All reviews are important for your business — but some demand more attention than others. While a complaint about a cold meal or a long line might cost you a few customers, a complaint about a legal or safety issue might cost your entire brand.
To minimize the damage and help protect your image, it’s essential to ensure that your business is prepared with a clear strategy for dealing with legally sensitive reviews, such as reviews that allege racial discrimination, sexual harassment, health and safety violations, criminal activity, or other illegal or unethical actions at your company. Due to their sensitive content — and high potential for hurting your business — reviews of this nature require careful handling, particularly in cases where the reviewer has expressed intent to take legal action or report your business.
In this week’s blog post, our response scribes will walk you through some of our best tips and strategies for handling highly sensitive reviews. We’ll go over best practices for responding, alert you to some common mistakes, and provide you with examples of the types of phrases you can use.
How Should My Business Respond to Legally Sensitive Reviews?
Obviously, no business ever wants to encounter these types of reviews. However, the practical course of action is to make sure your company has protocols in place for dealing with them. This will empower your business to act swiftly and effectively in the event of a serious complaint. Read on to learn more about sensitive reviews, starting with some general do’s and dont’s of owner responses.
Review Response Basics: The Fundamentals
If you already know the basics, feel free to skip to the next section of this article, which covers four strategies for replying to legally sensitive reviews. But for those who are new to writing review responses (or who just need a little refresher), let’s start by covering some of the fundamentals. The following tips are best practices that apply to all of your review responses — not just those involving sensitive content. No matter what sort of review you’re responding to, you should always:
1. Use the reviewer’s name. If the reviewer provides their first name or full name, you should use their first name in your response. If the reviewer uses a nickname or email handle, you may use it in your response unless it is inappropriate or excessively lengthy — for instance, a nickname consisting of four or five words. If the reviewer is only identified as “Anonymous” or an ID number, omit it from your response.
Bonus Tip: Sometimes reviewers are “Anonymous” or labeled with an ID number, but include their name within the review itself — for instance, “My name is John and I have been a resident here since 2018.” In these scenarios, be sure to use the reviewer’s stated name to show that you have read their comments carefully.
2. Respond within 24 hours. Research shows that, as of 2020, a full 20% of consumers expect businesses to respond to their reviews within 24 hours. (Another 26% were willing to be slightly more patient, but still expected responses within 48 hours.) By responding promptly, not only are you helping your brand fulfill or exceed expectations, you’re also building trust by showing potential customers that your company provides swift and attentive customer service.
Bonus Tip: Have old reviews from days, weeks, or maybe even a few months ago? They’re still worth responding to, as we discussed in depth here. As the saying goes, better late than never. However, remember that the ideal time to respond is within 24 hours.
3. Thank the reviewer for their feedback. Data shows that most reviewers expect to be acknowledged, albeit within differing time frames. The report linked above shows that a mere 9% of consumers do not expect an owner response, versus the 20% who expect a response within 24 hours (or the 26% who expect that response within 48 hours).
Bonus Tip: Even if a review is extremely negative, you should still thank the poster. To help vary your responses, shuffle terms like “your review,” “your rating and review,” “your comments,” “your feedback,” “your experience,” “your concerns” (where applicable), or similar terms.
4. Personalize every response. As we discussed in a previous post, personalized content leaves a powerful impression. By tailoring each of your responses to its corresponding review, you show that your company actively listens to feedback and truly cares about the customer experience. On the other hand, using a canned or generic response creates the opposite impression (which may explain why “72% of consumers…only engage with personalized messaging,” according to Forbes).
Personalized responses also help reassure consumers that real team members — not bots, recordings, or automated systems — are there to help them out in case they have questions or something goes wrong. In fact, according to HubSpot and Microsoft, “90% of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether or not to do business with a company.” Additionally, data from Bain & Company shows that companies “can grow revenues between 4% and 8% above their market when they prioritize better customer service experiences.”
Bonus Tip: If you don’t have time to personalize all of your review responses, our professional response scribes can handle the writing work for you! Not only do our review responders save your team time and labor — companies who decide to leverage our custom review response service can increase their customer retention rates by as much as 43%, plus save up to 96 hours of in-house labor within the first 30 days.
Tips for Dealing with Sensitive Reviews (Including Examples)
You already know that you should include the reviewer’s name in your response, respond to the customer within 24 hours, thank the reviewer for sharing their feedback, and personalize your reply. Those are essential tips to help you get started — but they’ll only take you so far when it comes to crafting your actual response.
So, how can you build on those tips to approach the process of responding to a serious complaint or allegation against your company? What sort of phrasing or tone should you use (and, just as importantly, avoid using)? How long should you make your reply? And what else can you include to help make your response as polished and professional as possible?
1. Offer a sincere apology. Sometimes, business owners are hesitant to apologize to reviewers because they believe it will indicate “guilt” or incompetence. However, even if your business did not do anything wrong, you can (and should) still apologize for the customer’s negative experience. Apologizing for bad customer experiences shows that you care about your customers, are committed to improvement, and hold your brand to high quality standards.
Bonus Tip: There are numerous ways that you can apologize while still maintaining a tone of professionalism. For instance, you can say, “We are sorry that you were disappointed by your customer service experience,” “We understand your frustration and sincerely apologize for this issue,” or, “We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing an issue with your [ insert the appropriate product, appliance, utility, or other item/service ],” to provide just a few examples. If your apology is generic — for instance, “We are sorry to hear about this issue” — then be sure to personalize other parts of your response.
2. Encourage the reviewer to contact you directly. If a customer has taken the time to share their bad experience with you, it means that they want acknowledgement — and, ideally, solutions. In addition to thanking the reviewer for their comments, assure them that you are there to assist and invite them to continue the conversation with you. For example, you can provide a phone number and/or email address where they can reach your team. This strategy has three advantages: (1) it prevents further “airing of dirty laundry” in public by moving the conversation offline; (2) it shows that you have a helpful customer support team; and (3) it helps you keep your response brief, as we discuss in our next tip.
Bonus Tip: It’s wise to have an “escalation” system in place, meaning your responders should have an easy way to run sensitive reviews (and their responses) past your upper management team prior to publication. Our secure review management platform makes escalation effortless, ensuring that responses to delicate reviews will never go live without being approved first. Once you’re inside our Review Navigator, simply check off a box to give your team 24 hours — or unlimited time — to screen and edit review responses for any business location.
3. Keep it brief. If a customer has posted a lengthy rant against your business or staff members, you might feel tempted to defend your company by posting your side of the story — especially if the customer has left out or misrepresented key facts. However, it’s important to keep it brief and avoid going into excessive detail in your response. While you should personalize your response (“We are sorry to hear that you were disappointed by the service you received during your visit to our [ Town Name ] location”), you should not argue, debate, or make excuses.
Remember, the goal of your response is not to defend or explain your company’s actions, but to take the conversation offline so that the issue can be resolved. With that in mind, you can still use your response to reinforce the positive points about your brand, as our next tip explains in more detail.
Bonus Tip: Three to six sentences is generally sufficient for a response, as you’ll see in our example response at the end of this article. Don’t feel pressured to match the length of the original review (which in some cases, may be multiple paragraphs long).
4. Don’t forget the positives. It’s vital not to dismiss or ignore the customer’s complaints in your response. At the same time, it’s equally vital to portray your brand with positivity, professionalism, and an eye toward the future. While the goal of your response is to continue the conversation offline and demonstrate helpful customer service, it’s also an opportunity to highlight your brand’s commitment to continuous improvement.
Bonus Tip: When a reviewer is seriously upset — as is generally the case with sensitive reviews — it’s important to be compassionate, empathetic, and kind. Focusing too heavily on your company’s positive values may come across as insensitive or unhelpful, especially if the review is about an intensely negative experience. For that reason, you should mainly focus your response on informing the reviewer that you understand and are there to help, only making a subtle mention of your company’s positives. For example, you can include a sentence like, “We strive to deliver exceptional service and are here to help make your experience better,” which conveys your commitment to great customer service while — more crucially — providing the reviewer with solutions.
Ready to integrate all of these tips together into a response? Here’s an example, which responds to an imaginary complaint about safety in an apartment complex, to help get you pointed in the right direction. Remember that this example is only a starting point, and that variation and personalization are key ingredients in a successful review response strategy.
Hi [Reviewer Name], thank you for reaching out to our team with your comments. We appreciate your review, which helps us to deliver improved service to our valued [“customers,” “residents,” “community members,” or similar terms as applicable]. Our team is truly sorry to hear that your experience with our [description of the business, e.g. “our community” for an apartment complex] was not what you were hoping for. We understand your concerns about [the issue] and are here to help make your experience better. Please reach out [to us / to our “office,” “leasing office,” “customer service team,” or a similar term / to email@example.com or (000) 000-0000] so that we can work to resolve this issue promptly for you. We are grateful for your feedback and look forward to hearing more from you soon, [Reviewer Name].
Now, here’s how the same example response might look with more of the details filled out:
Hi Danielle, thank you for reaching out to our team with your comments. We appreciate your review, which helps us to deliver an improved experience to our valued residents here at Smith Apartments. Our team is truly sorry to hear that your experience with our community was not what you were hoping for. We understand your concerns about safety and want to assure you that the security of our residents is our priority. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (111) 111-1111 so that we can work to resolve this matter promptly for you. We are grateful for your feedback and look forward to hearing more from you soon, Danielle.
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Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.