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Why every online review about your business warrants a response

The good, the bad and the snarky

Story by Hannah Clark

If you’re like most business owners, you have a love-hate relationship with online reviews. On the one hand, your customers’ feedback is out there for everyone to see. But on the other hand, your customers’ feedback is out there for everyone to see, which could cost you business if their comments are less than stellar.

And if you’re like most business owners, you’ve probably received at least one such comment before, bringing your coveted 4.8-star rating down to 4.6. But as much as you wanted to delete the review or your Yelp profile, we’re glad you didn’t. As much as we would like to tell your customers, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all,” we have an even more important message for you: “It’s not about the situation, it’s about how you respond to it.” In this case, literally. 

Why every review deserves a response

Online reviews have become essential for customers deciding which business to support. According to a 2023 Brightlocal customer review survey, approximately 98 percent of respondents read customer reviews of local businesses, and a 2020 report from Trustpilot found that positive reviews are one of the top three influencing nearly half of all respondents’ purchasing decisions. So if you think that no one’s going to notice that ten-sentence-long, one-star review, think again. 

But customers don’t simply read reviews when researching a business; they check to see how the business responds. Another Brightlocal survey found that 97 percent of the respondents who read reviews also read the company’s responses – and those replies can influence a potential customer’s purchasing decision more than a high rating. The Trustpilot study found that 64 percent of people would prefer to buy from a responsive company than from one with a 5-star rating, meaning that customers do care about what you have to say. 

The hard truth is that bad reviews can hurt a business’s bottom line. A 2022 report from ReviewTrackers found that 94 percent of respondents decided not to support a business with a bad review. But if you see a negative comment on your Google Business page, don’t despair: you still have a chance to control the narrative.

How to respond to negative reviews

Responding to positive reviews is easy, but without careful consideration your response to negative reviews can do more harm than good. Remember:

Respond as soon as possible. You don’t want to give potential customers the chance to read a negative review about your business without seeing your response. Reply to reviews as soon as possible, within a day. 

Address the situation directly – but don’t get too personal. If a customer leaves you a one-star review, saying she found shellfish in her order when she told the waiter she was allergic, don’t try to minimize the situation with a quick “I’m sorry to hear that.” Instead, own the situation by confronting it head-on with, “On behalf of our entire team, I want to apologize for your experience the other night and that we made such a mistake with your order.” But a word of warning: don’t mention anything about the customer’s situation that wasn’t in the review they left. The last thing you need is to unintentionally reveal any sensitive information or reveal further potential points of concern. 

Don’t make excuses. It can be difficult to take criticism when you are not directly involved with a situation, but as a leader, that’s part of your job. Don’t try to explain that the waiter was new and you were especially busy that night. That might have been the case, but your unhappy customer – and potential patrons – don’t want to hear it. Simply apologize, and sound like you mean it.

Offer specific solutions. Don’t be shy about humbling yourself and suggesting ways to make things right with your customer. You should also provide your phone number or email address, should they wish to contact you directly. Just be prepared to walk your talk if you offer them anything in compensation. 

No matter what kind of reviews your business receives, you should always try to respond. If you follow the strategies above, you can turn any review into a win for your company.

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