How NOT to Respond to Customer Reviews: 8 DON’Ts From a Recent Case Study

Cindy G.Customer Behavior, Customer Reviews, Negative Reviews, Reputation Management, Yelp1 Comment

Photo by Bob Walker provided under a CC license

Anytown, USA: A customer (who also happens to be an active Yelper) is enjoying a sandwich at his regular haunt: a small local burger joint that also doubles as an arcade.
Enter a gleefully screaming child, whose behavior continues uncorrected by parent nor staff for the length of our customer’s meal, souring his dining experience. He takes to Yelp to complain.

The kicker? He likes the place. His two-star review first mentions the many positives of the restaurant’s food and service – things that have kept him coming back – before launching into a lengthy grievance about the screaming child. It just goes to show that the most vocal critics of a business can also be its loyal customers.

But business owners have to steel themselves up to deal with unhappy reviewers the right way.

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT, RIGHT?


Our reviewer incorrectly assumes that the child belongs to a particular waitress – it’s actually a customer’s child – and that she had brought him into work with her. He harshly criticizes her non-handling of the noise, frustrated at her lack of consideration for other customers (note that negative reviews often focus on a single point of the customer experience and are thus considered less reliable by readers).

While this customer was not 100 percent in the right (and even had a history of writing inflammatory reviews), the owner’s response was anything but helpful.

Let’s break down the owner’s response to see exactly how this business lost a loyal customer, and learn some actions to avoid along the way.


#1: DON’T GET DEFENSIVE

Right away, the tone is set. The business owner has gone on the defensive. No ‘thank you for taking the time to write a review’, no ‘I’m sorry you had a bad experience’.
We can boil down the owner’s response to a single sentiment: ‘your review means nothing. You, the customer, are completely wrong.’

Note also the lack of attention to correct typing and grammar. Check your responses for errors before submitting – good grammar and spelling convey professionalism.


#2: DON’T WRITE A NOVEL

A review response should be kept concise and brief. It’s also not an appropriate place to push your personal side projects 😉


#3: DON’T THROW PERSONAL ATTACKS

A good review response never includes personal attacks, even if the reviewer is in the wrong.


#4: DON’T SHIRK RESPONSIBILITY AND DON’T BLAME THE CUSTOMER

Our owner continually refuses to accept a valid point of criticism from the reviewer – the waitress choosing not to do anything about the screaming child – and repeatedly chooses to instead go on the defensive.
Never imply that it’s the customer’s responsibility to resolve their issues with your business (And never, ever give out identifying information about your customer, especially on a public Internet forum like Yelp).

The owner does have a valid point. This fun, child-oriented business is a place where customers can expect some noise. It is okay to gently point this out to the customer and set their expectations. Unfortunately, our business owner points this out in a hostile and defensive way.


#5: DON’T TREAT A BAD REVIEW LIKE A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

The owner is putting way too much time and energy into this – that he went to this level of scrutiny at all is unnecessary and should be kept private. Note the continued blaming of the customer throughout.


#6: DON’T CRITICIZE YOUR CUSTOMERS OR THEIR REVIEW – EVEN IF THEY DESERVE IT

The owner is certainly allowed to feel this way – it’s a common sentiment among people who have received damaging and vindictive negative reviews – but it should have been kept out of his response.


#7: DON’T LOSE YOUR COOL

While the owner may be correct in his assessment of the reviewer’s grievance, it’s once again not appropriate to point this out. He also shows just how much this review has bothered him by revealing that he has spent time reading the customer’s other reviews. Don’t give vindictive reviewers the satisfaction of knowing that they got to you!


#8: DON’T GET SNARKY

Like a rotten cherry on top of a burnt cake, our owner ends his argumentative, confrontational, and hostile response with some snarky ‘don’t come back’ humor.
Clearly, neither party is perfect in this scenario. The customer delivered a damaging negative review of a restaurant he otherwise liked based on incorrect assumptions. It easy to understand why a business owner would be frustrated upon receiving a review like this one. It says relatively little about the business as a whole.

But these things happen, and there’s a proper way to handle them.


A BETTER COURSE OF ACTION

  • Taking a moment to cool off and think through an appropriate response. The reviewer clearly pushed the owner’s buttons, and it’s even clearer that the owner didn’t take enough time to approach his response with a clear head.
  • Thanking the customer for taking the time to share his grievance. In spite of the fact that his actions were less-than-ideal, the reviewer created a particularly excellent opportunity for the owner to make his business look good – which he squandered, spectacularly.
  • Taking some responsibility. Nowhere in his 900 word screed does the owner extend any apology or acknowledgement of error. Offering an apology up front shows your customers that you hear their concerns.
  • Not arguing. While it’s fair to point out that a certain level of noise is to be expected in an establishment aimed at kids, he should have left it at that and spent the rest of his response focusing on correcting the wrong and recovering the customer.
  • Assessing whether this grievance could be better handled privately. If so, he should have presented an email address or phone number at the end of a much shorter note.

Remember, every negative review is an opportunity to show how committed you are to satisfying your customers. What you say will live online indefinitely, so make it count! Don’t make the same mistake as our burger joint owner, who lost a loyal customer and drove away many other potential customers in the process.

You can read more about handling and responding to negative customer reviews in our free Marketer’s Guide to Online Reviews.