Your brand’s online reputation is more important than ever.

At a time when most of us are shopping online, we’re also turning to the internet when we want to research in-demand products and services. And what do we often look for first?

Online reviews.

In fact, Oberlo reports that almost 90% of consumers will read reviews prior to making a purchase. Not only do we commonly seek out these reviews, but we also tend to place a lot of trust in them. Nearly 80% of shoppers say that they trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.

If you want to improve your brand’s visibility and overall trust, you need to have an online review presence. And while we taught you how to generate online reviews in a previous blog post, it’s clear that many business owners could use some extra guidance when it comes to responding to those reviews effectively.

At a time when “cancel culture” is still a big concern for many brands, it’s crucial to remember that you’re always being watched. As such, you need to react to any review you receive in a way that will benefit your brand.

That doesn’t mean you should delete negative reviews, go on the defensive, or incentivize positive reviews from non-customers. What you might not realize is that a negative review can actually be a positive thing – as long as you know how to respond to it.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should know about online reviews and how to make sure your brand always comes out on top (even without a 5-star rating).

Are Bad Reviews Actually Bad?

First, let’s discuss the importance of negative reviews. Contrary to what you might think, getting them may not be the end of the world!

Actually, your business needs some negative reviews. Why? Because it makes your brand seem more authentic.

Neil Patel cites a 2017 study revealing that 85% of consumers sought out negative reviews during the purchasing process. Customers know that it’s not realistic to please 100% of customers 100% of the time. When they see an online review profile with all 5-star reviews, their spidey senses start to tingle. They might start to suspect that the brand is buying positive reviews or repressing negative ones. That alone can convince them not to do business with you.

Furthermore, many customers want to get a clear idea of the “worst case scenario” should something go awry with their experience. Negative or mixed reviews can provide them with valuable information. Are there major patterns that emerge with poor quality or unresponsive customer service? Or did a simple mix-up occur that was then fixed immediately by the team? The information these reviews contain – as well as the response to them by the brand itself – can have a huge impact on your brand’s perception and a customer’s willingness to take a leap of faith.

Our point? Get it out of your head that a negative review equates to a crisis. It should absolutely be addressed right away, but your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate negative reviews entirely.

Search Engine Journal cites data that shows customers spend five times as long on a site when they find negative reviews, resulting in an 85% conversion rate increase!

Basically, this means that knowing how to respond to negative customer reviews can be incredibly helpful for your business. If you can manage to leverage this power for your brand, you can win out big time.

Making a Bad Review Even Worse

More than half of customers expect businesses to respond to their negative reviews within a week's time. But of course, not every business owner has succeeded in turning negatives into positives. Having too many bad reviews can have a profound impact on your brand reputation, especially if you don’t respond at all or in a way that will satisfy prospective customers.

Some of the more famous examples of bad brand behavior can be traced back to Facebook reviews. In 2013, Amy’s Baking Company made headlines after being featured on an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. The owner went on a social media rampage that then went viral, prompting hundreds of angry internet users to leave negative reviews.

But not all of the bad reviews stemmed from the owners’ appearance on the show. The owners later claimed that their social media accounts had been “hacked,” but the damage was already done. They took negative feedback too personally and flew off the handle, doing even more harm to their already tainted reputation. Unsurprisingly, their restaurant has since closed.

Another eatery came under fire more recently, when a post from Good’s Candy Shop went viral in May 2020. The confectionary was looking for workers, at a shockingly low rate of $11 per hour. But that wasn’t even the worst part. The owner went on a sexist rant that seemed to target young women who had been in Good’s employ in the past.

Roughly 44,000 users commented on the post, prompting Good to remove the post and replace it with a different hiring notice. Notably, Good apologized – not for his perceived misogyny, but for the behavior of the users in the comments section. Good seemed to welcome the controversy at first, but then deactivated the business’s Facebook page in the days that followed. By September, the candy shop was sold to a company called (you can’t make this up) Uranus Fudge Factory.

This also wasn’t the first time the owner of Good’s had found himself in a media spotlight. The candy shop was on the receiving end of dozens of negative reviews online for a reported failure to follow and enforce the state’s mask mandate among employees. One source also maintains that Good made a habit of removing negative reviews for his business in the past.

Clearly, these business owners hadn’t learned how to respond to online reviews effectively. Ironically, they weren’t sweet to their unhappy customers – and both paid a hefty price for it. They’re far from the only brands that have messed up when responding to negative reviews, however. It’s all too common for small businesses, in particular, to take these reviews too personally and lash out as a defense mechanism.

When you’re overworked, have too few resources at your disposal, and are then faced with handling every customer issue, it’s no surprise that you’d be running low on patience. But remember: once it’s on the internet, it’s forever.

Should You Delete Negative Reviews?

Knowing that bad reviews are eternal, as well, should you just try to get rid of them entirely? Although we mentioned earlier that bad reviews can help your business, they could also hurt your reputation (and your feelings!). So should you try to minimize the damage?

In some cases, you can hide reviews (like those that appear on your Facebook page). This isn’t a great option and really does your brand a disservice. With no reviews for customers to read, they might question your legitimacy. Even if you’re trying to avoid a bad review you know is coming, it’s better to face the problem head-on. Unless you’re trying to fend off someone who’s personally harassing you, hiding the capability for customers to leave reviews isn’t a good policy.

Generally speaking, you should never attempt to remove a review. For one thing, customers will eventually figure out what's going on. For another, most platforms won’t even allow you to do so because they want customers to be able to trust the feedback your business receives.

However, there is one important exception: when the review is inherently false.

Say there’s a situation wherein a reviewer has been dishonest (i.e., they’ve lied and said they were a customer when they weren’t or an event they’re describing never actually happened). In this case, you may want to respond in a way that suggests to other potential customers that the review contains inaccuracies. You can do this by following the first three or four steps listed in the section below and outlining that you’re unable to verify their customer status or order number. You can also suggest that the reviewer call your business number to discuss the situation further.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to petition the platform to remove the review; just be careful not to abuse this feature. It’s often within your best interest to respond to the review anyway, as the platform may not always take the action to remove it. And if the review is removed, it might not happen immediately.

As such, customers will care more about your response than about what a customer claims to have happened. If they can tell that the reviewer doesn’t have a leg to stand on, they’ll still respect your brand more by responding with empathy than if you were to go on the defensive and “call out” the reviewer.

Negative reviews are inevitable. And according to Small Business Trends, 30% of customers actually admit to reversing their negative reviews once the business responds and addresses their concerns. So knowing how to respond to online reviews in a way that helps your business appeal to customers is key. Now that you’ve learned the wrong way to react to a negative review, what’s the right way to respond?

How to Handle a Negative Review

Knowing how to respond to online reviews – whether they’re positive or negative – is a skill you need to possess as a business owner.

While you can entrust another company or service to handle your reputation management, learning how to respond to negative customer reviews can ultimately apply to other areas (such as social media management or customer service). Once you figure out how to respond to negative customer reviews in the best way possible, you can use those principles to handle other tense situations that might arise in numerous areas of your business.

With that in mind, what’s the best way to respond to negative customer reviews? Follow the steps below.

Take a Breath and Remember to Listen

It’s tempting to start frantically typing away as soon as you see a negative review has been posted. But hold off for a moment. This process will go much more smoothly if you can take the emotion out of it and remember to listen. Don’t think of the review as a personal attack. Instead, look forward to an opportunity to connect with a customer and show just how awesome your brand is.

At the same time, resist the urge to defend your business. Use those active listening skills to take in what the reviewer is saying and make sure they feel heard in their response. In the end, it really isn’t about you – but you can change the way the reviewer feels about their experience.

Respond Promptly, But Not Immediately

You shouldn’t respond to a negative review within seconds. Not only will you be more likely to let your emotions get the best of you, but the customer will probably assume you’re not taking their concerns seriously.

There are very few situations in which you should completely ignore a negative review, but you can afford to take a day or two to formulate a thoughtful and compassionate response. Responding within 24 to 48 hours shows that you’re monitoring customer feedback and that you care enough about this review to consider everything outlined within it. As a bonus, this grace period can give you the chance to cool off, if necessary.

Thank the Customer Personally

If you want to know how to respond to online reviews, you need to make it personal. No, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to personally attack the reviewer or look them up online and divulge personal information. But it does mean you should address them by their name, if you can, and try to build a genuine connection with them.

Don’t use a generic greeting or canned template when responding to a review. And be sure to thank them for their patronage and for taking the time to share their thoughts (even if you don’t particularly enjoy hearing them!). Let them know the personal impact that their feedback can have on your team and your business as a whole.

Apologize and Lead With Empathy

Assuming that the negative review is warranted, you’ll also want to include some kind of apology in your response. There are ways to apologize that don’t necessarily include the admission of fault (like “we’re sorry that our services didn’t match your expectations”) but that still ensure you’re accountable for the results. It may also be appropriate to admit fault by saying something like, “We’ve set high standards for ourselves and we’ve clearly fallen short of those standards here. We sincerely apologize for our actions and strive to do better.”

No matter how you choose to apologize, always lead with empathy. This means you need to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and make a concerted effort to understand where they’re coming from. Tell them that you know how frustrating the situation must be or that they’re right in feeling the way they do. Validating the reviewer’s experience and communicating with compassion can help to put out the flames. In contrast, trying to justify or excuse the situation will fan them.

Make Things Right and Take It Offline

The last step of knowing how to respond to negative customer reviews is to directly express how you’ll rectify the situation. Don’t make a blanket statement that does nothing more than pass the buck. Rather, tell the reviewer about any specific changes you’ll be making to prevent this situation in the future and ask them for the chance to make it right.

This may involve taking the conversation off of the review platform. Ask the reviewer if they would be able to contact you directly or they’d be willing to call someone from your customer service team at a specific number or email address. Let them know you’d love the chance to investigate further and what the next steps might be.

You don’t have to make promises of a full refund or of firing the employee deemed responsible. In fact, it’s better that you don’t outline any specific action in your response. In a subsequent conversation with the reviewer, you can determine the right course of action (which can often convince people to edit their bad reviews later!). By taking the conversation offline, you can avoid more potential fallout and have the chance to address the person’s concerns one-on-one – and even build a stronger relationship, in some cases.

With these steps in place, you can become an expert in knowing how to respond to online reviews. It’s not always easy to take negative comments in stride, but you can strengthen your brand immensely if you can take feedback to heart without letting it get the best of you.

A Word on Responding to Positive Reviews

If you want to know how to respond to online reviews more effectively, you’re certainly not alone. But it isn’t only the negative reviews that deserve a response! Glowing reviews should also be acknowledged publicly.

Why bother with positive reviews? Because these reviewers are clearly looking to support your brand – and you have an opportunity to build upon an already strong relationship.

According to ReviewTrackers data, leading brands across a variety of industries respond to reviews more quickly and more consistently than their competitors. If you want to become an industry leader, you can start by responding to all of your reviews.

Most business owners know that it takes more money and effort to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. By taking the small step of responding to a positive review, you’ll keep building on that connection and make the customer feel great about their continued support.

Another reason to reply to positive reviews is that they’re simply less likely to happen on their own. The vast majority of customers won’t bother to leave a review (and if they do, it’s usually due to a negative experience). Showing your customers how great an impact their feedback can have on your business can encourage others to follow suit.

It’s clear, then, that you should respond to positive reviews. But what should you say? In most cases, these responses should follow a similar format as the steps outlined earlier; they just don’t need to include an apology.

It’s best to keep the response short and sweet. Thank them for leaving the review, let them know how much you appreciate their support, and tell them you’re thrilled that their experience was so great. You can close out the response by telling them you hope to see them again soon or that your business always appreciates referrals from happy customers.

Taking the time to respond with just a few sentences can have a big impact on your brand’s reputation. Prospective customers will see how much you care about your clients and will feel more comfortable doing business with you as a result. In that sense, you’ll be doing the work to keep current customers around and attract new ones at the same time.

Positive Or Negative, Reviews Can’t Be Ignored

The reality is that businesses can’t expect to succeed without online reviews. Website testimonials aren’t enough; customers want to read real, unbiased feedback before making a purchase.

Of course, it’s only natural that you’d want to receive positive reviews for your brand. But as we’ve mentioned before, review generation takes work. And review management is just as important.

Whenever you receive a review, whether it’s positive or negative, you need to respond in a way that highlights how great your brand really is. To improve or maintain your brand reputation and overall web presence, you need to make review management a priority. And if you learn how to respond to online reviews, you can protect your brand in almost any situation.