How to answer negative reviews
How can you as an entrepreneur turn negative reviews into an asset for your business? What strategy should you have when responding to them?
In my role as CEO for Sonetel I have personally answered most negative reviews since over a decade. During this time our customer ratings have improved from Average to Excellent.
So what did we do right?
In this article I will share my best practice on how to answer negative reviews – and how to make them into one of the most important assets for your business.
An art form
Responding to negative customer reviews is an art form and balancing act, where the answers you give are intended for another audience than the person you are responding to.
You are in the spotlight. The tone and wording and your ability to handle the situation in a proper way and regain trust – leaves digital traces out there forever – so tread with care.
Remember that a problem well handled can be a fantastic opportunity for you to prove how great you are to work with. Everyone can make mistakes. Problems occur all the time. Everyone is fine with that. The differentiator is how you deal with the issues and how you communicate about them.
A disaster in the customer journey (for whatever reason) is in essence an opportunity for you to build a lifelong loyalty with the customer. An issue poorly handled – on the other hand – can kill customer relations and become a big warning sign for new prospects.
When answering reviews, you are on stage as the ambassador for your business, representing all the values you claim to hold true. Be certain that everyone is watching – and act accordingly.
When responding to a negative customer review, remember that there are two audiences that need to satisfy;
- The reviewer who wrote the negative review. This is in all honesty the least important recipient of the answer you write.
- All future prospects that are reading reviews as part of their evaluation of your business. This is your key audience, as the answers from you will be out there forever, forming hundreds of people’s views about your business.
Don’t let accusations and aggressive complaints be unanswered. Get the answer out there within 24 hours – or sooner.
This is critical if you want to turn the customer around – which almost always is possible – and get them to either delete their negative review – or upgrade it from a 1-star to a 5-star review.
Naturally it isn’t enough to answer the review at the review site.
Your customer service team needs to reach out to the customer via phone or email as well within the same timeframe.
Answer all complaints
It is very common that people responding to negative reviews jump to conclusions after a quick glance – and that they start writing answers before fully understanding all aspects of the review.
This commonly causes them to provide answers to only a portion of the complaints, and some times even miss out on the core issue.
This is a grave mistake which must be avoided at all costs. Missing to address a complaint will damage your business as it aggravates the customer, while being seen as a sign of incompetence or cover up by other prospects.
So, read the review carefully, several times, and make sure all issues get answered.
The reader should be left with a feeling that “Oh, OK, I understand what happened. Seems as if this company has done everything that reasonably could be expected from them and that they indeed are trustworthy and professional”.
Here are some practical steps to accomplish that:
- In case of unusual events/conditions.
Provide enough information to allow the reader to understand that the poor experience was caused by events/circumstances (that should be listed and explained in the answer) that you as a business reasonably could not have foreseen – and make it clear that actions are taken to avoid them from happening ever again.
- In case of apparent mistakes on your side.
Explain the conditions that caused the mistake, and take full responsibility for what happened, apologize, and make sure that the reader understands that the event is taken very seriously, and that actions are taken to avoid it from ever happening again.
- If the customer’s complaint is incomplete/misleading.
Provide sufficient information to balance the understanding of the sequence of events.
Quote internal responses explaining the reason for the event – naming the source of the information – or explain it yourself, in a way that makes it clear that you are 100% transparent.
The level of detail should be up to a level that allows the reader to fully understand the sequence of events and to regain confidence by either A) you admitting to your errors or B) by you proving your ability to handle events and processes in a professional and trustworthy way.
After delivering the facts – which should be overwhelmingly clear – be humble about the fact that there could still be aspects that you may be unaware of and that the customer may have information about.
This can be phrased as: “Let me know if you disagree with this description” or “Let me know if there is any aspect we have missed or described incorrectly”.
By being humble, instead of whacking the customer with statements saying they are wrong, you show strength – and also prevent the customer from becoming defensive and aggressive.
Ask if they have any remaining complaints
After providing information that should clear their doubts/misunderstanding, ask clearly if they have any remaining complaints.
«Please let me know if you have any remaining complaints or issues.»
The lack of response to such a question, is generally interpreted by prospects reading the review, as if there are no remaining complaints and that the issue was properly resolved.
Show that you want to help and are available
End the answer by making clear that your team is available to answer any questions the customer may have and resolve any questions. Make it clear that you are not the hinder for any further resolution.
New customers may be worried that you have evil intents – or even worse – that you are a scam.
To disarm such concerns make it clear that you always provide refunds if customers are unhappy with the service/products you offer, and that you (or your customer service team) are happy to help them with that.
Make it clear that you have no intention to keep or take their money or leave them in an unhappy state.
If the reviewer has made claims that you are a scammer or not trustworthy, politely refute these claims early on in your response.
“No, we are not a scam company…” No, that is an incorrect accusation….”
Mention the data/facts that you usually use to build trust with customers. «We have been in business over a decade…» «We have more than X paying customers in X countries» . You can even share your own LinkedIn URL or the LinkedIn URL of your CEO – and invite the reviewer to connect with you directly.
Refer to customer service
If the complaint is made without any prior contact between the customer and your customer service, refer them to customer service, and say that the team is there to help, and that issues may be resolved faster if they turn to support for help first.
Don’t share personal info
Don’t share email addresses, IP addresses, full names, phone numbers of the customer in your response. Masked data can be shared in the worst case (if necessary to explain any sequence of events) showing the first and last letters/digits, but should ideally be avoided as this can be seen as negative.
Keep your cool
Be 100% professional, service minded, and never let emotions dictate the answer written. Put yourself in the shoes of the Prospect reading your answer, and ensure that they are left with a feeling of trust after reading the review and your answer.
Be a real person
Don’t just sign with “Support” or similar. Give a full name and title, making it clear that your are a real person, and that you personally take full responsibility for everything written.
It makes a huge difference for the customer if they are dealing with a real person – or a «function». A real person is always better.
Appreciate the learnings given
Angry customers commonly represent a tip of an ice berg. For every complaining customer there can be 10 other customers having a similar bad experience – but not investing the time to tell you about it.
You should therefore value the negative reviews highly, as they truly allow you to adjust things in ways that can increase your revenue and make your business more successful.
You should express our sincere gratitude for the fact that they have taken the time to provide the feedback, as it helps you understand issues that other customers may face as well.
“I am really grateful that you are taking the time to share this feedback with us!” or “Thanks a lot for sharing this feedback!”.
The issues that caused the complaints may naturally be issues with your service, product, deliveries etc. that need apparent fixing – but it may equally often be misunderstandings or incorrectly set expectations which may be caused by the information you provide/or don’t provide in your onboarding or marketing material. Understanding the root cause of a poor customer experience/confusion/misconception- represents a significant opportunity for you.
Make sure that learnings are fed into the organization/Management and not lost.
This is one of the most important things you can do to make your ratings improve significantly over time, and the key reason why I have opted to answer all negative reviews myself during the last decade.
About the writer
Henrik Thomé is the Founder and CEO of Sonetel. He is a serial entrepreneur within Internet and communications since more than 30 years – with a passion for the customer experience.
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