How to deal with negative reviews

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With over 3 billion users worldwide, social media is an incredibly powerful tool for all types of food and drink businesses across the globe. It allows you to express the human side of your business and keep your audience up to date and entertained with news and engaging posts. But it’s not just social media that will gain your business valuable attention and relationships. Online reviewing giant Trip Advisor attracts more than 490 million unique visitors per month who are eager to see what other visitors think about your business before they commit to making a visit themselves.

For small food and drinks businesses, reviews can have an immediate knock-on effect on your bottom line given that 91% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. So what happens when negative reviews pop up? And how do you respond to those comments, whether they are warranted or not?

Here are our tips on how to reply to negative reviews without damaging your business’ reputation.

Don’t take the criticism personally

It can be difficult to detach yourself from your business… it is your business after all. But remember that the customer is not personally attacking you, they are reflecting on the experience that they had, which unfortunately left a sour taste in their mouth. Respond to their comments as a professional business owner, using empathetic and calm language to defuse the situation. Think about how you would react if the customer complained face-to-face, and apply that to your response online.

Always respond in a timely fashion

No matter how busy you are running your business, always make time to respond to your reviews online. Having an active presence shows that you want to interact with your customers, even the unhappy ones. It’s important to acknowledge every review and comment you receive online because it stays there forever for all your other potential customers to see. Set aside sometime each week to respond to new comments and reviews. Being punctual with your reply will reflect your high-standard customer service, and using a friendly and brand-oriented tone will personalize the response for the customer, but also maintain professionalism.

Restate the negative review

To an agitated customer, there is nothing worse than a standardized response. Be sure to restate the problem within your reply to show that you have fully absorbed their concerns. And to back yourself up, investigate the issue with your own team before you hit the send key to make sure that you have all the facts. This demonstrates to the customer that you have done your research, and can therefore offer a solution.

Don’t make excuses or be defensive

Sometimes, being honest with your customer about an issue can be interpreted as excuse-making and comes across as defensive. For example, if a customer leaves a bad review about how long they were waiting for their food, do not respond publicly by telling them that you were short-staffed that day. That is not the customer’s problem, and it makes your business seem poorly run. Instead, offer an apology and ask for them to contact you directly offline to resolve the issue.

Highlight your strengths

Don’t be afraid to show off your strengths or correct the customer if their information is slightly incorrect. They may have left a review which indicates you do not offer vegan dishes, when you do. Politely correct them, and even list your favourite vegan options. This should entice the disgruntled customer to come back, or at the very least, let other customers know that you offer vegan dishes.

An opportunity for change

Some negative reviews can offer a learning curve for your business and may even promote change in your structure or services. Taking the example from above, maybe your menu does not clearly indicate which dishes are vegan and needs a design refresh to highlight the fact you cater for different diets. The negative feedback can be viewed as an open invitation to generate creative solutions.

Work out the details privately

Finally, attempt to come to a resolution with your customer privately. Settling the score publicly online means that other customers can keep up with the gossip, and may encourage more negative reviews if others can see that you’re offering a discount or a freebie to apologize. Don’t be afraid to ask for verification from the customer when they contact you directly so that you’re sure it is the correct person you’re speaking with. This also creates a personal connection with the customer, because you’re showing that you are committed to rebuilding their trust in your business by valuing their opinion.

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