Responding to online reviews is an effective, yet often overlooked, strategy to improve SEO and promote business growth. Recent data from BrightLocal shows that 87% of consumers consult local online reviews, while 96% “also read businesses’ responses” — yet astoundingly, nearly a quarter of reviewers receive no response from business owners, with only 77% receiving a reply. In fact, just 35% of consumers reported receiving responses to all of their reviews in 2020, a noticeable decrease from 40% in 2019.
These figures represent missed business opportunities. From improving local rankings on Google to building invaluable consumer trust, there are numerous reasons why businesses should be responding to online reviews. That means business owners must start thinking strategically about when, how frequently, and in what ways to respond. The Harvard Business Review agrees, with one recent article noting, “Understanding how to respond to online reviews is essential for businesses across all industries.” Not “helpful” or “prudent” — “essential.”
This is particularly true when it comes to negative reviews, which typically involve an element of anger, disappointment, distrust, or all three. To help business owners overcome these formidable barriers — and in the process, retain valuable customer relationships — Harvard recommends following three simple strategies for responding to negative reviews. With a new year fast approaching, is your business keeping pace?
Recommendation #1: Respond Promptly to Negative Ratings and Reviews
Proper grammar, correct spelling, and basic courtesy are essential in every response you generate. However, language isn’t the only factor you need to consider when responding to reviews. Beyond its actual content, the timing of your response can also impact its efficacy. That means you need to be mindful not only of what you say, but when you say it.
So just how quickly should your business be responding? HBR doesn’t provide a specific answer, observing only, “The faster the manager responds to a negative online review, the faster the reviewer is appeased and prospective reviewers can see that the manager and the firm are dedicated to solving customer complaints in a timely fashion.”
Fortunately, other sources have been able to provide detailed and actionable data on this subject, such as BrightLocal’s 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey, which surveyed over 1,000 U.S. consumers during November 2020. According to BrightLocal — which asked about response speeds for the first time in 2020, providing a new set of insights to business owners — customers report a range of preferences and expectations. However, the data shows an overall preference for businesses to respond within one to two days, with a sharp drop-off after just one week. Here’s what BrightLocal’s research revealed:
26% — Within 2 days
20% — Within 1 day
15% — Within 3 days, within 1 week (tied)
5% — No specific time expectation
4% — Within 2 weeks
2% — Within 3 weeks
1% — Within 4 weeks, over 1 month (tied)
Ultimately, the longer you wait to pacify an unhappy customer, the more time he or she spends feeling negatively about your brand. The sooner you respond to his or her review, the sooner you can work on recovering the relationship.
Recommendation #2: Respond to Every Negative Review Your Business Receives
If you want to achieve optimal results, avoid the temptation to pick and choose the reviews you’d like to respond to. While cherry-picking reviews might be easier, you’ll likely obtain better results from consistency.
Harvard researchers agree. According to the authors of the HBR article, responding to all of your negative reviews is a sound strategy for minimizing “the potential loss of a significant share of customers.” By providing a friendly, helpful, and timely response, you can reassure potential customers that your business is reliable and transparent, mitigating some of the damage that the review may have otherwise caused.
Additional data supports this recommendation. In its 2020 survey, BrightLocal found that, while consumers had varying expectations for response speeds, nearly all consumers expected to receive a response. Only 9% of consumers said that “no response [was] expected” when reviewing local businesses, compared to the 76% who expected a response within either 24 hours, 48 hours, three days, or one week.
Remember, only 35% of consumers reported receiving responses to all of their reviews in 2020. Meanwhile, 18% said they received no response. As BrightLocal put it, “There is still a way to go to ensure all consumers feel listened to.” Make your business stand out as an organization that is willing to go the distance for its valued customers, simply by taking the time to offer a reply.
If your business has been inconsistent about responding to reviews in the past, now is the perfect time to reverse that trend and focus on building up customer relationships in 2021. Responding to your reviews gives you the opportunity to boost your Google rankings, improve customer retention, increase customer satisfaction, and reinforce your brand’s values — all cornerstones of growth and success.
Recommendation #3: Offer Solutions in Your Response
By acknowledging and apologizing to the customer in your response, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction. However, merely empathizing with the reviewer is not enough to demonstrate your commitment to his or her satisfaction with your brand. Your apology will be more impactful if it is supported by action — particularly if that action is both swift and effective in resolving the customer’s issue.
As HBR explains, by “providing a tailored solution to the [customer’s] specific complaint,” not only might you salvage the damaged relationship, but simultaneously show other readers that your business prioritizes customer service. Just as speedy responses demonstrate your respect for consumers’ time, thoughtful responses demonstrate your respect for consumers’ feelings and experiences around your brand. If potential customers see that you will make an effort to ensure their satisfaction, they will likely feel more comfortable taking a chance on your business.
Hire a Response Scribe from Shout About Us to Manage Your Business’ Online Reviews
Businesses can leverage their review responses to overcome negative perceptions of their brand, rebuilding positive and profitable customer relationships. However, many businesses find it challenging to manage their reviews and responses. Response management can be especially burdensome for national franchises and multi-location brands, which may operate hundreds or even thousands of branches.
Through our response scribe service, Shout About Us offers scalable solutions. We can generate as many responses as your business requires, ensuring that your customers receive timely, thoughtful replies that align with your brand values. Plus, our secure custom dashboards make it easy for your agency to organize and filter data. Send reviews to your dedicated response scribe with the click of a button, and let our team handle the writing for you.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter based on the East Coast.