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Dealing with Negative Reviews Online in 6 Easy Steps

You opened your new restaurant this past summer. Congratulations! Your business' online machine is humming along, too. You've gotten your website up and running, your Google My Business and Facebook reviews starting to trickle in, and your customers are happy. You developed a lot of buzz about your launch and your social following reflects that.

But then, it happens. You wake up to check your Facebook page in the morning, and there it is.

One star. Just one star.

And a scathing review from a recent customer.

Life is over.

Wait, no. Take a breath.

Your first negative review is going to hurt. It'll feel like a punch in the gut, a betrayal of all the time and effort you've put into making things go so well. Something beyond your control has come along and turned that 5.0 into a 4.2. It'll never be a 5.0 again.

And it's going to be ok. You'll get through this. Here's how.

Step 1: Don't sleep on it

Negative reviews will happen, and when they do, it’s best to act quickly. People take online reviews seriously. According to a study by Business2Community, "86% of people will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews." Ouch. You can mitigate this by taking action quickly.

Step 2: Determine if the review should be addressed or reported

Trolls will be trolls. A profanity-laced, personal attack with no claims about your products, services, establishment, or staff is probably not worth acknowledging. You can't respond to these rationally, so don't waste your breath. If it violates the terms of service of the platform it appears on, you might be able to have it removed. Facebook definitely allows you to report reviews that aren't related to your products or services. You'll find that Google does as well.

Step 3: Always take the high road

If you determine that the negative review does warrant a response, possibly the worst thing you can do is reply angrily. You need to be the adult here. If you want to thank them for pointing out something that needs improvement, do so. If the review is purely critical with no actionable items or something that requires further investigation (staff conduct, for example), you can still express that you’re sorry that they had a bad experience straight away.

Step 4: Be a human being, not a robot

Stock responses aren't going to cut it. Don't say "thank you" if there's nothing to thank them for. Don't offer an appeasement discount without thought. Ensure your reply suits their complaint. There are a few things that are important to convey, including:

  1. Either your gratitude for their remark or your apologies for their bad experience. Even though these seem like stock responses, they're conveying empathy.
  2. That you take these things seriously. Nobody wants to be dismissed, or see someone like themselves dismissed.
  3. Action you'll take to improve. Responses shouldn't be lip service.

Outside of that, you have some room to tailor your response. Consider your brand's tone. If you have a friendly, conversational tone in your web copy and marketing materials, respond in kind. The last thing you want to do is make them feel like they're getting an automated reply. We like talking to other humans, go figure.

Step 5: Resolve the problem

It's not enough to just respond. As mentioned above, you'll need to take steps to resolve the issue at hand as well. Sometimes this is as easy as posting a bathroom cleaning schedule for your staff. Other times, it may require a bit more work or investigation.

Negative reviews occasionally require an offline follow-up. Your response to the review itself might be enough to help with your online reputation management, but, people talk. Sometimes it is worth it to reach out to the negative reviewer and see if you can offer to make things right, or at the very least, ensure they know you’re on top of the issue.

This might be a time to offer a bit of a discount to them, if the situation calls for it (a bad meal, for example.) Offering a discount publicly might seem tempting, as it can look pretty nice to readers, but be wary about setting that precedent. You might get a swarm of negative reviews if discounts are being handed out like candy. What CAN be good to include in the public review is the action you're going to take, even if that action is contacting the reviewer personally.

It often doesn't hurt to politely ask the reviewer to remove their review if they're feeling better about your response. If you've responded with empathy and understanding, you might bring about a similar response in them. And really, that's the best case scenario.

Final step: Keep up the good work!

Bad reviews suck, but, don't get discouraged by them. The best thing you can do afterward is keep your head up and continue to improve. Onward and upward!