Responding to customer reviews and comments

Andy Durst

A bad online review is not the end of the world; it’s the beginning of better customer relationships.

Uh oh – someone just posted a negative online review of their experience at your company and it’s really, really bad. What will other customers think of you if they read it? How will it affect your overall ranking against your competitors? Unfortunately, it’s likely other customers will think poorly of you, and your ranking could fall. Many business owners fear these kinds of reviews and don’t know what to.

Don’t worry.  As the business owner, you can do something about it – simply respond to the comment with a genuine comment of your own. Responding to online comments and reviews – both bad and good – will work wonders for your business and show that you are a responsive, caring company to both the individual reviewer, and more importantly, to the countless other customers and potential customers who read the comments. Your response shows that you value feedback and take it seriously.

According to a September 2012 survey commissioned by TripAdvisor*, “78% of respondents said that seeing a hotel management response makes them believe that the hotel cares more about its guests. Over half of survey respondents also said that seeing a management response generally makes them more likely to book (versus a comparable hotel that did not respond to travelers).”

There are a number of places your business may pop up in online reviews, including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, Google+ ‘Local,’ Yahoo! Local Listings, Insider Pages, Citysearch, Consumer Search, the Better Business Bureau, and even Facebook and LinkedIn. While this list may seem overwhelming to think that people can review your business in so many places (and there are many more out there), you’re actually getting valuable information from real people who matter most to your business: your customers.  And for every review you get, good or bad, you have a great chance to respond to that customer directly and show you care.

Responding to negative reviews and comments is a balance of addressing criticisms, while at the same time not escalating negative feelings. Show that you care about their comments and appreciate the feedback, but don’t say outright that they are wrong, rude, lying, etc. Unfortunately, reviewers hold an important level of power in this situation. Try to mitigate through genuine engagement.

If you have a poor overall ranking on review sites that give rankings, don’t give up. They will not go away; but by giving your own response, it may have a positive effect on other reviewers when they give their own ranking.

Here are some tips for successfully engaging with your customers online by responding to comments and reviews:

  • Register on review sites as the company owner. This gives you the access you need to respond. There will be instructions on how to do this on the site.
  • Respond to both negative and positive reviews. Companies tend to focus only on battling negative reviews, but by thanking customers for their positive review and adding in a bit of extra information that directly relates to their comments, you are showing your personal attention to their visit and making their positive experience even better.
  • Thank customers for their feedback, which is valuable for your business to adapt and change to meet customers’ needs.
  • Be genuine. Let them know through your sentiments that you care.
  • Be professional, but show your company’s personality.
  • If you apologize, make it sincere. Do not give the token apology that you are “sorry if our actions offended you.” At the same time, do not go over the top with an apology.
  • For particularly vicious comments, be careful and brief. You do not want to inflame the situation. One strategy is to apologize that they had a poor visit and assure them that you work hard to make customers happy.
  • Address specifics from their review, but you don’t have to discuss every single issue they had.
  • Acknowledge when things go wrong (and they will) and what you did to help the situation. If you didn’t do anything at the time, perhaps reach out with an apology and a solution to try to get the customer back.
  • Be able to take the criticism if it’s warranted and work to make changes. If changes are made, do a follow up response with the original customer/review.

Work to drive more satisfied customers to leave a review. Remind customers to review their experience by adding widgets on your website, social networks, email marketing, or on in-store flyers, posters and other marketing materials.

You will probably find that once you start responding to online reviews, it’s actually kind of fun. You may receive a quick response back from them thanking you for your own comments – and remember, all of this will show up on the review site for all to see.

At the end of the day, remember to think of negative reviews as an opportunity: to respond to the review; to show others you care; and to improve your business.

*A commissioned survey conducted by PhoCusWright on behalf of TripAdvisor, “2012 Custom Survey Research Engagement.” September 2012.