How to respond well to bad reviews


August 9, 2018

Cell phone writing reviews

Illustration: iStock/makyzz

The best response to a negative review depends on the underlying reason for the review:

⦁ Does the negative review identify the wrong company?

⦁ Did you fail the client and deserve the negative review?

⦁ Is the negative review unwarranted, exaggerated or incorrect on the facts?

⦁ Is the review fake — and can you prove it?

Once you identify the reason for the review, checked the facts, and interviewed staff familiar with the problem, only then are you ready to respond — calmly, rationally, respectfully. In most instances, your first response should be directly to the client, either through the review site or by email if you can identify the client. This private communication is your best opportunity to redeem yourself in the eyes of the client.

Do not ask the client to change the review. First, fix the problem. Only after the client is satisfied, can you broach the subject of changing the review. For example, “I’m glad we were able to work through your issues. I hope you will consider updating your review, but whether you do or not, we respect your decision and value you as a customer.”

After you reach out to the client, it’s time to post a public response — even if your response is, “We’ve reached out to this reviewer and hope to soon resolve his/her issue.” Keep in mind that only the first 17 or so words of your public comment might appear before the “read more” hyperlink, so make those first few words count.

Here are more details on how to respond to reviews by type:

Mistaken identity.
Your private and public response should begin with, “Mistaken identity! Your review mistakenly identifies our company…” Follow up with the reasons why yours is not the company referred to in the review. Be brief and polite. Also, immediately notify the review site of the error.

Deserved review.
When you have failed a client, admit it. Attempt to contact the client and correct the problem, but don’t make your offer of a remedy contingent upon removing the review. Instead, make a private and public apology: Acknowledge the client’s complaint, admit you failed, offer remediation, and list the steps you’ve made to avoid repeating the mistake.

Example: “I was horrified to learn that one of our trained technicians left a dead rat on this reviewer’s patio table. Being busy is no excuse for making such a mistake. We’ve reached out to the reviewer and offered to have her patio set professionally cleaned. Meanwhile, we’ve retrained our field staff and instituted a final check procedure before leaving a job site.”

Unwarranted review.
When you did not deserve the negative review, it is especially important to respond calmly and rationally. People will read the review and your public response. Your goal is to gain the sympathy of the reader and illustrate your professionalism. Start by apologizing for the client’s bad experience, regardless of whether you agree. Attempt to right the perceived wrong. Avoid getting into a public feud. Always take the high road. You do not have to have the last word, just the most civil word.

Example: “I really appreciate your feedback, and I am sorry we put you through any inconvenience. Is there is anything I can do to work through this with you? If you could please contact me at some point, I would greatly appreciate it.”

Some negative reviews are written by people with delusions of parasitosis (DOP). In these situations, a sympathetic, yet scientific response is your best defense.

Example: “To protect the public and environment, we only treat with pesticides after we are able to identify the target pest. While we sympathize with Jane’s discomfort, we were not able to find any bed bugs or mites in her residence, despite performing three inspections and examining suspect materials under the microscope …”

Fake review.
It is particularly galling when a competitor, disgruntled employee, or other party falsifies a review. When you respond to such a review, remember that you are addressing the reader, not the reviewer. As with an unwarranted review, your goal is to gain the sympathy of the reader and illustrate your professionalism. Begin your public comment with, “This review has been falsified.” Then calmly back up your claim with facts. Be aware that this statement may result in an escalation by the reviewer as they attempt to prove the review is real. Be clear on the facts, and remain the most logical party in the exchange.

Example: “This review has been falsified. It was written by a disgruntled former employee. It in no way reflects the experience of an actual client.”

While it is frustrating to deal with negative reviews, do not ignore them. Negative reviews offer an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism. You may find that your sincere response to a negative review may win new business.


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