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How to respond to negative reviews on Yelp

By Tim Jameson

The right response can turn complaints into kudos.


YelpYelpOften, customers will leave online reviews that are unwarranted or over the top. Something about the experience they had with a company gets under their skin and they are overcome with anger toward the company.


They might decide to leave a review in which they exaggerate the negative experience they had or they might even leave a review that is a downright lie. No matter what an angry customer writes, companies need to be ready to address these reviews.


When responding to a negative review, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it. Here are some tips for responding in a way that keeps the peace with your upset customers:


1. Respond promptly.

Customers will appreciate you getting back to them quickly. If you wait too long, the customer may move on from you forever. However, if you’re still angry, don’t respond right away; you’ll most likely come across as defensive or rude (or both). Wait a day or so to cool down and think about what you want to say. Run your response by others who can see the situation objectively and without emotion.


2. Apologize.

This seems obvious, but it’s important to actually start with the apology to set the tone with the customer. Follow Axia Public Relations’ apology model as appropriate, depending on the overall impact and reach of the situation.


3. Let the customer know you actually read his review.

Do this by referencing, addressing and solving his specific complaint.


4. Defend your company without sounding defensive or aggressive.

Defensiveness and aggression will always reflect negatively on you. Though this can be hard to do, it’s important for those reading to see you stand by your company.


5. Ask for suggestions on how you can improve.

Your customers are your best sources for ideas and innovation. Give them your contact information. Work to correct any problems and engage in productive dialogue.


6. Offer the customer recompense for the trouble.

Depending on the situation, a quick way to mend a relationship with an upset customer is sometimes just to offer a complimentary product or service. It could be as simple as a buy-one-get-one offer or a small discount. Just make sure you follow through with your promises.


How do you know what will make the customer happy? Just ask! “What would make you happy?” Put her in the driver’s seat to make a decision that would please her. It’s often less painful a process than you’d expect and customers typically request less than you would have originally offered on your own.


7. Keep it short, sweet and simple.

Though this can vary depending on the length of the customer’s review, it’s usually a good idea to get straight to the point with the customer. This will get your point across without letting anyone misinterpret anything.


For example, a salon customer was unhappy with her experience and left an ugly one-star review. The owner professionally responded with this:

Screenshot 2015-07-28 10.33.13.png Screenshot 2015-07-28 10.33.31.png


In her response, the owner:

  • Began by setting an apologetic tone with the customer

  • Addressed a specific complaint and defended her salon by explaining the tardiness policy

  • Mentioned the customer’s other complaint (that the service was poor) and offered a complimentary service to fix the issue

  • Left her personal email address so the customer could reach her

  • Signed the message with a personal touch

While she didn’t keep it very short, the owner demonstrated to the customer that she took a personal interest in looking into her issue and finding a way to resolve it. The owner also let the customer know that she didn’t think she was being unreasonable by saying, “My understanding is that this is what happened with you, and I know how frustrating that can be.” This is a great way to connect with customers and show them that you really understand what they’re going through.


Here’s another example of a professional response by an owner to a customer who was upset with a used car he had purchased:

Screenshot 2015-07-28 12.33.20.png


The owner of the used car lot was concise, apologetic and gave personal contact info to resolve the issue promptly. He responded quickly and addressed the customer’s specific concerns, and he managed to do it all in a single paragraph. This keeps busy readers interested and gives them less of a chance to misinterpret anything.

However, one thing the car lot owner should improve on is his grammar. It never looks good to have noticeable grammatical issues in an official response, so make sure you re-read your responses carefully before posting them.


Alternatively, you could hire a public relations firm to manage these communications. A good PR firm will have a seasoned copy editor on its team.


Good owner responses to negative reviews not only help appease and retain unhappy customers, but they also help bring in potential future customers. Professional, apologetic responses show potential customers the lengths you’ll go to for them and for all of your customers – that’s good PR and even better business.


For more tips on how to get your business to the head of the pack and increase visibility and profits, check out Axia Public Relations’ 60-Second Impact.

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Tim Jameson is studying management at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He plans to graduate with a Bachelor of Business Administration in fall 2015. In his spare time, Tim loves to fish and go to Atlanta Braves games.

Featured image credit: Creative Commons

Topics: public relations, ReviewMaxer, online review management

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