When you get a negative review online, it can feel like the worst thing that’s ever happened to your business. Any local business owner who’s earned a less-than-shining review online knows what happens next… you begin fighting the overwhelming urge to respond immediately and right the wrong you’ve been dealt.

Note: In some instances, it may make sense just to leave the negative review alone. If a customer seems inconsolable or is blatantly exaggerating an issue you’re already aware of, it may be best not to respond at all.

But in most cases, responding to negative customer reviews online is going to be your best bet in showcasing your company as understanding, reasonable and fair.

1. Take a deep breath.

Say a little prayer. Do whatever you need to do to center yourself and calm your emotions. For local business owners, negative reviews can feel like a personal attack. Don’t let them get to you. Most customers who leave negative reviews do so for a few reasons:

  • They feel wronged and want some form of compensation for their trouble.
  • They want to inform you of where you fell short so you can get better in the long run.
  • They want to help other potential customers get the most out of their choices.

Notice nowhere on that list was “They hate your guts and want to propel your business into premature bankruptcy.” Though some customers who leave online reviews are genuinely displeased and unlikely to offer you their return business, most others simply want their voices heard.

2. Develop a strategy.

Though not every review should solicit the same response, develop a game plan for how to respond to negative reviews online. One strategy we’ve recommended in the past is to try to move the discussion offline as quickly as possible. You can ask them to send you an email with their phone number, for example. This works especially well if a commenter seems hotheaded or maybe even unreasonable, as you’ll keep an unnecessary back-and-forth from happening online. But this isn’t a one-size-fits all approach, as it can also appear secretive if used too frequently.

Another strategy is to have a few response templates you can lean on to address different types of reviews. Leave yourself enough room in each template to personalize it with each customer’s name and specific details of his concern. Then, offer the same type of compensation for similar types of complaints. This will make you appear as fair and consistent as possible. The key is to not sound too robotic (and don’t get lazy!). Take the time to slightly personalize each response, even if you use similar templates frequently.

3. Start drafting your response.

Be upfront, and address the review’s main concern openly and transparently.

When crafting your response, first things first. Greet the customer, and validate his or her feelings in the first or second sentence of your response, whether you agree with the negative review or not. You can do this using some of the example phrases below.

  • “Hi, Mary. I understand you received less-than-adequate service at your last visit to our restaurant.”
  • “Hello, Jake. At your last appointment with us, I see we missed the mark on the level of service we promised.”
  • “Julia – It’s clear we didn’t fully meet your expectations.”

Pro tip: Never, ever, undermine the complaint with a copout apology. When responding to a negative review, it’s tempting to offer a surface-level apology, especially if you disagree with a customer’s frustration or complaint. These copouts sound something like, “We’re sorry you believe our customer service wasn’t up to par.” Basically, if you find yourself apologizing for how someone feels instead of actions you took to make them feel that way, you’re offering a copout.

4. Avoid making excuses.

Even if you acknowledge you were in the wrong, it may feel okay to justify why you missed the mark. Avoid doing this if you can. Whether it’s fair or not, providing an excuse can give the impression you’re not fully owning up to the role you played in causing an issue.

You’re probably about to offer an excuse if you find yourself using language like:

  • “There’s no excuse for our behavior, but…”
  • “While we recognize your concern…”
  • “We typically don’t have this issue…”

There are plenty of other things you can say to ensure your response will tank. In a recent blog post, Yext let us in on specific words that could cause you major trouble when replying to a customer.

5. Structure the rest of your short reply.

Notice we said “short” reply. Try not to be too wordy in your reply – let’s aim for no more than 5, short sentences with easy-to-understand language. Here’s your recipe for the perfect reply:

  • Greet the customer by name (or screen name if applicable).
  • Acknowledge the concern or complaint.
  • Apologize for the misstep.
  • Either a) offer to make it better or b) promise you’ll do your best to ensure it’ll never happen again.

That leads us into step 6.

6. Make it right.

We’ve alluded a few times to the fact that most successful business owners who respond to negative customer reviews offer something to make it right. Like we mentioned earlier, try to make anything you offer as a remedy consistent and fair across the board. If you’re a landscaper and it’s not uncommon to bust a sprinkler line while on the job, don’t offer one customer a palette of flowers and another a complete redo of their yard. That’s sure to ruffle some feathers.

Make sure whatever you offer is relevant and easy to redeem. (Warning: Don’t offer a customer a free pizza during their next visit, but fail to give them a coupon or method for redeeming it, for example. There’s nothing more embarrassing than asking your server for your free pizza and being greeted with blank stares.)

Don’t have control of these negative reviews yet?

Some local business owners have yet to claim their business’s social pages or online listings, where these reviews are most likely to pop up. And guess what, if you fail to own these pages, you’ll fail in responding as well. (You won’t get notifications of reviews when they occur, and you won’t have the appropriate access to respond in your business’s name.)

Or, maybe you just don’t have the time to respond? We can help with all of it. Schedule a demo to chat about your online reputation today.