Updated: Mar 30
Negative reviews are a natural part of being a business in the 21st century. But addressing them can be a bit of a tightrope walk. The key is not to be defensive while also not discussing the issue publically.
Say you had a client for a haircut today, and you get home and discover she left a 1-star review and complained it was uneven in the front while leaving a picture.
First Step: Take a deep breath! Whether the claim is true or not doesn't entirely matter right now.
Show you are listening, apologetic, and open to feedback while also moving it to a private discussion.
For example: Hey Client X, I am so sorry about your experience today. I pride myself on impeccable service and am deeply embarrassed by this situation. Would you mind messaging or calling me at (business phone)? I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to make things right and work to earn back your business.
Keep responses short and sweet (3-4 sentences).
Now let's dissect that example response:
"I am so sorry about your experience today."
People tend to forget how powerful and good-looking an apology can be. It's common to refuse to apologize for something - especially when one doesn't feel as if they are at fault. However, the apology isn't meant for the reviewer - it's meant for future clients browsing your reviews. To put it simply, it looks good in the eyes of the public.
A quick note: if the negative review threatens legal action, DO NOT issue an apology - ever.
"I pride myself on impeccable service, and I am deeply embarrassed by this situation."
People like to feel heard, which is why the action of reviewing businesses is so popular. Potential clients also like to see that should something happen, they can talk with you about it. This can be a bit of a tight rope, though, as you don't want to explicitly acknowledge something, which is why we feel 'embarrassed' that such a thing happened.
"Would you mind messaging or calling me at (business phone)?"
Move the issue out of the public eye. The goal is to be seen as responsive and problem-solving. However, there is never a reason to air the dirty laundry to the public (that would defeat the purpose of responding at all). So, a reply's goal should always be to move the public grievances to a private conversation.
"I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to make things right and work to earn back your business."
Don't argue. This is the court of public opinion, not a court of law. Facts do not matter. Logic does not matter. Being seen as taking responsibility for an issue goes far in the public's eyes and is the go-to tool for businesses (think back to literally any issue a previous company has ever had).
Should I Respond To Every Negative Review?
It depends but probably not. Being in public relations, I can generally review a complaint or negative statement and know if it deserves a reply. However, this came with time, practice, and education. Sadly, short of hiring a public relations firm to handle your social media, readers will have to learn as they go, but I assure you - it's rather easy to develop an eye for BS.
With that said, I do have some tips:
Is the complaint reasonable?
If the review isn't reasonable and just is bitching to bitch - ignore it. You don't want to give them a chance to reply further.
Is the complaint real?
If you face a fictional review, it's best to ignore it and go through Yelp or Google to have it removed. Now, review sites are notorious for being difficult. So, if they do not remove the fake review, a simple "Thanks for your feedback" will suffice.