How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

It was a simple job. The customer seemed pleased. Everything went well. Or so you thought.

The online review tells a different story.

“The technician was late, made a big mess and was totally rude! One star. Would not recommend!”

Yikes.

It happens. Unfortunately, it happens a lot. Too many people today are polite to your face but save their gripes for Yelp or Google. Some of their complaints are justified, others aren’t. You should respond either way because ignoring negative reviews signals to potential customers that you don’t care. Conversely, a thoughtful reply indicates that you’re willing to make things right.

Here’s how to construct an effective response that may even help win over a cranky customer.

How to Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Thank the Customer: You thank your customers for submitting positive reviews. (If you don’t, you should. More on that later.) Consider doing the same when you receive negative feedback. Try something like this:

“Thank you for bringing this situation to our attention. We’ll always strive for 100% satisfaction but we occasionally fall short.” Then include a line inviting the customer to call you so that you can better understand the situation. This way, you’re taking the exchange offline. The last thing you want is a heated back and forth for all the world to see.

In all likelihood, they won’t even bother to call and you’ll have made an effort to resolve the issue.

Take the High Road: The customer isn’t always right. You know that. I know that. Anyone who has been in the home service industry for any period of time knows that. If the customer has lambasted you online, resist the temptation to defend yourself, even if you’re completely innocent. To borrow a popular phrase, it’s not a good look.

Besides, it could very well be that you had an off day and were not aware that you were providing less-than-stellar service. Hey, we’ve all been there. Whether you’re to blame or not, it’s important to acknowledge the customer’s experience. In other words, take ownership of your bad reviews.

“I’m sorry we didn’t meet your expectations. We take pride in offering superior customer service and are disappointed to hear that we missed the mark. We’re taking your feedback to heart and promise to do better going forward. On behalf of the whole team, please accept our sincere apologies.”

You can also use this as an opportunity to point out the dozens of five-star reviews you’ve received and that this customer’s negative experience was clearly the exception.

Respond in a Timely Manner: Customers are waiting to hear back from you. Don’t leave them hanging. Try responding within seven business days -- the sooner the better. Consider putting someoneĀ in charge of monitoring reviews and responding. This could be your marketing manager or customer service representative, whoever can best address complaints and represent your brand.

Accentuate the Positive: If you’re good at your job, you likely have many more positive reviews than negative ones. The key is to keep those glowing endorsements at the top. Google doesn’t display reviews in chronological order by default. Rather, Google assigns each review a quality score. Longer, localized reviews are usually deemed “most relevant” and will appear toward the top. Reviews that generate comments and likes also tend to get bumped up the queue. That’s why it’s important to respond to every review -- both positive and negative. Doing so shows customers that you care and boosts your SEO.

Dan Dowdy is a longtime plumber, and founder of Built For The Trades, a training organization exclusively dedicated to HVAC, plumbing and electrical businesses.