How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews of Your Business

If you’re a regular visitor to our blog, you might recall our recent article discussing why it’s important to respond to online reviews. This time around, we’re shifting gears away from the “why” and toward the “how,” offering practical, step-by-step guidance on dealing with 1-star or 2-star reviews of your business. 

Using detailed examples, our response scribes will dig into the nuts and bolts of replying to customer feedback, illustrating dependable techniques for responding to bad reviews. We’ll start by breaking down a simple yet effective three-step approach, then graduate to a more complex five-step model for responding. Whether you’re completely new to the world of response-writing, or you’re an experienced business owner who’s simply looking for a brief refresher, this article is the perfect place to get started.  

Why Should Your Business Respond to Bad Reviews from Customers? 

Before we dive into the how-to’s of responding to online reviews, let’s take a step back and quickly reiterate why you need to reply in the first place. (After all, it’s tough to craft a skillful response if you don’t understand your response’s purpose.) 

Although no one likes to receive criticism about a company they’ve worked hard to establish, a negative review can provide you with actionable insights into your systems for operating, the product or service that you provide, or the conduct of your employees or contractors. As Google My Business explains, “Reviews from your customers can provide valuable feedback for your business, and” — here’s the important part for business owners“replying to reviews can help build your customers’ trust.” 

It’s crucial to remember that the customer is sharing their experience, and their perceptions of that experience are valid. It doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong — what matters is how they feel about their interaction with your business or brand. Your goal in writing a response is to empathize with those feelings, thereby diffusing the situation.

Think that’s a waste of your valuable time? Then prepare to be pleasantly surprised. In most cases, even a customer who is initially upset becomes reasonable and agreeable once he or she has been heard and believes that the company cares. And that isn’t just our opinion — it’s a fact that’s been established by statistical data. 

For example, consider Mack Collier’s research, which shows that among customers who “received a response from a company after posting negative feedback…33% turned around and posted a positive review,” while “34% deleted the original negative review.” In both cases, that’s a full third of the customers in question — not exactly an insignificant figure. As a business owner, can you think of any other situation where you could afford to ignore a third of your paying customers? 

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this topic, we suggest reading the article linked in the opening paragraph, which offers a comprehensive, research-backed look at the importance of responding. Otherwise, let’s move on to some step-by-step methods for replying to bad reviews. 

2 Ways to Respond to Negative Customer Reviews, Explained Step by Step

Below, we’ve presented two tried-and-true methods for replying to negative customer feedback. Whether it’s a blistering description of the work you performed, or a complaint about one of your workers or products, you can build better, more productive responses by following either of these approaches. 

Review Response Method #1: “The 3 A’s” 

Boasting revenue that exceeded $260 billion in 2019 alone, Apple is one of the most successful (and ubiquitous) businesses in the United States, claiming an impressive fourth place spot in the Fortune 500 list for 2020. Even if your product or service has nothing to do with smartphones and laptops, your business can still learn valuable lessons from the tech giant’s outstanding success — and Apple’s “3 A’s” of customer service are the perfect example. 

According to a recent article published on LinkedIn, the “3 A’s” refer to “a three-step customer service process which Apple employees live and breath and serve by.” Those steps, or “A’s,” are to Acknowledge, Align, and Assure — a process which, as LinkedIn explains, “can be applied to pretty much any problem, scenario, or circumstance a customer can throw at you.” 

To get a better understanding of this concept, let’s take a closer look at what’s involved with each of the “3 A’s.” 

  1. Acknowledge — In the “3 A’s” approach to responding, the first step is acknowledging the customer’s feelings. For example, if the customer is upset about being “scammed” or “ripped off” by your business — a common complaint across all types of industries — you can begin by simply recognizing the customer’s feelings. For instance, you could say something like, “I’m sorry to hear you were dissatisfied with our product,” or, “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.” Even if you do not agree with the customer’s complaint, your acknowledgment of the customer’s feelings signals that you care and are eager to resolve the situation. 
  2. Align — The next step is to align yourself with the customer — in other words, to empathize and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. For instance, you could follow your acknowledgment by saying, “We understand how disappointed you must feel,” or, “I can imagine how frustrating that experience must have been.” 
  3. Assure — After acknowledging and aligning, it’s time to assure the customer that your business has a plan to make things right. For example, you might close by stating, “We’ve applied a credit to your account, so that you’ll receive a discount on your next purchase,” or, “Please contact us so that we can discuss a refund.” Of course, the precise wording of your assurance will depend on the nature of your business and the details of the complaint. 

Here’s a quick visual cheat-sheet to help you remember this process:

Review Response Method #2: The Shout About Us 5-Step Approach  

The “3 A’s” approach is effective enough to be trusted by major companies like Apple. However, while this technique is reliable, it isn’t the only approach out there. As an alternative, you might wish to consider following our five-step process, which is slightly more nuanced than the basic three-step system outlined above. Here are the five steps we recommend taking: 

  1. Greet — If the customer has shared their name, we recommend beginning with a personalized greeting. For example, you can say something like, “Thanks for your feedback, James,” or, “Hi, Sarah! Thank you for sharing your experience with our team.” Feel free to skip this step in cases where the customer has not provided a name, or has provided a nickname (such as “BostonFan”). 
  2. Recognize — Next, offer recognition of the customer’s experience — for instance, “We sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding.” This step closely parallels the “Acknowledge” step described in the “3 A’s” process. 
  3. Reinforce — After recognizing the customer’s complaint, try to reinforce your business’ positive attributes or values. For example, you might say something along the lines of, “We are committed to ensuring that our customers are 100% satisfied with our products” — of course, tailoring your word choice to the customer’s specific feedback.  
  4. Share — Fourth, be sure to communicate that your business is taking action to resolve the customer’s complaint — for instance, by promising to share the customer’s feedback with the appropriate department head. This step is similar to the “Assure” stage of the “3 A’s.” 
  5. Close — Last but not least, tie up your response with a closer that reiterates your commitment to the customer. For instance, you could say, “Once again, we apologize for the negative experience. We hope we’ll have the opportunity to speak with you soon.” 

In summation, just follow the handy infographic below: 

One final caveat before we wrap up: while the techniques above both offer useful templates, it’s critically important to avoid repetition and ensure that every response is personalized. Remember, your goal in responding is to demonstrate that you care — and nothing will undermine that goal faster than copy-pasting page after page of identical, vague responses. 

Crafting thoughtful, unique replies requires time and effort. However, that’s precisely what customers expect from your business. By falling back on generic language, you risk making an already unhappy customer feel devalued or expendable — and permanently losing out on business in the process. 

Does Your Digital Agency or Brand Need Help Replying to Online Reviews?

Don’t waste valuable opportunities to retain old customers — or attract new ones. Instead of ignoring online reviews (or falling behind as the comments pile up), hire a dedicated response scribe from Shout About Us to craft customized responses for your business. 

Serving digital marketing agencies and brands in a wide range of industries, Shout About Us specializes in responding to customer reviews with 24-hour turnaround. Whether you’d rather take control by managing your own dashboard, or you prefer a more hands-off approach, we offer streamlined, scalable solutions to fit any budget. Contact us today for a demo and pricing.

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