Vanessa Salvia is an experienced writer and marketing strategist who enjoys helping businesses and the people who run them learn, grow, and succeed.
7 min. read
Updated November 8, 2023
At first, a bad review can seem like a smudge on your business’s otherwise good track record and reputation. But, that’s only if you let it be.
Even the best, most consistently good business will receive a bad review at some point. But what matters is truly not that you received a bad review, but how you and your team respond.
Research from Bright Local reveals that negative reviews do have an impact, but not as much as you might think. 68 percent of consumers are more likely to use a local business with a positive review, and negative reviews sway only 40 percent.
What else do you need to know about how reviews affect your business’s reputation? Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before trusting a local business. A plethora of positive reviews and one or two smudges likely won’t tip the potential customer’s opinion of you too much.
Furthermore, 40 percent of consumers only take into account reviews written within the past two weeks. Beefing up your positive reviews pushes any negative reviews ever father downward.
TechCrunch asserts that you may not even want too many 5-star reviews. Why? Consumers are skeptical of businesses or products with too many 5-star ratings because they seem too good to be true. According to research from GetApp, an average rating of between 4.2 and 4.5 is deemed to be the most authentic.
Your emotions can quickly escalate when you’re reading a negative review, particularly if it strikes you as completely unfair. If it starts to get under your skin, take a bit of time to cool off before responding.
But, don’t forget to revisit it. You want to respond as quickly as you can—just not in the heat of the moment. It won’t take much time to say something like, “Thank you for your comments. We will investigate this and get back to you. Please stay tuned for a more detailed response.”
Keep a positive mindset and compose your thoughts just as if the customer were standing in front of you in person. If a review on a platform like Yelp is truly terrible, check to see if it violates their terms of service and could be removed. If you think it does, you can flag it for further evaluation by the platform. But most bad reviews, hard as they are to read, probably don’t qualify to be removed.
This isn’t the time to be defensive, even if you think the review is unjust. Always be civil and professional, and make sure to offer a solution when appropriate. This also isn’t the time to cut and paste a canned response. Compose something authentic that references the issues the customer brought up in some way and how you plan to go about fixing the problems. Say thank you to the customer for bringing the issues to your attention.
In the book “Hug Your Haters,” Jay Baer and Edison Research looked at the type of action consumers expect after they leave a review. the expectations of consumers on review responses. Their surveys showed that 53 percent of customers expect a reply when they write an online review, and they expect it to be prompt.
That’s not a huge surprise, given ever-increasing expectations around customer support response times. 32 percent of people said they expect a response within 30 minutes. Further, 42 percent expect a response within 60 minutes. And, surprisingly, 57 percent expect that same response time even during the evenings and on weekends.
Brought to you by
Build a strategy
It can seem risky to respond to customer complaints in a public way, like on social media or a review site.
But, the public is watching either way. It might make sense to follow up with a personal email or talk through a complex complaint over the phone. But if learned someone was dissatisfied from a public forum, don’t shy away from responding on that same platform. If you don’t, you run the risk of looking like you never responded, which can have negative consequences too.
Plus, you’ll surprise your customers. They’re probably used to the company’s poorly responding to complaints. Set yourself apart from your competition by committing to serve your customers better—and do it publicly.
One of the best ways to make the most of customer feedback is to regularly read and respond to it. Actively engaging with reviews shows that you care. Monitor how long it takes you or your staff to respond so you can figure out if there is a bottleneck in the system. An unhappy customer feels more important when they get a quick response.
Emily Washcovick, a manager of business outreach at Yelp, understands that it can seem stressful to manage a customer feedback channel such as a virtual comment box or a profile on a review site. But, she writes, “it can actually be an opportunity to amplify your exceptional customer service practices and increase consumer trust.”
It might seem counterintuitive to recommend leaving a bad review up for the public to see. However, leaving it up reveals that you saw it, you responded to it, and hopefully that you resolved it. As mentioned above, if customers see only 5-star reviews, they might not trust the comments.
Of course, there is the possibility of fake negative reviews on Google, and many times these will be obvious as spam. Responding to fake reviews may be better than removing them, and could even encourage your supporters to rally openly about how great they think you are.
User data shows that one out of three Facebook users search the platform for recommendations. If there are negative reviews that you truly don’t want people to see, there is an option to turn off or hide the Recommendations tab. You can report and remove fake reviews, but Facebook won’t remove them just because they are unflattering. Your best bet is to respond authentically, own the problem, and offer a solution to make things right.
There are three options for responding to negative Amazon reviews: revision or removal by the customer, removal by Amazon, or responding publicly.
If it is possible to contact the customer directly, you may be able to clear up the problem and ask them to revise their review. For instance, if they received an incorrect or faulty product, there could be a simple fix that would make them happy.
Eliminate the reason for the bad review in the first place, and some customers will likely rewrite their review. Of course, even if you do fix the problem some might not. In this case, a public response is even more necessary.
Reviews on Airbnb don’t show up as soon as one party posts theirs. Rather, they wait for both the guest and host to submit before publishing both simultaneously. Forbes covered the topic of Airbnb reviews and noted that reviews publish in the order in which the stays occurred, not in the order the reviews go live.
One huge benefit to this is that if you anticipate that a guest will leave a problematic review, you could delay publishing that review for up to two weeks. This would allow you to acquire a few positive reviews in the meantime. Then, that negative review would be pushed farther down.
Airbnb does allow hosts to publicly respond. As Forbes notes, this is a useful tool, particularly when a negative review might be prompted by a broken air conditioner or something fixable. As with other reviews, keep your cool and respond in a respectful manner. If you blow your top because of a rude or inconsiderate guest, you might scare off potential guests.
Many times, satisfied customers just don’t think to leave a review. Asking for a review can be the surest way to get one. There are many ways of asking for reviews depending on your business. An email that goes out a couple of weeks after they received an item, or a general email to your customers every few months asking for feedback could be effective.
Whenever you ask, make it clear that you want honest feedback. Compensating for reviews is against the rules of most platforms, such as Yelp, although asking for reviews is perfectly fine. Each review site has its own terms of service and guidelines, so check first.
How you respond to customer complaints is a big piece of building your company’s culture. You can’t please everyone, but you can act like you have some skin in the game. Any time a customer gives you feedback, thank them. They’re your best source of intel on your market—what’s working, what’s not working, what do you need to change to stay competitive. Just don’t let the tougher feedback get under your skin.