“Went to Fire & Ice Tavern this weekend… food was okay, service not so great. Had to wait over half an hour for the main course and after all that, my friend ended up with the wrong order. At that point we’d waited so long we just decided to eat and go. Would not recommend.”

“Ordered costume 11 days ago from Treasure Trove, was given estimated shipping time of 5-7 days. Package just arrived today, the day Woman's surprised face up close grayscaleAFTER my son’s Halloween school party. Won’t order from here again.”

Negative Reviews Can be Scary

Reviews like these can spark fear and dread in any business manager. Nothing quite prepares you for the chilly realization that while you and your team were busy doing your best to satisfy each customer, someone out there was just as busy sharing their negative experience with everyone who Googles your business.

And here’s the thing: who doesn’t Google your business nowadays? Currently, 86% of customers depend on online reviews to make purchasing decisions, and 40% say that a negative review makes them less likely to patronize a business.

No wonder negative social media mentions haunt businesses more than any ghost: they appear out of thin air, blight a business’s reputation, and never go away on their own.


Scary though negative mentions are, there’s actually no reason for you to be scared, and there’s definitely no reason to ignore those haunting reviews until they go away.

Reason #1: They probably never will.

Reason #2 (much more important): Negative mentions actually give you the perfect opportunity to impress and attract future customers.

How can this be? Won’t prospects assume that an honest customer’s negative reviews tell the whole story?

Actually, no. In fact, 89% of online prospects read business’s responses to reviews…and their intent to purchase can more than double if the business’s response is courteous, sincere and helpful.

So the negative review that seems destined to haunt your business is the same review that can help it instead.

But if, and only if, you actually respond.

That’s why we’re going to walk you through the 7 steps to negativity-busting, prospect-impressing customer responses:

Be a First Responder, Not a Ghost

Yes, we just said this, but it bears saying again because many business managers still do the adult equivalent of hiding under their blankets from ghosts. They become the ghosts by ignoring any negative customer feedback, whether in private messages or public reviews.

Ghosting is tempting in this case, but don’t do it. It will only make a bad situation worse.

Customers often reach out privately before leaving a public review. If your customers do this, they’re kindly giving you a chance to make things right before they even consider writing a negative review.
So before all else, respond quickly to all customer messages. If you have an inbox full of customer concerns, work through it ASAP!
This habit will prevent many poor reviews from being written in the first place — and will often inspire customers to write positive ones instead.

Of course, not everyone contacts a business privately before leaving a poor review. In this case, your response is essential because a poor review with no response will lead online prospects to conclude that your business doesn’t really care about unhappy customers (even though you do!)

So now that you’re in responder mode, here’s how to write that impressive response:

black man and white woman chatting in two chairsBe an Empathizer, Not a Bot

Whether you’re responding to a private message or public review, sound like a real person talking to another real person — because you are! We’ve all seen too many generic, meaningless “We apologize for your negative experience and would like to remind all our customers that we care deeply about them as individuals” response forms; they only imply the opposite of what they claim.

Instead, state the customer’s name and rephrase their complaint. This shows that you have read and understood their specific situation.
For example, the manager of Fire & Ice Tavern could begin their response to the above negative review with:

“Alicia, I apologize for the long wait and the mixed-up order that your friend received. I agree that 40 minutes is far too long a wait time and that your friend shouldn’t have had to deal with a wrong order.”

Likewise, the owner of Treasure Trove could begin their response,

“James, I am very sorry that your son’s costume arrived too late for the party. That’s frustrating and you’re right to point out that it should have arrived in the given time frame.”

Be a Sincere Apologizer (not a Political One)

Note that both example responses in #2 begin with a straightforward apology, not a condescending “I’m sorry you felt that way,” or “I understand that you felt upset.” Of course they did feel upset, but suggesting that the fault lies with their feelings instead of their valid experience comes off as an attempt to shift the blame.

It’s true that the blame isn’t always yours. For example, online stores such as Treasure Trove rarely have control over exactly when a certain item arrives. James’ son’s costume could have been accidentally misplaced by a postal employee or held up by extreme weather conditions, neither of which is the store’s fault.

But even if you don’t say your company was at fault (which you shouldn’t if the issue was truly out of your control), a genuine “I’m sorry” goes a long way.

two people shaking handsExplain How the Issue Has Been Resolved

When reading an unfavorable review, readers naturally worry that a similar situation will arise in their case. But as long as your business really does get things right most of the time, you should reassure them of that.

For example, Fire & Ice Tavern could point out that they’ve hired more staff since Alicia’s visit so that all customers can depend on being served quickly and attentively. Treasure Trove could state that they’ve changed their estimated delivery times for the season to account for possible weather-caused delays, and that they will have season-long discounts on expedited shipping.

Such concrete actions will reassure readers that you listen to feedback and resolve issues quickly.

Offer to Make Things MORE than Right

Yes, you read that right.

Most decent businesses offer refunds or replacements to dissatisfied customers.

But to really impress current and prospective customers, go above and beyond merely rectifying the situation: offer a coupon, gift card, discount, or some other free service as well.

For example, Fire & Ice Tavern could offer an on-the-house meal to Alicia & her friend next time they visit, and Treasure Trove could offer either a partial refund or a discount on James’s next order (with free overnight shipping, of course!)

This eagerness to provide a satisfying customer experience will show readers your sincerity and dedication to stellar service.

(Pro Tip: When you offer this in a public response, provide a relevant company representative’s business contact information so that details can be worked out and verified in private. This personal touch will also show readers that your company is serious about making things right.)

Thank Them for Their Feedback

I know, thanking someone for criticizing your business is the last thing you feel like when you’ve just read their scathing words.

But if it helps, consider that they’ve done you a real service; unless they’re actual fake reviewers or trolls (in which case, tune in soon for our post on how to handle misleading reviews), they’ve done two things:

  1. Helped you improve your services (better that someone tells you about an issue so you can resolve it, rather than multiple customers be silently driven away)
  2. Allowed you a chance to show your dedication to customer service for all those Google-review-reading prospects.

In addition, thanking a customer shows your positive and professional attitude towards critical feedback. So in the end, typing a thank you isn’t that hard. 😉

K.I.S.S.black iphone with hello on the screen in white

Your ideal response will be no more than 3-5 sentences. Don’t get involved in lengthy explanations or excuses (especially not excuses!)

It’s tempting to explain the full situation — your computer systems crashed, three people called in sick that day, and so on — but unfortunately, most readers will lose interest quickly. They’re not as concerned about what happened in the past as with whether they can trust you to do things right in the future.

So keep it short and sweet.

That wraps up our response-writing tutorial for today; these 7 steps have given you all the tools you need to stop poor reviews from haunting your business’s online presence. Now you know how to “flip the switch” on negative reviews through sincere, professional responses that showcase your business’s dedication to customer satisfaction.

In other words, Ghostbusters has nothing on you. 😉

Interested in having your business’s online presence attract more leads and clients than ever before? Check out our services, or just get in touch with our leader Angela for a no-strings, no-pressure social media audit & consultation. Look forward to hearing from you!