Responding to Online Reviews

Many online reviews won’t make the difference between a slow day and standing room only, but there’s no doubt that they can noticeably help or hurt your sales. There’s no shortage of funny stories about business owners responding to negative reviews, too. But somewhere between the good reviews and the bad, the appropriate responses and the funny ones, there is a good strategy for your online review policy. It all starts with one golden rule.

Respond to every review.

It may sound simple, but responding to reviews is the most important thing you can do for your digital reputation on review sites. Even social media sites prominently list your star rating, and you can help that by responding to every review.

Here are some strategies for responding to reviews whether they’re good or bad.

Good Reviews

Always thank people for leaving a good review. Most sites allow the business owner (if the page is claimed and verified) to respond to reviews. You can’t attempt to change or remove reviews, but commenting is the next best thing. For good reviews, give your thanks and let them know that you appreciate their kind words. If they give any other suggestions, let them know that you’re listening. If anyone has questions or indicates that they may need further help, make sure to let them know how to get in touch with you directly.

Bad Reviews

Yikes. Bad reviews are no fun, but generally there are a few reasons someone leaves a bad review. We can break it down to discuss how to respond to each one.

A misunderstanding or something out of your control. Maybe someone didn’t understand a policy, didn’t see something you stated somewhere, or thought you could do something that you can’t. Even if someone had slow (but friendly and helpful) service because a business was very busy that day—they may leave a bad review. Of all bad reviews, these ones are usually the most open to discussion. Tell the person that you’re sorry there was a miscommunication, or sorry that you couldn’t do what they wanted. Maybe you are sorry that the situation was not ideal, but that you did your best and realize there wasn’t anything else you could do. Let them know what you can do now (if anything), and thank them for their feedback. If there really is nothing you can do, see if you can point them in another direction, like to someone who can help them or a type of business that might handle what they need. It’s worth a shot. At least you’ll be showing that you’re responsive, and other people who read the review will likely understand that this shouldn’t count against you.

A bad experience. This one is the hardest to swallow, and usually comes down to a service issue. Sometimes staff make mistakes, and other times this is a red flag of an employee who isn’t pulling their weight. As with all reviews, apologize for the problem and thank them for letting you know. Say that you are going to address the issue, and ask to take the conversation offline. If you can, find a way to get in touch privately and offer them a discount, partial refund, or something special next time they come in. Don’t post that in your response, though. You don’t want people writing you bad reviews to try to get a bargain. But the real key here is that you have to address what caused the problem in the first place, and see if there is an opportunity to give additional staff training or talk about how to better handle a customer.

Someone disgruntled, or otherwise lying. This seems to be the kind of review that business owners are most afraid of, which is interesting because they’re very rare. Rest assured, reputable review sites have a process for flagging fraudulent reviews, or asking them to investigate negative reviews that were not left by an honest customer. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is just leaving a bad review because they don’t like you, vs. leaving a bad review because you did a bad job at something. And also keep in mind, this is rare. Still, you should respond. If it’s obvious that it’s a disgruntled acquaintance or former employee, post a message saying that this is not the appropriate place to discuss it, and offer to get in touch personally. Chances are, the person won’t get in touch with you anyway, and it will show other readers that this person is clearly upset about something else not related to your business. If it’s less obvious that it’s a fraudulent review, post a response asking what went wrong, saying that you’d like to make it right (even if you think it’s fake), and ask them to get in touch with you. You can still flag the review for fraud and ask the site to investigate it.

Don’t be afraid of online reviews. Good reviews can help grow your sales, and even bad reviews can turn good with a fact, satisfactory response. Yelp reports 5%+ sales boosts to businesses with each additional star rating, and notes that 33% of bad reviews turn good if the business owner responds. Just try to be concise and positive, thanking people and letting them know that you’re available if they need to contact you.