Responding to reviews should be done with care, however. Here are some tips for businesses who are going to begin responding to these reviews so you can avoid embarrassment and maximize the positive effect on your brand.
- Never be defensive about negative reviews. Even if the reviewer was completely wrong and is acting like a jerk. You are going to be writing what amounts to public relations content in this reply and it needs to be your best work. Everyone has a bad day, and this may have been theirs, so it’s worth it to try to rise above the fight or flight response.
- Never write responses to negative reviews when you’re angry, tired, etc. Sleep on it. Save it in notepad on your desktop and re-read it in a few days. There’s no rush and things written in emotional moments are rarely what you want in public view.
- Remember that the response are persistent so will be read by future customers, too. Over the months and years, your place page may be reviewed hundreds or thousands of times by potential customers making buying decisions based on others’ reviews. It’s arguable that the content you put on this response is more important than most content you put on your website – and it deserves some thought.
- Thank reviewers for their “gift” of time in leaving the review. It takes time to leave comments. Doing so means they are doing you a favor and it is your chance to shine by responding with skill rather than duck and cover. Sometimes reviews are just useless rants, but most people who read them realize this and you have a chance to show your stuff in the replies. Almost ever review has something positive about it, or potential to become something positive.
- Generally, Short, Sincere and Kind is best, but don’t copy and paste. Don’t write an novel, just capture the sentiment, transfer the emotion and move on. But do NOT copy and paste the same response on several subsequent reviews (I see this often and it’s pathetic.)
- Respond In Situ – Don’t just take the issue offline. Don’t respond telling them to call you to discuss every time. Give some form of response on the web in public view, even if you end up continuing the conversation later. Taking it offline has the feeling of whispering in front of dinner guests – it’s a bit rude. However if there is an issue of privacy for the customer, or in a regulated business, that’s a different story. But I would still come back later and write a response about how the issue was handled without revealing specifics.
- Don’t get personal, even if they did. Sometimes reviewers write when they’re ticked off, and they attack specific employees of your company. Simply mark these as inappropriate and use the established editorial process to remove them. Google doesn’t want that type of review on there either.
- Set Ground Rules with Employees or Office Location Managers. I recommend that you establish a checklist/decision tree type ground rules for who and how responses are created as a part of your brand marketing guidelines. You may want to delegate review response, but not until you have a sense that your staff understand the importance of taking some time to get it right. A single non-compliant employee with access to your review responses can do incredible damage to your brand that lasts years!
- No Gifts. Don’t provide any freebies in your responses, such as gift certificates, etc. This reads like bribery. Just a public thank you is all you should do. If the reviewer asks for that specifically in their review, it’s best to just ignore it if possible. If you must respond, describe how you believe your services/products are fairly priced and move on.
- Take Ownership. You are responsible for your company, and sometimes business is just not fair. You own both the issue and the response to it. Many times reviewers just want to be listened to and will remove the review when they feel like more than a number.
- Nobody’s perfect, people know that. But most importantly, you are speaking to future customers at this moment. It’s okay to humanize the situation and admit that you just made a mistake and apologize.
- Consider Having Someone review your response. Run it by someone (neutral, preferably) before you post it. Ask them to put the reviewer’s and future customers’ shoes on and see how they feel. As mentioned above, some companies post the URL review on the company network to collaborate.
- Have some supporting content ready. People LOVE Q&A and HOW-TO responses! You should maintain a list of your Q&A and how-to posts (including videos) that address common customer complaints. These can be linked to in the reviews. Videos immediately personalize the situation (you’re looking at a human face, being helpful.) Also: Use closed captioning on your videos, always.
- There’s not always a good response. Sometimes, there is no response that will make the customer happy. That’s life. You have to make the best of it. It’s the “agree to disagree” phase of your interaction. You should still tell the customer you appreciate them and wish things had turned out differently. Remember, you’re speaking to future customers as well. If the customer begins to abuse your page, or seems “bat shit crazy” by all means you are within your rights to report them and get the review removed. There is no reason for a customer to be slanderous or abusive. But keep in mind, shutting them down in one place may cause them to light a fire elsewhere, so you need to monitor their activity! A Google alert set up on their username with your brand name in the query can’t hurt!
- Ask customers who feel the issue was resolved to go edit their review or remove it. Some people who leave happy just forget to go fix it. It’s okay to remind them, and put a note in your calendar for a month later to be sure. Then thank them in an email or a call if it suits you.
- BONUS: If the review violates the Google TOS, you can attempt to get it removed by asking Google for help. It’s unclear if Google always notifies reviewers that removal happened, but I don’t think they do. In your request for removal, always focus on how the review violates their policies. If you can connect the review to a specific policy “by name” your chances are much better.
- BONUS 2: Many awesome 3rd party review management tools have entered the market in the time since this post was first written. These tools allow you to gather up your reviews in a single dashboard to respond more quickly and consistently. Examples include Get5Stars, REviewtrackers, Grade.US, Reviewpush, and more.
Businesses with verified (MyBusiness) Google MyBusiness Pages (Google+ Local) can respond to their reviews inside that interface, and other review sites have similar features. With customers using online reviews as a part of the purchase decision, it’s more important than ever that you actively solicit reviews and manage them well.
Google’s Policy Change in April 2018 Regarding “Review Gating”
Update: Google’s policies changed in April of 2018 regarding solicitation of reviews and has prohibited the use of “review gating” systems that only accept positive reviews and take a different action for negative ones. You should avoid this at all costs now, and discontinue use of any software that does something similar. .Most commercial software has changed to comply, but we know of several in-house systems that are still doing it!
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- How Not to respond to negative reviews online.
- The Complete Guide to Negative Reviews & How to Build Trust
Face Image by Gee Vaucher / Flickr used under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)