.

The same goes for unhappy customers. They’ll appreciate you showing that you understand their frustration instead of disregarding or minimizing their problem.

You don’t have to pour your heart out to apologize and show empathy. A simple sentence or two is often enough – “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and we understand your frustration” or something along those lines can go a long way.

4) Thank customers for their feedback

“Thank you for your feedback” or “Thanks for bringing this to our attention” should always be a part of your review response template.

There are several reasons why you should do so. First, anyone taking the time to write either negative or positive reviews obviously cares enough about your company to make a post. By thanking their time and feedback you signal that a) the customer is important to you b) you appreciate feedback to improve your service.

Additionally, thanking someone is an easy and painless way to eliminate the negativity naturally present in a bad review. A “thank you” quickly transforms the situation from one of conflict to one of cooperation. As a result, subsequent communication with the customer can take on a more amicable tone.

Lastly, thanking customers for a negative review showcases you’re not taking it personally and shows other customers or potential buyers you’re pleasant to work with – even when there are issues with your product or service.

5) Offer to fix the problem

A “sorry” or “thank you” won’t be enough in many cases. A buyer has probably spent time, money, and nerves using your service or buying your product only to face issues. Whether the problem is overcharging the customer, delays, low quality of product, or rude staff, you need to offer more than simple words.

Usually, the most direct and easiest way to turn a negative review into a positive one and resolve the complaint is by offering to fix the problem.

Bad quality product? We’ll ship you a new one. Are you overcharged without reason? Here’s your money back. Even if the issue can’t be fixed and the damage is done (like customers experiencing bad service in a restaurant, for example), you can offer vouchers and discounts to make up for it.

When the customer is right, offering a solution without too many excuses and prolongation will make the disgruntled buyers happier. Also, it shows that you’re not hesitant to own up to your mistakes and reimburse when needed.

Of course, the situation isn’t always that simple. First of all, you have to verify whether the customer was right in the first place. You don’t want to offer refunds to everyone just because they asked you to. When the situation isn’t as clear-cut, take the time to check everything before taking action.

While you’re checking whether the customer is right or not, you should combine the tips laid out above to reply with something immediately and show you’re working on resolving the issue. Another great solution is to leave your contact and speak with the buyer directly.

6) Leave contact details and take the conversation offline

Whenever you’re faced with a negative review where the problem cannot be handled quickly and easily, you should ask the buyer to communicate with you directly.

After apologizing and thanking the customer for the review, leave your (or your customer support manager’s) contact details and politely ask the buyer to reach out.

There are several advantages this approach brings to the table. First, it shows that you care enough about the customer’s experience to talk with them directly. This beats communicating through customer support tickets and usually resolves the situation more quickly.

One of the most common “how to respond to negative review” examples looks like this: “Dear (name), thank you for your feedback. We apologize for the inconvenience, this is not the kind of service we aim to provide. I’d be glad to help you with this issue directly; you can reach me at (email or phone number)”.

Secondly, this takes the conversation offline, away from the public eye. The purpose here is not to give you the ability to be rude in private correspondence. However, it does give you more flexibility and breathing room.

When discussing the issue in private, you can work on a solution together and even discuss sensitive data like payment information. All the while, you’ll be avoiding potentially thousands of users evaluating your every step.

After the issue has been resolved, resist the urge to ask the customer to write a positive review or change their existing one. This might come off as both desperate and coercive – attributes you want to avoid when running a business.

However, if the issue was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, you could ask them to leave a testimonial for their positive experience. If the buyer decides to do so, what was initially a negative review will turn into praise, showing how much you care for your customers.

You can do this yourself on some review sites, like the BBB (Better Business Bureau). Describe how you resolved the problem without giving yourself too much praise, and other people are sure to notice your helpful yet humble approach.

To summarize, here are the dos and don’ts of responding to negative reviews.

Do:

  • Respond quickly
  • Respond to (nearly) every review
  • Apologize and show empathy
  • Thank customers for their review
  • Try to fix the problem
  • Offer to contact them directly
  • Take the conversation offline

 

Don’t:

  • Be overly defensive
  • Insult customers
  • Try to be too funny
  • Blame your employees
  • Engage with trolls

Final Thoughts

To round everything up, we think it’s important to reiterate one thing: you need to change how you feel about negative reviews.

Don’t regard them as nuisances, personal attacks, or just dangers to your online reputation. A negative review is an opportunity, one that is not given by traditional marketing methods.

Every negative review you respond to tactfully, politely, and quickly will attract future customers. Responding to bad reviews shows you’re not turning a blind eye to problems that can arise. Instead, you’re willing to work to fix them.

Good responses also demonstrate you’re willing to correct the mistakes you make and remain polite and emphatic even when you weren’t in the wrong.

Absorb the advice we’ve provided here, and every negative review will become an opportunity instead of a crisis.

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