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“Have a nice day,” you smile and nod as your customer steps out the door. Taking a deep breath, you turn and move on to helping the next person in line.

You go about the rest of your day, business as usual. Once you get home, you notice you have an email waiting in your inbox. You open it and your stomach drops. You just got a new negative review on Google.

“What? No way,” you think as your thumbs scramble to open your mobile Internet browser and type in your business name. The results load and sure enough your perfect 5-star rating has just been lowered to four stars.

You read the review and you feel your head start to spin.

“What are they even talking about – rude? I was so friendly,” you exclaim.

You can’t believe this is happening. You just started asking people to review your business and this one is full of over-dramatization and plain lies. Surely your online reputation is ruined forever, right?

Well, it could be. But that all depends on you and how you respond to the review.

After reading a negative review, there are a few different steps you could take:

  1. You could ignore it, write your customer off as crazy, and focus on getting as many positive reviews as possible to bury it.
  2. You could respond immediately and emotionally, calling them crazy to their face and ruining any chance at a future relationship with this customer.
  3. You could wait a few minutes to let your emotions settle, consider all the angles, and craft an appropriate and apologetic response to repair both your relationship with your customer and your online reputation.

While the decision is completely up to you, we would strongly recommend the third option.

The thing is, crafting a great response to a negative review can be difficult and time-consuming. At this point, you may feel personally attacked and tempted to go into defensive mode. That’s why, before you make your response, it’s best to clear your head and separate yourself from the feedback.

Once your emotions are in check, it’s time to draft up the right response. There are many ways to do this and your response will vary based on the content of the review, but here are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind while you write it:

  1. Thank them for their feedback
  2. Reinforce any positive aspects of the review
  3. Address each negative aspect directly
  4. Invite the customer back
  5. Keep your tone empathetic and professional

1. Thank them for their feedback

Upon first glance, you may be concerned about the impacts this review has on your company’s reputation. After all, as a small business, you know how much word-of-mouth counts as you get your name out there. Even a spark of negative feedback could damage your previously trustworthy business.

The last thing you want to do is say thank you to someone who lowered your average star count, but that’s exactly what you need to do.

Think about it: your customer took time out of their day (something we all have less and less of) to leave feedback about your business. Their intentions weren’t to ruin your reputation, but rather to help your future customers have better experiences than they did.

In fact, they’ve provided valuable feedback which you can use to improve your business’ offerings and customer service. They’re also giving you a chance to have a dialogue with them and prove yourself to future customers.

So yes, thank them, and mean it. This doesn’t have to be very long – the first sentence will do.

2. Reinforce any positive aspects of the review

If there are any positive points within the review, make sure you emphasize them in your response. You can mention how excited you were when you found that location for sale, how you pride yourself on your Quality Assurance team, or how much effort you put into building your site.

This brings the attention back to the positive aspects of their experience and reminds them of why they should come back (once the negative aspects have been addressed). This portion should be slightly longer: about 1-2 sentences long.

3. Address each negative aspect directly

This is the most important part of your response. It breaks down into two parts: apologizing for their experience and explaining what you will do to rectify it.

For example, if a review says:

“The wood is terrible quality – it snapped as I was trying to put the piece of furniture in place.”

Then you can respond with something like:

“I’m sorry for your troubles – it sounds like setting it up was not as easy as it should’ve been. I’m going to speak with my Quality Assurance team lead today to find out what happened in the quality check and see what we can do to get this right for the next round of orders. If you send us an email with your information, I’ll send you an update once we get this rectified and send you a replacement.”

The next step, of course, is to actually follow through with what you have promised. As a small business owner, you have the power to implement these repairs and make changes much quicker than a corporation could.

Use this feedback as an opportunity to improve your operations and customer service. If you’re selling wood products, you can go directly to your factories and find out how you can improve your products so they don’t snap as easily. If you sell your services, you can implement systems to make sure every experience is seamless.

Because this is the most important section, this will take up most of your response. About 75% should be dedicated to addressing each individual issue (if there are more than one) and explaining how you will be fixing it.

It’s important to note that not all issues will require sending a free product, restructuring your production, or firing your entire customer service staff and finding replacements.

Instead, focus on what would make this customer and all future ones the happiest. It might just be sending a replacement piece, issuing a refund, replacing a small screw on your products, or conducting a short customer service training session.

As you go through this response, remember it’s not about admitting you’re a terrible business; it’s about making sure your customers know they are as important to you as they should be.

4. Invite the customer back

If there’s a timeframe for when these improvements will be made, include that in your response. For example, if you know you have a new shipment arriving in three months (with the repairs), let them know when to expect them.

Then, invite them to come back once you’ve done what you can to improve the experience. If you can, gather their personal information and personally invite them to come back to try out the experience at a discount and provide honest feedback on the changes you’ve implemented.

If they decide to take you up on it, you now have a new product/service beta tester who you know will be brutally honest about their experience. It’s a win-win situation.

This should take another sentence or two right at the end of your response.

5. Keep your tone empathetic and professional

Throughout the response, do your best to maintain a calm and objective tone. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The more professional, appreciative and helpful you are, the more confidence future readers will have that you will do everything in your power to ensure they have a positive experience.

If it helps, remember this: it’s not about who’s right or wrong. Instead, it’s about how you can rectify the situation and use this as an opportunity to reaffirm your brand message and generate new loyal customers.Before you can respond to reviews, you need to gather them. We’ve found that small businesses don’t like asking for reviews because it can often feel awkward, pushy, and time-consuming.

With our app, it’s easy to send a link to the review right on the spot, even if you operate in multiple locations. Once your employees have downloaded it, they can send a custom link to your customers’ phones within seconds of completing their transaction.

Not only does this give you a better chance of getting that Google review even before they leave, but you will also be able to capitalize on the personal connection that your employees have established with the customer.

Download the free app and start using it for your business today.