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Responding to Reviews - Best Practices

As a business owner, you work hard to provide excellent customer service for your clients. Your may have perfected your customer service on the job, but what about on the internet? Your online presence is essentially an extension of your business, and online reviews bring extra opportunities to build relationships, solve problems, and also improve your business’s reputation.

Respond and Engage often

If you receive a compliment in-person, do you acknowledge them or do you just freeze and stare blankly? What about a customer who comes to you with an issue or concern - do you try to work with them to solve it, or plug your ears and turn away? Ideally, you would not ignore a customer in a face-to-face interaction. Think about online reviews as a virtual add-on to your physical workplace.

By interacting with your customers on the internet, not only will your customers feel like they are appreciated, but others who look at your reviews will see that you are a business owner who values their clients’ opinions.

Show appreciation for positive reviews

Responding to positive reviews is just as important as replying to not-so-positive comments. Getting in the habit of acknowledging happy customers not only builds a relationship with your customers, but it also gives you another opportunity to add to your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.

Build positive relationships

Think of responding to your customers as a way to build relationships. Start by mentioning them by name - it shows an extra layer of personalization and might even help you remember their name if they return. Always thank them for choosing your company, as well as for leaving a positive review.

Utilize your SEO strategy

In addition, reviews are picked up and displayed in the search engine result pages. This essentially gives you another free advertising platform. You can take advantage of this space to include relevant keywords - but don’t overdo it. Search engines do not favor “keyword stuffing”, and going overboard might make your response seem sales-y and not genuine. For example, you could say something like:

  • Hi Jackie, thank you for your kind words. We at ABC Company strive to provide friendly, prompt service and some of the best happy hour deals in Austin. We hope to see you back soon - we rotate our taps every month!

This response not only thanks the customer and acknowledges what they liked about their service, but it also serves as a platform for the business to plug their happy hour deals and drink specials without seeming over-the-top.

Respond to Negative Reviews with Tact

It is never easy to read a negative review about your business, especially if the comment is angry or inflammatory. The best way to respond to a negative review is to avoid an impulsive, knee-jerk response. Take a breath and maybe step back for a few minutes. Do not hit “send” until you have formulated a well-thought-out response.

Use the H.E.A.R.D. technique

The Walt Disney company pioneered the “H.E.A.R.D.” technique, which also translates to a good practice for responding to negative feedback:

  • Hear - Listen to your customer. Give them a chance to vent.

  • Empathize - Make it known that you are putting yourself in their shoes. Show that you can understand why they would be frustrated (whether their complaints are legitimate or otherwise)

  • Apologize - Whether you were in the wrong or not - offer an apology. Let the customer know that you are sorry that they are upset, or - if a mistake was made - apologize for the infraction.

  • Resolve - Resolve the issue quickly. Ask the customer what you can do to make the situation right.

  • Diagnose - Figure out the problem and fix it. If the customer is unhappy despite receiving perfect service - figure out how to prevent miscommunications or false expectations in the future.

Learning how to respond to negative reviews the right way can help salvage your relationship with your unhappy customer and also repair your business’s public image.

Provide the opportunity for feedback

Each negative review is a jumping-off point for future contact. After empathizing and offering an apology, ask them to contact you so you can discuss the issue further - and in a private place. Offer contact information such as your phone number or email address where they can reach you. In many cases, the problem can be resolved. Even if they do not follow up, people who view these reviews will see that you are a caring business owner who tries to make things right.

Be on the lookout for fake or incorrect reviews

Often times, business owners may receive reviews that were left by people who have never done business with them. Some review sites, like Google, let you flag a review if it is off-topic or violates community standards such as hate speech or profanity. Yelp is notorious for not removing reviews - even fake ones. The process of removing reviews on any site is not a quick or easy one, so it is important to only flag a review if you are sure that it is not legitimate.

Off-topic or “mistake” reviews

False or irrelevant reviews can be written purposefully or left by mistake. Before taking action, it is best to understand the intent of the reviewer. If a customer leaves a negative review about your floral delivery business’ food being undercooked, then it is likely that the user left a review for the wrong business. In Google, this would qualify as an “off-topic” review, so the best course of action would be to flag the review and, in the meantime, leave a polite reply that they may have contacted the wrong business.

Sometimes, you may encounter nonsense reviews such as gibberish, random punctuation marks, or an irrelevant comment that does not accurately describe the service you provide.

  • Example 1: I never worked for ABC Company!

  • Example 2: I had lovely service! Very well-deserved one gold star!

Comments like the examples above can be seen throughout the internet and are usually written by users who are not familiar with how review sites work. For the first example, a smart business owner would politely explain that reviews should describe the service they received, and possibly invite the reviewer to see what their business is all about. For the second example, be sure to thank the reviewer for the review and complimenting their service, but also leave a friendly reminder to leave a 5-star review next time.

Inflammatory fake reviews

Sometimes, you may become the victim of trolling or harassment by someone who uses profanity, threats, and hate speech to target your business on review sites. Sometimes, they may make up stories or false accusations. In extreme cases like these, it is important to flag the review as soon as possible, as this behavior violates the community guidelines of most review sites. Google, in particular, does not tolerate off-topic or false reviews, and they will usually remove these responses if you report them.

Reviews from names you don’t recognize

In some cases, you can spot fake reviews based on their name alone. If you have records of all of your past customers on hand, then you can easily spot whether they actually patronized you or not, right? Well, not always.

Sometimes, the review can be left by a family member on behalf of the customer, or it could have been left by another member of your customers’ party. The customer who made a reservation at your hotel or restaurant may not have left a review, but their unhappy friend or significant other who joined them on their trip might have done so.

For this reason, it is always best to offer the reviewer to contact you privately to discuss their issue further.

Avoid personal details

Depending on the types of services you offer, be sensitive about revealing too much information about your customers’ experience when responding to feedback. Addressing your customers in a personal manner is a great way to build trust and camaraderie, but it is important to not get too personal.

  • Wrong: It was a pleasure coming to your house to unclog your toilet yesterday.

  • Right: Thank you so much for your positive feedback. We pride ourselves on completing every job with quality and professionalism.

In healthcare-related organizations, for example, business owners must take HIPAA laws into account. Mentioning any specific procedures or health issues - even mentioning that they were a patient at all - can violate your customers’ confidentiality.

When acknowledging good ratings:

  • Wrong: We are happy to have helped relieve your knee pain yesterday.

  • Right: Thank you for your review. Patient satisfaction is our number-one goal.

When responding to bad reviews:

  • Wrong: We have no record of you ever coming in.

  • Right: We are sorry that our service did not reflect our standards. Please give us a call or email us so we can address your concern.

In that example, the response would not be breaking any laws if the reviewer’s name was not in your client records, but divulging that fact on the internet might lead people to believe that you do not follow privacy guidelines. If you do not recognize the name of a negative reviewer as a customer, it is important to offer contact information (as mentioned in the previous section) to resolve the conflict privately. If reaching out to the reviewer warrants no results and you truly believe that the review is fake, then flagging the review is a last resort option.

Negative Reviews are not Always so Bad

Receiving negative reviews can hurt your overall rating, but - believe it or not - having bad reviews can have some benefits. Having a couple bad reviews can help build trust, show transparency, and give you a good look at what needs to change - if you handle it correctly.

Many review platforms discourage business owners from removing reviews. It should be a last resort for when you truly believe that a review is false. In some extreme cases, business owners may be victims of untrue and inflammatory reviews, in which it would be smart to report and remove these posts.

Nobody is perfect. No matter how hard you try, there may be some unhappy customers. Sometimes, the problem could be a simple misunderstanding that could be rectified by simply reaching out to the customer and trying to make things right. In many cases, the reviewer might reconsider the issue and either edit their review or become a return customer.

Collect as many reviews as possible

The easiest way to suppress bad reviews is by simply offsetting them with positive reviews. By engaging in review generation services and offering easy ways for customers to write reviews, you increase the odds of getting a 5-star review, which helps boost your overall ranking.

That is, if you are offering service that is worthy of 5 stars. While some bad experiences can be due to a misunderstanding or someone just not able to be satisfied - you should always use your reviews to re-examine your organization’s practices and customer service, which brings us to our final point.

Learn from your customers

In general, most customers do not leave reviews. While participating in review generation can bring those numbers up, some people will not be bothered to leave a comment or review. When one person leaves a review, you should assume that ten others share the same opinion - some customers may be upset with their service, but choose to take their business elsewhere without saying anything to you.

For this reason, it is important to reflect on each and every review. Think about how you can improve your customer service or products. If a reviewer is upset due to a misunderstanding, then consider ways to improve communication or setting expectations to avoid these issues in the future. And of course, if a review is positive, take that feedback to keep up the good work.

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