“If I could give this place zero stars, I would. Our waiter was SO RUDE. Never coming back.” – Cheryl P.

Yikes! Negative reviews can happen to even the best businesses. Whether the review is an accurate reflection of your business or not, a negative online rating can impact your overall success. In fact, according to a recent infographic, “86% of people will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative reviews online.”

When your small business receives a negative online review, what should you do? Let’s walk through an appropriate response step-by-step.

How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

1. Determine if the review is real or spam. Not every review comes from an actual customer. While most social media sites won’t let you immediately delete a fake review, you can report spam comments.

2. Take a breath. Negative reviews can be incredibly disheartening—especially when you feel like you’ve been characterized inaccurately. Take a step back and breathe. The worst thing you can do is respond out of anger.

3. Create a list of common responses. Even if you rarely receive negative reviews, it can still be helpful to have a list of canned responses to use as a starting point. For example, “I’m very sorry to hear about your negative experience. That was never our intention. We appreciate your feedback and want to make it right.” Template responses can help you establish a respectful tone.

4. Personalize the response. Often times, a disappointed customer just wants to be heard. Which means, a canned response isn’t enough. Personalize the message and respond to the customer’s specific grievances. For instance, let’s assume you’re responding to the example at the beginning of this article.

You could write, “Cheryl, I’m very sorry to hear about your negative experience. That was never our intention. We strive to provide high-quality service to all of our guests. Please send us a direct message so we can make it right.”

5. Explain how you are fixing the problem. Whether you’re responding with a public comment, private message, or phone call, you should explain what steps you are taking to fix the issue. Do you no longer carry someone’s favorite cereal? Explain how the customer can request a product at their local store. Customer happiness is key to the success of your small business. If you’re working on a solution, share it with the dissatisfied patron.

Increasing positive reviews and responding to negative reviews go hand-in-hand. According to a PhoCusWright survey, “78% of respondents agreed that seeing management respond to reviews made them believe that they care more about them.” By replying to comments—both negative and positive—you can distinguish yourself as a business that cares about its customers.

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Electronic Merchant Systems is a registered ISO/MSP for BMO Harris Bank, NA, Schaumburg, Illinois, Esquire Bank, Jericho, NY, Merrick Bank, South Jordan, UT, and Chesapeake Bank, Kilmarnock, VA.