why responding quickly to negative customer reviews is importantNo matter how hard we try to prevent them, an occasional bad review will eventually slap us in the face when we least expect it. Actually it feels more like an uppercut than a slap.

As business owners it’s just not possible to be on our A-game 100% of the time.

But here’s a little surprise… a bad review can actually be good for business if it’s responded to timely and has a little marketing magic sprinkled on it.

It may be one that’s hard to accept, but negative reviews can be a gift.

For every customer who complains, 26 others remain silent. That means when a business does get a bad review, there could be dozens of other people who had the same negative experience and just aren’t saying anything – at least to us.

Business owners and managers crave feedback, so what could be better than receiving a little constructive criticism from a concerned customer? Of course, there will always be trolls and people that are impossible to please. No matter what, there will always be a few people who wish the soup was soupier, the rooms were roomier, or the cave was just slightly less cavernous.

Keeping that in mind, negative reviews can feel a lot less like a kick in the gut, and a lot more like what they really are: a great source of feedback.

You know that defensive feeling that comes over you when you hear a little criticism? Shake it off. Haters are gonna hate. But if you allow them to, negative reviews can alert business owners to problems they may not have known about.

how to respond to negative customer reviews“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  ― Albert Einstein 

Here are a few things to remember when responding to negative reviews:

Take a little time before responding. Not a lot of time though, because you want  reviewers (both good and bad) to be able to count on your quick response.  Just make sure you don’t react purely on emotion. It is hard not to take a bad review as a personal attack, because business owners care so much about their company. It’s their baby… it’s their livelihood.  While you want to ensure you don’t let your emotions control your actions, it’s also important to write with complete sincerity. You can make things worse – much worse, if you come off sounding defensive, sarcastic or disingenuous.

Be kind and genuine.  While you are responding to one person – and your response should come across that way – keep in mind that the audience is potentially much larger and far-reaching. Not only will other people who visit the review site see your response, but it’s possible those people could share the review and your response with their own networks.  

Be specific. If a customer mentions something specific, use that in your reply. Not only does this demonstrate that you are not a robot, but it makes the complainant feel heard and understood.

impact of customer reviewsRemember that feedback and criticism can be helpful. This reviewer has taken the time to invest in the business in an attempt to make it better.  Thank them (even if you don’t agree with them). Business owners are always looking for a way to understand the customer experience, and there is no better way than a review. The reviewer may have a relevant point about the business, so it’s important to consider the content of their review without going on the defensive.

Offer to take the conversation offline. You would never want to have a less than pleasant dialogue with an unhappy customer in your place of business with other customers around, so why would you do it in front of more watching eyes online? Offering a phone number and a way to connect privately ensures the reviewer that you want to fix the situation for them, not just for the digital audience. Also, if you decide to offer a free or discounted service to make up for the bad experience, it’s best not to do this in front of other customers and potential customers. That might lead to a flurry of bad reviews just to get free stuff. You know who loves free stuff? Me. And everyone else.

Do not ignore it.  Ever!  Imagine a business’s competitors taking out ads saying how terrible your business was and you just ignored it. A negative review may not be written by a competitor, but chances are, more relevant people will be reading the review than would be seeing an ad in traditional media. These people have already searched the business and are going to make a purchase decision. The reviews they see will make a huge impact on that decision.  Local business owners have to participate in the conversation going on about them online, every single day.

Remember that the reviewer came into the business as a patron. Then they took some of their valuable time to offer a little feedback. It’s possible to turn a naysayer into a brand  ambassador. People are not looking for perfection (that’s clear when we look at our elected politicians, isn’t it?). And as Salvador Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” Consumers want to feel heard. They want to know a brand or local business is authentic.

Here are a few examples of businesses who got it right, and were able to put a positive spin on a bad review.

how to respond to a negative review - example 1

This reply is simple, straight forward and easy to replicate. The manager gives a sincere-sounding apology, doesn’t argue the reviewer’s claims, and avoids throwing his staff under the bus. He provides contact information in the form of both a phone number and an email, giving the reviewer the ability to reply in a way that works best for them, as well as the ability to take the conversation out of the public eye.

Boloco, a small fast food Mexican chain in New England, has many examples of superb review handling. John Pepper, the company’s CEO, has become famous for the care with which he treats his customers. The following is an email John sent to a diner who was upset that an item was removed from the menu. The human tone and the detailed explanation regarding the decision is unlike any response I’ve ever seen. Prepare yourself, you don’t see feedback like this every day.

—–Original Message—–
From: John Pepper [mailto:pepper@boloco.com]
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 8:31 PM
To: Ben
Subject: RE: Boloco.com: customer response
First of all, thanks for your note. We always appreciate hearing from customers… even if we’ve done something that doesn’t make them happy, it helps us a great deal. We worried a lot about Roasted Veggies and what the reaction would be. The reason they disappeared in the first place is because so few people actually ordered them, and the amount of prep time and waste (because they’d sit too long and we’d have to throw them out) stopped justifying keeping them on the menu years ago… but because of the few, and outspoken, customers who lived on them, we kept them in place. You are now the 7th person that has written about this loss since we took them off three months ago (not including a handful of our employees who are also quite upset).

 From a purely business standpoint, it didn’t make any sense to keep the Roasted Veggies. From a customer loyalty standpoint, however, your note (and the others like it) makes me want to get them back on the menu tomorrow! The challenge we always have is balancing the two… you would be amazed at the number of requests we get on a weekly basis from our customers – obviously, we can’t accommodate everyone, but we do listen to everyone, and consider what they say carefully.

I don’t know how this will turn out in the months to come. I know I can’t promise they will return unless we start hearing overwhelming feedback that they must. We’ve taken items off in the past and had no choice but to bring them back (ie. Buffalo chicken is best example where it felt like a riot was about to take place)… so far, this hasn’t been one of those items.  

I hate to even suggest trying the tofu, if you are in fact a vegetarian. My wife is, and that’s what she gets religiously. It’s not your standard tofu, it has spice, flavor, and people love it! Other vegetarians will get the fajitas, though I agree with you are far different than the Roasted Veggies. And finally, others will just get any of the items we sell “as is”, which is to say without chicken or steak. Most of our menu items start vegetarian, and only when you add chicken or steak do they become otherwise.

I am sorry I don’t have the answer you are looking for. To try and make up for this, and to give you a few visits on us to possibly find something else that gets you excited, send me the 16 digit code on the back of your Boloco card (you can pick one up if you don’t have one, and send it to me then) and I’ll add some Burrito Bucks on there for you to use. It’s the least we can do, and maybe you’ll find something that works. If not, we will hope that something we do in the future brings you back to our restaurants – we have sincerely appreciated  your business and hope we’ll find a way to earn it back soon.


Here’s another example from Boloco.

This one is unique in that the restaurant was able to handle the criticism before the customer had even left the establishment. A customer sent out a tweet complaining that the music playing at a nearby Boloco was too loud. Marketing noticed the tweet right away and called the restaurant and told them to turn the music down, so the restaurant did. Marketing then provided a description of the woman (from her Twitter picture), and had a cookie delivered to her. They then retweeted her with the addition of the word “done.”

Take a second to imagine being the person who sent that tweet out. You’d be completely wowed, right? She was. The customer sent out a tweet praising Boloco, which then many of her followers starting talking about and sharing. She then wrote a blog post on the experience, the content of which has since spread to books and other blog posts.  Boloco turned a noise complaint into Internet fame for their restaurant.

People aren’t looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.