Reputation Management

How To Respond To Online Reviews: Don’t Screw It Up

By April 27, 2017 2 Comments

How you respond to online reviews can be the difference between thousands of dollars of lost or earned business. Don’t screw it up.

Twenty years ago, customer reviews of your business were most often spread by word-of-mouth. This limited the beneficial impact of positive reviews and the damage of negative reviews to anyone customers told about their experience.

Now, customers share their feedback online to your company Facebook page, Google Maps listing, and Yelp page, broadcasting their opinions to thousands of your potential customers.

Reviews are often the deciding factor between these potential customers becoming your paying customer and your competitor’s. Online reviews have really caught on—in fact, 88% of consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

If you’re the type of business that frequently gets 5-star reviews, congratulations! Your product is so great that customers are motivated to spend their time typing reviews for people they don’t even know.

If you’re the type of business that has less-than-stellar reviews, don’t fret. You can mitigate the business impact by responding to the reviews and making changes to your business to avoid similar concerns in the future.

It takes 12 positive customer experiences to outweigh one negative experience, so it’s important to take customer complaints seriously.

Ignoring customer reviews is one of the most common mistakes small businesses make on social media.

It’s hard to deliver the perfect experience every time for every customer. You can have a great business yet still attract whiny reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc.

At least the sites are nice enough to give you the ability to respond to reviews. It’s only fair, right? Reviews are associated with your online profile forever. You should have the opportunity to tell your side of the story in response to negative reviews.

Your response can either encourage potential customers to give your business a shot or solidify their decision never to give you a cent.

I’m here to help you respond to reviews in the best way possible. I don’t want your potential customers to miss out!

Most of this post covers how to respond to negative online reviews. I’m assuming that’s why you’re reading this. There’s no doubt responding to positive reviews is easier. Nonetheless, I’ll cover positive responses at the end.

How To Respond To Online Reviews

I’ll start with a general template for your responses to negative reviews.

  1. Acknowledge the complaint.
  2. Apologize their expectations weren’t met.
  3. Solve the problem.

Starbucks trains its baristas to respond to customer complaints using the “LATTE” methodlisten to the customer, acknowledge the complaint, take action to resolve the issue, thank the customer, and explain why the problem occurred.

Our model here is basically the online reviews version of the LATTE method. If you don’t take my word for it, take it from Starbucks, one of the greatest companies at driving customer loyalty and satisfaction.

As we review these tips for how to respond to online reviews, keep this general model in mind: acknowledge, apologize, solve the problem.

Don’t take it personally

I’m not going to say this is easy. If you’re a small business owner, you’re proud of your product—your life’s work. You should be!

Even if you’re a general manager of a chain location, you still invest a great deal of passion and energy into the company. And you certainly don’t want negative reviews making you look bad to corporate.

Here’s the thing: you can’t take negative reviews personally. If you do, you probably won’t respond constructively.

Sometimes, customers post negative reviews because they really had a bad experience and want to save other customers from the same woes. Sometimes, people are high-maintenance and have unreasonable expectations. And sometimes, they’re just irrational.

Whatever the case and whatever their comments, don’t take reviews personally. You’re not going to make everyone happy every time—it comes with the turf.

Instead of taking negative reviews personally, try to understand the customer’s point of view.

If the customer is complaining about a higher-than-expected price, where did their expectation come from? Could your website, menu, or sign be misleading? Was the product not “worth it” in their eyes?

If the negative review is about something out of your control, like long wait times, what could you offer to encourage the customer to come back? Why do you think they’re blaming you for this? Of course, long wait times are frustrating for everyone.

Chances are, the customer is not mad at you, they’re mad at the experience they had at your business. Even if they are personally attacking you, they’re still most likely criticizing your work more so than you as a person, even though it may not seem that way.

Keep it professional. Don’t respond in kind. For example, if the review is “these cheapskates served ridiculously small portions,” you probably don’t want to respond, “maybe if you weren’t so overweight.”

This could bring you momentary satisfaction and amusement; in the process, you’ll look petty to future customers.

Here’s an example of responding to a negative personal review in the best way you can:


I ate at Joe’s Restaurant and Joe was an absolute ass. He scoffed at me when I ordered, took forever to serve my food, and waited 15 minutes before closing my tab. I’ll never give Joe another cent!


Kevin, I’m sorry your experience at the restaurant didn’t meet your expectations. We want to get it right every time, but sometimes we fall short. We’d love another chance to provide the prompt, punctual service you’re looking for. Stop in again any time for a free drink and appetizer on me.


Notice Joe didn’t really acknowledge the disparaging comments and just offered a generally pleasant, constructive response. Chances are, Joe would love to never see Kevin again. But it’s important that other customers see the attempted solution.

Cool off before you respond

Angry customers often post reviews quickly. Sometimes they might even start tapping away at the table.

You can get notifications from Facebook and Google as soon as reviews are posted.

If a disparaging review has you fuming, don’t reply immediately. Wait until the next day or whenever you can write an objective “customer service”-oriented response. You’ll be glad you waited!

One article puts it quite nicely: “do you want to be right or rich?” Take off the gloves and respond in a manner that builds your business.

Your response is for other customers, not the reviewer

When we talked about Kevin’s review of Joe’s Restaurant, Joe offered a free appetizer and drink.

While Kevin may be the real loser and Joe may never want to see him again, the drink and appetizer aren’t really for Kevin.

If another customer sees Kevin’s review without a response from you, they might think your business ignores or dismisses customer complaints.

Or worse, if another customer sees a response where you spat back, they’ll likely see you as an arrogant business owner who thinks you’re always right.

Customers like to know they can get a refund or get their problem resolved if something comes up. Seeing you work with other dissatisfied customers will make them feel safer giving you their money.

Zappos, an immensely successful online retailer, is acclaimed for its generous return policy. Customers have a year to return products for a full refund, which instills strong consumer confidence. This strategy has helped them grow to over $2 billion/sales per year.

Explain your side of the story without being too defensive

Your artful response should explain your side of the story without overreacting.

There’s a fine line between standing up for your business and attempting to discredit anything the reviewer said.

The former can help other customers relate to you and view your business positively. The latter might make them relate more to the negative reviewer.

Let’s talk about a hypothetical venue called Oasis Nightclub at which DJ Waves played a show last Saturday. Erin is an angry customer who voyaged to the nightclub but couldn’t get in.

Over to Erin:

I spent over an hour driving to Oasis Nightclub last Saturday to see DJ Waves. I was so excited for the show as he’s my favorite DJ. But DON’T EVER GO TO OASIS NIGHTCLUB! I showed up and the rude bouncers told me the show was sold out and I was out of luck.

I would have bought tickets in advance, but I saw nothing on Oasis’ website or Facebook page. What a waste of a night! I’ll see DJ Waves when he’s at another venue, but I’m never wasting my time on Oasis again.

Wow, sounds awful. No one wants their time wasted and this review could make prospective customers nervous about going to a show at Oasis.

The nightclub operator could respond by basically calling Erin an idiot and blaming her—which may be true. However, here’s what I suggest:

Erin, we’re sorry you didn’t get to see DJ Waves at Oasis last Saturday. We work really hard to avoid this situation. We updated the cover photo on the event page with a ‘sold out’ message, took down all the ticket links, and left a message on our voicemail indicating the show was sold out. We also sent an email to our mailing list and updated our website, because we know DJ Waves is popular.

We hope you’ll consider seeing a show at Oasis in the future. Please give us a call or send an email to confirm availability. We make an extra effort to monitor these on show dates.

Let’s break it down:

  • The nightclub operator acknowledged Erin’s frustration without pinning the blame on her.
  • The response implies Erin was negligent without attacking her or making it personal.
  • The response tells other customers how to get show information, alleviating any concerns they may have developed after reading Erin’s review.

If you respond like this, you may not win over Erin, but that’s OK. You just may win over thousands of other review readers.

If you messed up, acknowledge it

This is where humility comes in. Everyone likes humility.

If you really did screw up, don’t try to brush it under the rug. Remember the model—acknowledge, apologize, solve.

Customers may become apprehensive if they read five reviews about your business messing up, and each of your replies focuses on how the customer was wrong.

Don’t hang an individual employee out to dry either. This makes you look just as bad.

Accept blame and move on to the solution.

This is how I recommend apologizing in any situation, not even just professionally.

If you didn’t mess up, still reply with a “customer service” mindset

Remember: your response is for other customers, not the reviewer.

Even if a customer is lashing out about something completely unreasonable, keep your cool and respond professionally and succinctly. As we discussed before, don’t take it personally, acknowledge the customer’s situation, then suggest a recourse.

Now you’re a florist whose Yelp profile just got a review about a plant that died two days after you sold it. It’s pretty obvious the customer just didn’t care for it properly, but they blame you for selling a bad product. Your response might be:

Alex, you murdered the damn thing. Try to be more compassionate to your plant next time.

Wait, wait, maybe not. Try this instead:

Alex, we’re sorry your plant died. This particular plant should last for three months with proper care. Stop back in and chat with one of our specialists for tips about caring for the plants – it can be tricky! We also have brochures which might help. Your home deserves to have one of these plants, so mention this review and we’ll give you 50% off your next purchase. Have a great day and see you soon!

This response is constructive and attempts to bring him back in the store. This could be a win for Alex and a win for other customers who now know you offer plant-care tips.

Focus on the solution, not the problem

If the negative review refers to an individual incident, offer an individual solution: a refund, next meal free, etc.

If the negative review refers to a general problem about your business, location, or processes, talk about how you will fix it in the future.

In our response formula, I’d suggest spending just a few sentences acknowledging the customer’s situation and apologizing. Then the rest of your response should focus on the resolution and next steps.

You might not want to give away more product to a seemingly ungrateful person—but again, this offer you post in public is for other customers’ confidence in your product. Your angry reviewer may not even take you up on it.

You can find a way to offer something back to the customer that minimizes the cost to your business. You don’t have to offer a $250 gift card.

Your options might include a full or partial refund, a certain percentage off their next purchase, a free upgrade to your VIP package/product, and so on.

Customer confidence is important—be like Zappos! Your response will keep new customers coming in.

Be brief

You might get passionate and want to write a novel, but don’t do this. I suggest keeping your response fairly concise. Don’t write five paragraphs. This could give the customer ammunition for an even angrier followup.

Instead, stay in the range of 5-10 sentences. You should be able to acknowledge the situation, apologize, and offer resolution with that length.

You don’t want to be overly brief as this might be perceived as a brush-off, which would defeat the purpose of your response. Focus on the general theme of the review and the customer’s feeling rather than every detail.

One response is generally enough

Don’t go to war with the reviewer. After your first response, the customer may disregard you or may respond privately or publicly. If they respond publicly, I’d suggest disregarding their response or offering a one-sentence followup but nothing more.

For instance, if the customer leaves an even longer, angrier response to your review, you might feel compelled to respond again.

Don’t play ping pong with online reviewers.

This will just add fuel to the fire. Feel free to respond to refute any outlandish claims they may have made. If their response is “whatever,” just ignore it. If their response is “I’m never giving you another CENT again!” then you can leave a quick “I’m sorry you currently feel that way. My previous offer stands if you ever change your mind!”

Don’t give the customer a homework assignment

I see businesses screw this up all the time. For some reason, airlines are notorious. Irate customers write negative reviews, then the business responds telling them to send a message to an email address or call someone.

See the problem? The customer already spent their time once reporting their experience. Don’t make them spend time again. You should spend the time to make it right.

When customers complain to their server they don’t like something about their food, how do you handle it? Does your server make it right for the customer or do you send the customer back to the kitchen to talk to the chef?

You may think this is a humorous example. Perhaps it’s even a dangerous example as the chef is armed with knives (I can see the headlines now: Undercooked Steak Complaint Results In 3 Customers With Stab Wounds).

While stab wounds may not be a risk with online reviews, your customer may develop a vendetta!

Make it easy for your customers to follow up with you to maximize the odds of a successful resolution.

Respond to every negative review

Yes, seriously. Facebook, Google, and Yelp use algorithms to feature different reviews. The most recent reviews won’t always be at the top. So if you respond to some reviews but not others, there’s a risk prospective customers will see the reviews you didn’t acknowledge.

There is a valid response to every review. Again, it’s important for potential customers to know you care about their opinions and will work with them if they are dissatisfied with their experience. Negative reviews you didn’t acknowledge could make you look negligent or apathetic. This just might lose you future sales.

Respond to positive reviews too

I wouldn’t say you need to respond to all positive reviews, but this is great too. One-sentence responses to positive reviews are appreciated! The whole purpose of your online presence is to get the word out about your product or service. You can best do this by making your customer base look like a community.

Even “thanks!” suffices. You can throw in “can’t wait to see you again” or “loved working with you” or similar. If you remember specific details about the customer, throw that in too for bonus points. (“Glad you enjoyed your meal! You’ll have to stop back in for that guacamole burger we talked about!”)

To Sum Up Online Reviews

While this post is your playbook for responding to negative online reviews, you should spend your time considering whether changes to your business are in order.

For every customer complaint, there may be 26 other customers who have the same issue. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the reviews as whiny, baseless complaints.

This strategy for responding to reviews could just be your secret weapon. You can’t entirely avoid negative reviews no matter how great your business is. It’s going to happen.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll look like a pro while your competition looks like amateurs.

Feel free to get in touch with us for advice if you have a specific review you can’t figure out how to handle. We’ll get back to you quickly!

Brian Robben

Author Brian Robben

More posts by Brian Robben

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • This was a great article explaining how to go about responding to reviews and other responses. I appreciated the way you gave people tips to not dismiss responses, but to see if other people have the same issue. Top 10 reviews have a lot of potential and reading them will only help.

    • Brian Robben says:

      Thanks Alexandria! We believe businesses who respond to reviews come off as more genuine and present a better face to consumers.

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