What Should You Do If Your Business Gets A Negative Online Review?

Imagine you own a local restaurant. You probably work seven days a week and have a substantial amount of your net worth tied up in the business. Your restaurant is your baby. Now, imagine the unfortunate situation where one of your restaurant guests has a bad experience and brings this to your attention. What will you do in this situation? Will you walk away and ignore your guest? Will you argue that they shouldn’t feel they had a bad experience? As the business owner, you should listen to the feedback and try to correct the situation. Handling a negative online review should be no different.

Now imagine, instead of your guest bringing the issue to your attention in the restaurant, they instead decide to leave you a bad review on Yelp, Facebook, etc … Since you value your reputation and actively monitor your digital world, the natural reaction is to freak out because you know that this negative feedback is exposed for the world to see.

What’s an owner supposed to do in this situation?

I’ll break the solution down into four common-sense-driven steps:

  • Take a deep breath and wait 24 hours before you do anything.
  • During that 24 hour period, emotionally prepare yourself to respond in a professional manner.
  • After the 24-hour cooling off period, respond to the review: acknowledge the feedback, apologize and offer to correct the issue.
  • As quickly as you can, steer this conversation out of social media.

24-Hour cooling off Period

This is the most critical step, and probably the hardest. Handling a negative online review should never be based on an emotional reaction. Remember, your response is going to be available for the world to see. You need to have a level head.

You’re probably telling yourself, “I know how to acknowledge feedback and apologize, so why do I need to wait?” Have you ever read someone’s email that was a little terse and it came across as angry or rude, but that wasn’t the email author’s intent? The digital written word is very easy to misinterpret. Our society has been conditioned to rush through digital communications. We rarely take the time to analyze our word choices or interpret what we read. Intellectually, you might know how to respond, but don’t take the risk of your emotions showing. I guarantee it’s not worth the risk. If your interchange goes sideways, the whole world will see it forever.

The good news is that once you get good at using this framework, you can start to skip the 24-hour cooling period.

Prepare yourself to respond in a professional manner

This may seem silly to mention because I’m sure all of you will agree that it’s better to respond professionally instead of emotionally. But, just telling you to be a professional isn’t completely sufficient to prepare you to effectively deal with this situation.

So let me suggest this as a goal: Expect that, in 100 percent of all negative feedback situations, you can completely turn those situations into a positive experience for the person providing the feedback. If you are successful turning a bad thing into a good thing, the person may not remove the review. You might be surprised how many times you can get a bad review reversed. Don’t fixate on having the bad review reversed, however. Instead, focus on making that person very pleased with how they were treated.

During the 24-hour cooling off period, practice how you will respond. Role-play in your mind how to respond and practice different situations. What do you do if the reviewer is responsive to what you’re suggesting? Likewise, what do you do if the person is not responsive to what you’re suggesting? There’s no silver bullet. I’m just suggesting that you practice during your 24-hour cooling off period.

Respond to the review

After the cooling off period and after you’ve practiced, you need to respond to the negative review. There are three parts to a good response: to acknowledge the feedback, apologize and offer to correct the situation.

Before I dig into these three steps, let me recommend an important context-setting strategy for this part of the conversation. First, make it abundantly clear that you are the business owner. This will clearly establish that you care and that you can correct the situation.

For each of these three response steps, you need to develop an approach that you’re comfortable with. But let me give you my script to think about.

First, after establishing that you are the owner, thank the reviewer for bringing the situation to your attention. While this feedback may hurt, the reviewer is actually doing you a favor by bringing this to your attention. Because you now know that an issue occurred, you have a shot at correcting it. For the apology, keep it simple and direct. Just say you’re sorry. Finally, for the offer to correct the situation, the one I really like is to let the reviewer know that you have a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. By stating your 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, you establish that you’re willing to fully correct the problem. Don’t discuss how you will correct the issue through social media, however. Firstly, it’s presumptive on your part to assume you know what will make the reviewer happy. Secondly, if you offer something in social media (e.g., provide free products or services), you’ll open yourself up for others to abuse your 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

Here’s the ugly truth about social media: If you have too much interaction within a review, you’re signaling to the social media platform (e.g., Facebook) that this is an important and relevant review.  Most platforms present reviews based on this interpretation of importance and relevance, not recency. So, guess what? A bad review with a ton of interaction will continue to be the first one listed in your reviews. Bundle your response into one review post.

Take the conversation out of social media

Now that you’ve established yourself as an owner who really cares, it’s time to steer the conversation out of social media. As we just discussed, how you resolve the issue isn’t as important as establishing yourself as an owner who cares. Don’t open yourself up to abuse by providing too much detail in social media.

You must initiate and steer the conversation offline, but you might have to put your private information out in public. If you know how to contact the reviewer, offer to call or email them in order to talk. If you don’t have their contact information, in your response you need to give the reviewer your contact information and ask the reviewer to please contact you. Some folks will respond immediately, some may take some time, and some may tell you to pound sand. Be respectful, but be persistent. Set yourself a limit on how many times you ask to contact the reviewer, however. My rule of thumb is three times, tops.

This is a very painful but very important topic

If you follow this basic framework you will many times turn a bad situation into a good one. Botching how you deal with negative feedback in social media, however, will leave a permanent scare on your business’ reputation. That reputation is for the world to see forever, or for however long social media exists.