Negative reviews are a fact of life, particularly for busy customer-facing businesses like restaurants and retail shops. It’s tempting to ignore them. We shouldn’t take them personally, and everyone has a bad day, right?

But you should respond to as many reviews as possible, negative and positive, even if the only answer you can give to a positive one is “thanks!”

People post reviews because they want to be heard within the community. That’s why sites like Yelp allow people to respond with their own feedback or by clicking on icons to express whether something is useful, funny, and so on.

This is also why negative reviews shouldn’t be ignored.

Won’t Responding to a Negative Review Light a Fire?

Probably not. Responding to a negative review isn’t necessarily feeding the monster. Think of it as investigating what might be a real problem with your business that (1) you weren’t aware of and (2) you can fix.

Anyone who sees that you respond to a negative review will not only see you have guts where your business’ reputation is concerned, but that you also care about your customers.

Before you respond to a negative review, read it over a couple of times. Is it really negative, or just pointing out that something was a bit off?  For example, if someone noted that service in the outdoor area of your restaurant/cafe/eatery was slow, find out if it’s true. Are servers checking on diners outside? Are there enough of them during busy hours to do this? Was the kitchen short-staffed that day and people thought this was slow service?

It’s really ok to be truthful and explain how a problem brought to your attention will be addressed.  “Thanks for letting us know, we’ll double-down to check on guests dining outside.”  Or admit you were short staffed at a particular time and have since hired experienced staff, and/or have backup waitstaff or cooks that will prevent this problem going forward.

Most Negative Reviews Aren’t Personal. Really.

Trustpilot is a review platform out of Denmark that’s become popular in North America.

Yelp itself regards them with enough respect to mention Trustpilot’s findings on the motivation for writing a negative review. And for the most part, it’s to warn people about online community and help consumers make better buying decisions, findings that resonated with respondents in both Europe and North America.

worried man at laptop

Don’t take negative reviews personally. Credit: StockSnap/Pixabay

In fact, Trustpilot’s research found that “getting back at a company for a bad product/service/policy ranked pretty low as a reason to post a review. Interestingly, this response was strongest among European respondents (31% versus just 16% for North Americans. Maybe it’s the Canadian effect?).

I found the Trustpilot survey a fascinating read. I also liked Yelp’s take on one-star reviews, particularly its finding that it’s expensive to get new customers – about 25% more than to keep existing ones happy. That’s why churn is such a huge cost!

Plus, as Trustpilot found,  more than half of customers who leave a negative review will give the business another chance if they feel the response they received was appropriate. No response = no repeat business.

You Can’t Fix Every Problem People  Bring Up in Reviews

Some problems might not be reparable, at least not in the eyes of the poster.

sad woman with several purses

Sometimes you have to deliver a bummer message. Credit: Pixabay

  • Does the parking lot flood after every rainstorm? Agree with the poster and say the landlord is aware of it, and you hope will fix it.
  • Is it hard to find parking? Again, agree, but mention local bus or rail stops or if you offer local delivery. The important thing is to acknowledge their experiences.
  • Some services take longer than others to complete. That’s why it’s so important to communicate with customers. We expect our car repair guy to call us if there’s going to be a delay while a part is picked up from across town. So why not tell diners if the meal they order takes longer to prepare or a disappointed shopper that the popular item they wanted sells out pretty quickly?
  • If you maintain a customer list and send regular emails, offer it as the best way to get advance notice and opportunities to pre-order.

If a poster responds with yet more negativity, it’s on them. Other readers will see you addressed the problem. Site moderators have also been known to remove obnoxious posts or mark them unreliable.

Don’t Be Afraid to Call Out BS

If you really feel a review is inaccurate, it’s OK to call out the BS. Just do it professionally.

Several years ago, a client of mine who owns a resale shop saw a negative review posted on Yelp.

“The place is small and cluttered the girl that worked there was super rude to me and acted like i was wasted her time [sic]. I will never come back again!!!”

angry old white guy in hoodie

Credit: Peter Ziegler/Pixabay

Yelp eventually removed it, but it lives on in Google, where I might add, she reviews an average 4.5 stars.

The reviewer left his name, so we knew this was a male. We wrote back:

“I’m a little confused by your comments. I am a middle-aged woman. The only other person who works here is my teenage son – there are no girls here.

That said, we both greet our customers, ask if there’s anything special they’re looking for, and thank them for coming in. I am not sure how that is rude. Perhaps you are confusing us with another business that has a similar name?

We *have* been getting a lot of items in from our consignment partners. That’s why there are lots of bags and boxes. We sort through each and every item for cleanliness, damage, and safety to use…it is a slow process to do correctly. But our regular customers understand this and aren’t put off…I hope you’ll consider coming back…”

OK, there’s a little bit of sarcasm there, but her regular customers told her they got quite a kick out of it!

The Good News Is…You’re Being Noticed

If you’re getting a few bad reviews, chances are very, very good that you’re getting plenty more positive ones. Both Yelp and Trustpilot say more than half of all reviews posted are good ones.

If you find the reviews aren’t so rosy lately, figure out why. Remember, most of your critics aren’t out to hurt you but give useful feedback. Accept those reviews in the spirit in which they were given.

Most of all, don’t forget to ask customers to review you. You can put this on your receipt,  display a little sign at the register, or on your email signature. If your business is surviving in this pandemic, you’ve got to be doing something right!