If you read our blog or newsletter, you already know that we love to share tips on responding to online reviews. We’ve covered how to respond to negative reviews, how to respond to positive reviews, and how to improve your existing review response strategy. We’ve even taken a few deep dives into specific rating categories, breaking down the “do’s” and “don’ts” of responding to a 1-star rating or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, responding to a 5-star rating.
We’ll continue to provide you with more great tips on replying to positive and negative reviews, with a series of detailed guides coming to our website soon — but this week, we thought we’d shift gears to shine the spotlight on an often-neglected area of review response: responding to neutral reviews, such as 3-star ratings on Google or Yelp. We’ll explain why it matters, how to do it effectively, and how our review reply service can offer your business solutions.
Why Should My Business Respond to Neutral Reviews?
A recent survey found that in 2020, approximately 18% of consumers — nearly one in five — did not receive an owner response after reviewing a local business. The same survey found that only 35% of consumers received a reply “for every review they wrote,” compared to 21% who received replies to “over half” and another 21% who received a reply to “at least one review.”
In an ideal world, 100% of consumers would report receiving responses to every review — not a meager 35%. So what’s going on here? Why do so many reviewers receive replies to some, but not other, comments they leave for businesses?
There are likely many answers, from COVID-related understaffing to unclaimed Google My Business (GMB) listings. However, one possible explanation is that businesses tend to prioritize negative or positive reviews, while devoting less attention to neutral feedback like 3-star ratings. (Just search a phrase like “how to respond to reviews” or “responding to reviews” and compare how many hits mention “positive” or “negative” in their titles, compared to terms like “neutral” or “3-star.” Notice a difference?)
Maybe your business is currently engaged in the same type of strategy. After all, isn’t it more important to deal with unhappy customers and damaging reviews than it is to reply to lukewarm comments? Isn’t your team’s time better spent engaging happy, curious, or upset reviewers, instead of reviewers without strong opinions?
Not necessarily. While it might feel as though the most extreme reviews should take precedence, that type of selective triage strategy simply isn’t comprehensive enough to give you an edge over your competitors. On the contrary, it’s vital to ensure that all of your commenters receive replies, regardless of their initial tone or attitude toward your brand. Here are four reasons why you should take your neutral reviews as seriously — and respond to them as diligently — as your 1-star and 5-star ratings:
- Responding to reviews of any kind — whether positive, negative, or neutral — “can help build customer trust,” which in turn impacts your bottom line. But don’t just take our word for it; that’s quoted directly from GMB.
- Responding to reviews can improve your local SEO, potentially making it easier to rank in “local pack” results (meaning the top three results relevant to a search).
- Neutral reviews can create opportunities to advertise services, discounts, or other exciting company updates that would be inappropriate (or impossible) to include in responses to negative reviews.
- Last but not least, consider another quote from Google: “When you reply to reviews, it shows that you value your customers and their feedback.” By being friendly and helpful in your response, you can potentially turn a neutral attitude toward your brand into a positive one.
How to Reply to a Neutral Review or 3-Star Rating
Most neutral business reviews fall into one of three categories:
- The balanced neutral review. The reviewer says something positive about your business, but also makes a negative comment: they’re happy about one aspect of their experience, but feeling disappointed or frustrated with something else.
- The true neutral review. The reviewer expresses neither positive nor negative feelings, instead writing something like, “This place is okay,” or, “The service was alright. Not bad, not great.”
- The non-sequitur review. Occasionally, you might receive a customer review that seems to come completely out of left field. Its contents might be cryptic, bizarre, or outright baffling, such as a comment about something that’s completely unrelated to your business.
Let’s take a closer look at some strategies and points to consider when replying to each type of neutral review.
Responding to a Balanced Neutral Review
This type of review merges a positive and a negative comment into one, requiring you to address both in your response. That means you have to strike the sometimes-tricky balance between accepting praise gracefully, offering sincere apologies, and providing satisfying solutions. If you focus too much on the negative in your response, it can undermine and overshadow the good comments about your business — but if you focus too much on the positive, the reviewer will feel like you either didn’t read (or worse, willfully ignored) elements of their comment.
So how do you find the right balance? While you’ll need to personalize each response, these four basic elements can help provide core structure for a successful review reply:
- An acknowledgment. Greet or acknowledge the reviewer, setting a warm, personal tone for the rest of your response. For example, you can say, “Thanks for sharing your feedback, [Reviewer]!” or, “Hi Joey, thank you for leaving a rating and review for [Business Name].”
- Your appreciation. In addition to thanking the reviewer generally for their comment, you should also specifically acknowledge the positive aspect of their review. Depending on what they wrote, you could respond with something like, “We appreciate your kind comments about our [detail the reviewer was happy with],” or, “We’re truly grateful for your comments about [Employee Name] and will make sure we share your compliments with them!”
- An apology. You can phrase your apology in countless ways, but should make an effort to transition smoothly between acknowledgment and apology. For instance, after you acknowledge the positive, you could write, “We’re glad you feel satisfied with [our customer service / pricing / location / etc.] but are sorry to hear you’re having difficulties with [the reviewer’s issue],” or, “We sincerely apologize for [the reviewer’s issue] and want to ensure you receive the great service our team is known for providing.”
- A follow-up. Consider thanking the reviewer again, and invite them to contact your office or team so that you can resolve the issue. For example, you could close by saying, “Please get in touch with our office at your earliest convenience and a member of our team will be glad to assist you,” or, “Your satisfaction is important to us, [Reviewer Name], and we look forward to getting this resolved for you quickly!”
Responding to a True Neutral Review or Non-Sequitur Review
A truly neutral comment, such as “acceptable” or “decent,” calls for a slightly different strategy. Since there’s no specific complaint or issue to address, your response should instead aim to demonstrate that you’re eager to provide the exceptional experience your business is known for. Your goal is not to resolve a problem, but rather, to assure the reviewer you’re receptive to their feedback and sincerely want to deliver the best possible customer experience for them. To accomplish that goal, here are three elements you should try to include in your reply to a truly neutral reviewer:
- An acknowledgment. This part is the same as Step 1 above — but after saying thank you, it’s time for a different approach.
- An encouragement. While you don’t necessarily need to apologize, you should emphasize that you’re willing and able to improve by encouraging the reviewer to follow up with additional feedback. For instance, you could write something along the lines of, “We’re glad that you were satisfied with [your experience / your visit / relevant product / relevant service] and would love to hear some additional feedback about how we could improve our service even more.”
- An invitation. Inviting the customer back is a way to simultaneously show confidence in your business and provide friendly service. For example, you could close your response with an invitation such as, “We hope you’ll visit us again soon so that we can deliver the exceptional [feature / product / service / experience] you deserve!” Or, simply leave it at, “We hope we’ll have the opportunity to serve you again, [Reviewer]!”
These strategies can also be applied to non-sequitur reviews. Even if the comment is random, nonsensical, or irrelevant to your business, your response still provides an opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and courtesy — not only to the original reviewer, but to any person who might be reading your reply.
Request a Demo of Our Response Scribe Service for Agencies and Brands
If this all sounds like a bigger project than your business can commit to right now, don’t worry: our team can handle the work for you. Shout About Us offers a dedicated review response service to provide 100% of your reviewers with personalized replies within 24 hours of receipt. We also offer custom review management services, which are available separately from or combined with our response scribe feature depending on your needs.
Serving digital agencies and brands, Shout About Us offers scalable, seamless review and reputation management solutions for medium to large businesses. Contact us today to learn more, or book a demo to see it in action.
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.