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How to respond to online reviews of your small business

4-minute read

Lauren Hellicar

Lauren Hellicar

11 September 2018

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Deciding how to respond to online reviews can be a tricky subject for small businesses to tackle – especially when you don’t have a staff member dedicated to online reputation management.

Whether it’s via Google, Facebook, Trustpilot, TripAdvisor, or another one of the long list of sites available, there are plenty of ways for your customers to let the rest of the world know what they think of you.

Online review platforms like these also let potential customers know what it’s like to be a customer of your business, from those who’ve already been there. It gives clients faith that your business is trustworthy, offers good customer service, and isn’t trying to hide anything. That’s why it’s important to embrace negative as well as positive reviews.

Good or bad, the way you respond can seriously affect how people see you. While it’s always great to get a glowing critique with a five-star rating, one-star write-ups can happen. And while they may leave you feeling deflated or annoyed, you can't let it show.

But not replying is never an option. If you don’t respond at all, you can give the impression that you don’t care what your customers think.

So what’s the best way to deal with them?

How to respond to negative online reviews

Replying in a positive way to a negative review can lead that reviewer to change their bad review to a good one – just because you’ve listened, apologised, and acted, to get them a resolution they’re happy with.

negative to positive online review

Here are a few online reputation management tips to help you get into the right mindset when replying to a disgruntled customer.

We also have a detailed guide on how to handle customer complaints if you need more information.

Your checklist for handling negative reviews

1. Empathise

Remember – you’re dealing with a real person behind that screen. It can be all too easy to see a negative review as another faceless complaint, so remember to show understanding when you respond.

An apology – even if the customer’s issue isn’t directly your fault – can go a long way. It’ll help them feel like you’re on their side. Similarly, owning up to your mistakes will let customers know you’re honest – and human.

2. Do more than apologise

Always thank your customers for their online reviews – it’s just good manners. And while apologising is a good next step, a customer with a complaint is going to want a bit more than that. They’re going to want their issue resolved.

Make sure you do this, and also make it clear in your response that it's resolved. This'll give other customers faith that you’re not just all words and no action.

reply to negative online review

3. Be positive

Often you’ll be able to pick out some positive points from a review that also contains a complaint. When you respond to reviews like this, be sure to highlight and expand on those positives and reaffirm your company’s values.

For example, if you run a restaurant and a diner is complaining about their wait for their meal, you could use it as a chance to explain that everything your chef creates is prepared from scratch using fresh, local produce, which can take a little longer but is worth the wait.

4. Be consistent

If customers see a wide range of different styles of response to your online reviews, it won’t do your brand any favours. Try to keep your tone and personality consistent between reviews, even if there’s more than one of you managing your replies to online reviews.

Showing a sense of humour without being flippant can also be a good way to make a connection with your customers.

5. Get personal

Addressing the reviewer by name gives them reassurance that you’re not just copying and pasting a standard response you give to everyone. You can personalise your response further by signing off with your own name, which can help you engage more with your customer.

6. Take a step back – but not for too long

It’s important to reply to a customer who has submitted a review as soon as possible, to make them feel listened to. However, it’s worth taking a breath before you do.

Think about how different it can be to receive an email or a text message compared to speaking with someone on the phone or face to face. There’s a lot of room for each of you to misinterpret the other’s message, especially when you’re dealing with a customer who you don’t know personally.

Once you’re feeling calm, picking up the phone and giving them a call could clear up any confusion in seconds. But don’t forget to make it clear on the review site that this is how you’ve resolved the issue, so that other customers don’t think you’ve simply ignored a negative review.

7. Turn a negative into a positive

Rather than getting annoyed or upset by a negative review, take a deep breath, read it again, and decide you’re going to see it as a chance for you to improve your customer experience.

Remember – it’s possible to turn a negative review from something that puts off other customers into a positive review because of the way you handled the complaint.

How to respond to good reviews online

positive online review and reply

Don’t forget the positive reviewers. They deserve a big thank you for taking the time to leave encouraging comments about you. Replying to good reviews gives you the chance to highlight all the great things about your business to everyone, including potential new customers who're reading the reviews.

One of the advantages of social media marketing is that you can use your channels to share positive reviews and testimonials with a wider audience. You might not want to reveal the reviewer's name, but even just posting a screenshot of a positive review on your Instagram story can be a great way to highlight how your customers feel about your business.

Watch out for fake reviews

Unfortunately, sometimes people leave fake online reviews to damage another business's reputation. For example, a fake reviewer might leave a negative review about a meal they had at your restaurant, even though they've never dined there. Our guide on how to handle fake online reviews can help you work out what to do if you think something suspicious is going on.

Do you have any good tips on managing online reviews for small businesses? Let us know in the comments below.

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Lauren Hellicar

Written by

Lauren Hellicar

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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