Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

This article on responding to negative reviews was first published here in March. With Google introducing their feature allowing business owners to respond to respond directly to reviews, I thought it worthwhile to reprint it. Google’s advice on how to respond to reviews in their Help section is, of necessity, too brief to cover the topic thoroughly. Things though can go wrong with the response process if the business does not have a good response plan in place. To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

Several other good resources for responding to negative reviews are:
-Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution
-Scott Clark: 15 Tips for Responding to Google Place Page Reviews
-Matt Mcgee: 5 Ways Negative Reviews are Good for Business

This article is written by Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. His company’s approach is to find the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review and he promotes the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. It is well worth reading a second time:

****

So you got a negative review about your business.  Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself.  Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.

Should you Respond and What to Say

As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews.  Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).

Step 1:  Own the issue.

Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.

Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

Step 3:  Offer to fix the issue

Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing.    Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment.   In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.

Guidelines for your Response

Write it with your prospects in mind.  Before writing your response, think about who your audience is.  Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone.  For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction.  Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.

Don’t be defensive.   One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company.  Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.

Take your time.  A negative review most likely made you angry.  Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.

Keep it brief.  Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.”  The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.

Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.

***

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience by

26 thoughts on “Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience”

  1. Do you think there’s any benefit to be found from using keywords in your responses??? EG say you’re a restaurant owner in Vermont responding to a review you could say something like “thank you for reviewing our restaurant in Vermont, to address you point….”

    What do you think?

  2. @John Parkes

    It certainly crossed my mind and I am sure the mind of every aggressive SEO/business owner around. I am sure that the thought has occurred to Google as well…..

    I think if handled discreetly and in a way that adds value to the response there is unlikely any harm in trying….although I presume that if it gets abused and degrades the overall quality of the reviews, Google will at some point ding it.

  3. Sage advice here, Mike.

    Also, you’ve just reminded me that I ought to go and update the Google portion of that post of mine which you’ve linked to. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for posting all this info re: responding to reviews on Places accounts Mike. While some of it may be ‘old news’ — it’s very valuable to have it all posted again in one place. Often it’s a negative review that gets a small business client “all ears” when it comes to their Google Places account. It’s funny how one negative review can get a business owner recognizing the power of Local Search :-)

  5. Unfortunately there are no guidelines on how to deal with reviews that are suspected to be planted by competitors. That is s sticky issue.

    Within the Google Forum for business owners, the operators of various businesses are understandably irate and frustrated with a growing number of reviews that appear to be planted by competitors and falke. Business owners show some compelling evidence of the proliferation of such reviews.

    The suggestions from Yelp and Google vis a vis a response don’t deal with this issue at all.

    Its a sticky wicket.

  6. Very good advices! Including to resist the temptation to “set the record straight” by telling your side of the story. This can open a string of back and forth, “who’s right” messages that will turn prospective customers away from your business.
    If the local search service allows, other users’ ratings will validate the reviews and the business’ response as well. With all these like and dislike buttons, negative and positive reviews can be weakened or strengthened by the other prospective customers so keep that in mind too.

  7. I am feeling lucky that you re-posted this article. I totally agree with your point that when it comes to negative review, offering a solution is really good and useful. Another thing I marked that people gets angry when they get negative reviews, I guess that time it is important to take feedback positively and reply diplomatically.

  8. Hi Mike here is the review( Unimpressed??!?? I had BT Tech install a new high-end air conditioning unit in my home. A little more than 6 months after the install I had to call them back out because all the coolant had evaporated out of the system. Another 3 months later I’m having to call them out for the same reason. This scenario seems very typical and I am not convinced that BT Tech provides knowledgeable high quality service. My bigger concern is the impact of the leaking coolant: my A/C runs constantly, my energy bill is so high and my kids are coughing without explanation – possibly from the hazardous vapors, and we’re uncomfortable in our own home. Look elsewhere if you have a choice. I would NOT recommend BT Tech).? It is difficult to ignore that when it’s not real!!! You know what I mean. Any other suggestion???

  9. You are in a tough spot…. if the you respond assuming the tone that it is fake you could be perceived as a jerk… hard to ignore I know but I do suggest pushing it down rather than highlighting it. But….

    Suggestion 2 would be to “own the problem” but subtly imply that there is something fishy… Possible Reply:

    “I am sorry you are having difficulties. I am surprised that you haven’t contacted us in person to get this fixed but if you do, I will get someone right out there and make sure that it is right!”

    And then get a bunch of good reviews to push it down.

    Suggestion 3 is to go to small claims court and request that it be taken down as fake… and force Google to give you the person who did it.

    Suggestion 4 once a week have you and all of your friends flag the review on Google….

    Mike

  10. Hope someone here can help me. I am a very satisfied repeat customer of a local business. Recently that business got several negative reviews in Google Maps/Places about one incident (the complainer got three others to write negative reviews saying the same things).

    To help the owner, I posted a positive review using my Google Profile/Account i.e. not anonymous. However my review is being put at the END of the review pages behind ones from 2008! Aren’t reviews supposed to be in chronological order? I tried searching the net and Google help. I really want to help out this local small business owner (because selfishly, I want to still go there) but I am frustrated beyond belief.

    BTW – I am real customer not the business owner. She doesn’t even know that I written for this advice. Thanks for any enlightenment!

  11. @Laura
    The behavior you are describing is new “feature” at Google. It is part of their recently upgraded review system and their new HotPot rollout.

    While it is new and we don’t yet know all of the details I think that having a private profile is more likely to push the new review to the bottom of the heap. Try making your profile public and waiting a few days.

  12. You are an ANGEL! Thanks for the quick answer and the link. I did as you suggested and while my review is still at the back of the queue, my public nickname and icon showed up. So I am hopeful and will try to patiently wait for the review to float to the top. The business involved participates in animal rescues from abuse and slaughter so I’m very grateful you’ve helped me solve this problem.

  13. The next “trick” would be to get someone to do another review which might push yours up the ladder.

    Please let me know.

  14. My review is still at the back of the queue and at least one more person with a public profile has posted after me. That person (who I am in contact with) says when she filled out her profile in the Hotspot info, she was given a window that said her profile was eligible to be “featured” by Google Maps/Hotspot but her review is also still at the back. I never got that message even though I filled out all of the profile and included the use full name option. (I don’t have a blog or photo album to link though). Maybe we should just give it more time? Maybe the negative reviewer works for Google?? But again, thanks for all you help.

  15. Sorry to be so annoyingly persistent but I just went back and added Facebook to my Hotspot Profile links and that triggered the “feature” message for me but when I clicked the link, it just took me to a generic page of advice that the more I filled out the profile, the more “featured” I’d be. I have no idea is I am actually “featured” or not. The only thing I’ve left blank is in the contact info, where they ask for home addresses, phone numbers, etc. (which they say only who you pick can see) and then ask you to create groups of Family, Friend, Coworkers, etc. I really don’t want to do this last step, even if that is what it takes to be featured. This is really really frustrating.

  16. PLaces Listing Link

    A customer from Huntsville, AL Posted: “Nightmare Would not recommend this place to my enemy. Karen Jones was pushy and rude, was forcing my family to buy expensive caskets which we could not afford made it seem that her time was more important than mine, even after we came to her for help …”? – by madmangabe at Citysearch ? – Dec 5, 2008

    There is also a Royal Funeral Home in Battle Creek, Michigan. This comment was not directed towards Royal Funeral Home in Battle Creek, Michigan, this was directed towards the funeral home in Huntsville, AL. Royal Funeral Home in Battle Creek, MI is not incorporated with Royal Funeral Home in Huntsville, AL. Please delete this negative comment. Thanks, Kyle B Lindsey, Director’s Assistant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.