Negative online reviews are no fun. Receiving one for your business is like a swift kick to your pride. They can linger in your online directories and search results, and cause potential customers to run for the hills. If you think that online reviews don’t matter, take a look at this consumer review survey conducted annually by Bright Local. According to their 2016 survey “84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation”, and “7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to.” There are quite a few other compelling stats in there that should sway you to put a little more time and energy into managing your online reviews.

Negative reviews – bizarrely enough – can also be used to your advantage. Customers actually trust businesses more when they see a few bad apples in the list of reviews, its much more authentic. Not everyone is going to like your business – its statistically impossible – even Oprah has some haters. The key is to limit the damage of each review by reassuring readers that your business is actively addressing the problem and improving from the feedback.

One of the most effective ways to reverse the influence of a negative online review is to proactively respond to the reviewer. This must be done in a delicate and professional manner though, as you don’t want to start a Hatfield + McCoy feud on the the review thread. Here are the 4 steps you need to take to respond to negative reviews the right way:

1. Claim Your Social Profiles

Before you can start actively responding to negative online reviews, you’ll have to claim the online directory or review site that the complaint was posted on. This usually involves creating an account on the site, completing your profile and verifying your ownership (through a phone call or letter.) Vivial offers a free tool that shows you how your business is appearing on the major online review platforms and directories. All you need to do is enter your business’ contact information to run your free visibility report.

2. Respond to Negative Online Reviews Directly

Most people who post a negative review do so for a very specific reason: they want the world to know what went wrong with their experience with your product or service. Your response should always acknowledge this pain point to let the original reviewer (and subsequent readers) know that you understand and empathize with their experience.

Identify the underlying issue and lead with an apology. For example, if a customer complains that they waited two hours to receive their meal at your restaurant, you might begin your response with:

I’m very sorry to hear that you had to wait several hours to receive your meal at [Restaurant Name]. This is highly uncharacteristic of our staff, as we pride ourselves on our punctuality.

This empathy adds a human element to your business and helps to mend the wounds of a bad experience.

3. Keep the Response Brief and Polite

The last thing you want to do is appear defensive and immature. The shorter your response is, the less likely it is that you will trigger additional negative feelings. No matter how strongly the negative review makes you feel, you must always be polite in your tone. Don’t accuse the customer of wrong doing or lying; this is the fastest way to defeat your attempt to fix the issue. A few sentences should be sufficient for most of your responses.

4. Take the Conversation Offline

You never want to spark a back-and-forth argument online, especially with someone that is passionate about their point of view. A more effective approach is to drive the conversation offline and towards a personal phone call with a manager or executive in the company. Include the manager’s name and direct phone line, offering to listen to the complaint more in-depth and arrive at a resolution. This proves that you truly are looking to fix the problem, and not just trying to save face online.

A Real Example

Following the four guidelines above, here is an excellent example of a local business’s response to a negative review:

How to Respond to a Negative Review

Notice how the business addresses the issue early, empathizes with the customer, speaks politely and drives the conversation offline.

Responding to negative online reviews following these guidelines will help you turn problems into potential opportunities.

Generate Positive Online Reviews

A great way to curb the influence of negative reviews about your business is to generate positive ones. We recommend reaching out to current or previous customers who had an excellent experience with your business and ask them to share about it. If you’re going to be reaching out over email be sure to include links to your company’s page on the key review sites: Google, Yelp and any others that are important to your industry.

Use this template as a starting off point for any emails or even snail mail that you send out to these customers: Download the Word Document template here.

Review generation email template - combat negative online reviews