Tips for responding to comments posted about your business—both good and bad reviews
By Andrew Joseph
According to no less an authority on not being ignored, famed author and bon vivant Oscar Wilde once said, “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” And then there is P.T. Barnum, of circus fame, who decried, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Today, however, some might argue that those statements are no longer true. Publicity is now a click away, as modern-day consumers evaluate their interactions with almost everyone—especially those with whom they do business, if the form of online reviews.
Although a great many businesspeople strive to do their best at all times and hope that the majority of their reviews will be positive, everyone can be the recipient of a bad review from time to time. While bad reviews can be unnerving, this article will guide you through what to do if you receive a bad review. It also provides insight on what you should do when you receive a good review, which we are sure your staff will appreciate (hint, hint).
Aside from your website, consumers can write reviews of businesses, or simply read them, on many sites, the most popular being Yelp, Google, Facebook and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). There are many others, as well, including Glassdoor, where current and former employees can anonymously review businesses at which they work or have worked (yikes!)—but take this one with a grain of salt because no happy employee will be likely to go out of his or her way to write about his/her workplace. Still, it can provide an interesting insight should you wish for a deeper dive of a different sort.
It is free to set up a Yelp page to receive reviews (business.yelp.com). To create a “Business Profile” on Google, visit support.google.com/business/answer/10514137?hl=en. On your Facebook business page, click the “Recommendations” or “Reviews” tab found under your profile picture. And you can claim your free BBB “Business Profile” at bbb.org/get-listed.
Once you have established your business on these review sites, you need to spend a few minutes every other day or so to look up your business, to see if it is being discussed.
Why Reviews are Good Things
Reviews are a necessity today for any small to medium-sized business because they help generate attention for that business. It is a good thing when people take time out of their day to write a positive review about you and your business. While there are so-called “trolls” who like to hassle people and comment negatively about everything you do—even if you have never served them—it is far more likely that reviews will be positive.
But what if they aren’t? Well, it provides you with an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, but we’ll dive into that after the next section.
Aside from visibility, reviews help provide enhanced credibility and trust. When consumers read positive reviews about your business, they gain confidence that your shop is worth doing business with and that you will provide them with a positive experience.
Acknowledge Positive Reviews
When a customer leaves a kind review for you, read it and comment back. A simple thank-you, along with an acknowledgement of your appreciation for their patronage, are great responses. Customers enjoy being acknowledged and are appreciative when a business owner takes the time to respond. It makes them feel that their time and efforts matter. You should also highlight your positive reviews on your website by adding a “Customer Review” page.
Your responses to reviews are also a great way to show that you look at the review site(s), that you care, and that customer comments are important to you. Reviews—and your responses to them—can also go a long way toward turning a possible customer (a review reader) into an actual customer.
Also—and extremely important—determine if the review was directed at you or one of your staff, and then give credit where credit is due. Thank your staff appropriately. You should be doing that regularly anyway, but specifically thank them for their efforts in making reviewing customers happy. And while thanks are nice, a little bonus is nicer—whether a gift card or tickets to a movie or local sports event—or whatever.
How to Respond to Negative Reviews
Let’s face it: No company is perfect, and though you might be loath to admit it, neither is yours. Sometimes, despite all your great work and best efforts, mistakes are made or something falls by the wayside. When customers complain, regardless of whether their complaints are valid, it is crucial that you not be defensive and argumentative. Instead, be polite, acknowledge and clarify the customer’s concerns or issue, offer an apology, and explain what you can and are willing to do to resolve the problem (consider offering at least two options from which the customer can choose). No one cares whose fault something is; that’s making an excuse. And don’t say that what happened is an anomaly and that it has never happened before; that will not do anything to make the complaining customer feel better and, in fact, could make the customer more upset. Instead—especially if you or your team did screw up—admit fault, and resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction (suggestions for doing that follow).
While everyone is aghast at negative reviews, they can be a good thing: They provide you with a unique opportunity to transform an unhappy customer into a happy one—in front of the world. It is a fact that formerly disgruntled customers who are pleased with the ways in which their issues are resolved often become loyal customers and big fans of the business with which they had an issue. True. And when other review-reading consumers see how effectively, fairly, cooperatively—and quickly—you resolve problems, they, too, are often impressed enough to give your business a try and tout your virtues.
But what if you receive a negative review and you are pretty sure you did nothing to deserve it? Well, it doesn’t matter if everything that someone complained about is a lie; his or her comments are now forever on public websites, and other consumers will be watching how you react. This may go against every fiber in your body, but respond by acknowledging the complaint and listening to the complainant’s concerns. Clarify all the facts, and formulate a response. Your goal, in addition to diffusing the situation in a professional manner, should be to show everyone watching—especially the complainant—that you care about his or her customer experience and that you want to resolve the issue positively. You could start with, “I am sorry you feel that way,” and then invite the person to come to your shop to discuss their concerns in person. It shows bravery on your part—and theirs, if they take you up on it.
Barring that, and if the complaint is completely bogus, spend some time formulating a professional, unemotional, logical and well-thought-out defense based on documentable facts—yet still show a willingness to work with the complainant to resolve the issue to his or her satisfaction. If you become aggressive in your response, you will not only elicit an aggressive response back from the reviewer but also from others who now feel empowered to either come to your aid or pile on you. Remember, the “world” is watching, and you must handle the situation in a way that appears businesslike, reasonable and fair to those witnessing things unfold. You can win at least half the battle by converting onlookers to your side with a rational, coherent presentation of the facts, which will often immediately shut down the complainant.
With legitimate complaints, the latter of the previously mentioned steps may not be necessary. Yes, you will still want to acknowledge and clarify the customer’s concerns or issue and offer an apology followed by suggestions for resolving the issue. At this point, you can make your proposal for resolution, or you could ask the customer what he or she thinks would be a fair resolution. In that case, you might have to meet them somewhere in the middle, saying something like, “I appreciate your suggestions, and here is what we can do, which I hope will resolve the situation to your satisfaction.”
It’s your business; you can do whatever you want or need to do, but remember that you want to, first, respond immediately and, second, exceed the customer’s expectations—for his or her benefit as well as to impress all those watching. It can be anything from a refund to a replacement to a sizable discount on a future purchase—or a combination of the three. You can even offer a more creative solution, depending on the circumstances, but whatever your solution is, it should also include a little something extra (yes, free) that shows your concern and willingness to go above and beyond to make the customer happy. This will also buy you some goodwill and, hopefully, cause the customer to want to do business with you again. Grease the wheel, so to speak. Doing so might result in you losing a bit of money on the transaction; however, that cost will likely be far less that the cost of continuing widespread negative publicity resulting from a hostile exchange or an unsatisfactory resolution.
When bringing the situation to a close, reiterate your sincere apology coupled with a pledge to do better next time and—this is very important—by explaining to the customer what you have learned from this situation and what steps you will take to prevent the problem from happening again. Your ultimate goals are to retain the existing customer and win over all of those who are watching, and professionalism, fairness and sincere concern should do that.
Okay, so now that you understand why your business needs reviews—even bad ones—you might be wondering how you can get some. Sure, you could patiently wait until customers decide they should comment on your business—or you could bribe them.
I recently went to a hole-in-the-wall cellphone shop in a mall. My phone had stopped charging, and out of desperation, I went in and asked if they could do anything about it. I was told that there was as much lint in the charging port as one might find in a three-year-old clothes dryer, and as the employee began removing it, she said that the charge would be $20—or I could simply write a review for the business on Yelp. What? I can save $20 and have my phone back in working order, and all I have to do is write a review of the stellar service the business provided? No problem!
It’s the same for you and your shop. Provide the option for customers to create reviews and get 20 percent off, or if a customer has cut flowers or a bouquet in hand, offer a vase for free. It’s customer service, and yes, it’s buying reviews—but note that you do not have control over whether or not the customer will write a positive review. Now, you aren’t going to be a trusting sort and allow customers to write their reviews when they get back home—at least not in this instance; you want them to create the reviews while they are in your store.
Another way to garner reviews—and we’ve all seen this—is to have the salesperson point out to customers (as is printed on your receipts) that if they go to your website and write a review (later, at their convenience), they will receive a printable or downloadable coupon for 10, 20, 25 or whatever percent off their next purchase. Again, you cannot control what customers may write as part of their reviews, but as we have shown, there’s no such thing as bad publicity—especially if you can use it to improve your service to your floral customers.
And because we like to come full circle, as Oscar Wilde also said, “A flower blossoms for its own joy.” And you should, too.
FAQs—and Our Responses
1. How do I find out if I have negative reviews?
Check out the websites we mentioned in paragaph four.
2. Are reply comments for every review necessary?
Yes! If a customer can take the time to leave a comment, you can take the time to respond, even if it’s just with a simple thank-you and smiley face or heart emoji.
3. How and when should I reply to a bad review?
Don’t let it fester: Respond as soon as you can, but after your anger has receded. Sometimes, when people respond without taking a breath, they say something they didn’t really mean or intend to say. You want to avoid being anything but a good member of the community.
4. Do I need to always reply to bad reviews?
Yes. It shows everyone that you care and that their concerns matter.
5. What types of comments are most effective in combating bad reviews?
We’ve covered it, but, in general, use calm, measured tones; acknowledge the customer’s concern; sincerely apologize for his or her negative experience; offer a reasonable and generous solution (or two); and inform the customer that you have taken steps to ensure that such an issue never occurs again.
6. What if the comments in a bad review are true or partially true—if I/we screwed up but fixed the problem or resolved the issue?
It’s called “opportunity.” We’ve already discussed that you should never reply to a comment in anger. In this example, it’s the perfect time to respond by letting the complainant and all the other people who read the comments know that someone has done something about the complainant’s concerns. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the mistake and to show that you have grown from it and/or that you now have a better system in place that will prevent a recurrence. Of course, this can’t just be lip service; you really must have done all the things you said you have done to resolve a situation. It’s an opportunity to show your customers that you are human, that you have learned from your mistake, and that you hope to make it up to them all—perhaps with a time-sensitive coupon that anyone could print or upload to a digital device that they can use in your store.
7. Can I remove a negative review?
As long as you are not in violation of the Consumer Review Fairness Act, it is certainly legal to have a negative review removed (ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/consumer-review-fairness-act-what-businesses-need-know). That means that if a complaint appears to be legitimate, it stays. However, should it appear as though there’s a slander campaign going on, that a customer has a grudge, or that a review is a random prank by someone trying to bash your business, it is OK to have it removed.