How to Respond to Negative Feedback from Customers

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Mandy Bray
Mandy Bray


Dread sinks to the pit of your stomach when you see it: a 1-star review.

company responding to negative feedback from a customer

Reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, or Facebook matter. 76% of customers "always" or "regularly" read online reviews to research local businesses, according to brightlocal.

Negative feedback affects customers' decisions, particularly for home services, automotive services, and healthcare.

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If you're not sure how to respond to negative feedback or if you should respond at all, keep reading.

We'll cover why you should respond to bad reviews, 10 tips for good responses, three ways not to respond, and examples of responses to bad reviews.

Table of Contents

Why Negative Feedback Matters

Negative feedback allows you to improve your products and services and show that you care about your customers.

When you receive a bad review online, it's visible for all your current and prospective customers to see. Your response, or lack thereof, is equally visible.

Responding to negative feedback is an opportunity to show your character and create positive connections with customers.

10 Ways to Respond to Negative Feedback

Negative feedback can take all forms: thoughtful critiques, unhinged rants, or even personal attacks.

Before you respond, take a deep breath and try not to let the bad review upset you. Negative feedback is part of business, and it can make you stronger if you listen and respond well.

Responding to Negative Feedback. Be timely. Personalize your message. Acknowledge and empathize. Ask for more information. Humanize the brand. Show your values. Acknowledge the positive. Surprise and delight. Share an action plan. Redirect.

1. Be timely.

A ReviewTracker survey found that most consumers expect companies to respond to a review within a week.

They also found that companies with the best reputations have faster responses.

We recommend responding to negative feedback within 48 hours and on the same day if possible.

Make sure you claim your listings on sites like Google and Yelp, so you'll be notified immediately when a bad review appears.

Writing a playbook of pre-scripted responses can help you respond to complaints quickly so you aren't writing from scratch each time. However, it's very important to personalize each one.

2. Personalize your message.

The easiest way to personalize your response is by saying the person's name to start your response.

This simple trick shows that you've taken care to read and understand their message and that you see them as a person.

You can also personalize a message by restating their issue or company name in your response.

3. Acknowledge and empathize.

The best way to defuse a tense situation is by acknowledging any hurt or frustration your brand may have caused.

This can be as simple as "I'm sorry you are experiencing this issue" or "I'm sorry we didn't meet your expectations."

4. Ask for more information.

When you receive a bad review, it can be blunt or lack detail.

Ask the customer for more information about their negative experience so you can appropriately follow up.

Often, brands direct brands to a customer survey or ticketing system to collect feedback. This also directs the conversation out of the public forum.

Just remember to start your message with personalization and empathy, or your request will seem templated and stale.

5. Humanize the brand.

Another subtle shift you can make to defuse negative comments is with the pronoun you use to respond.

Shifting from "We" or your company name to "I" frames you as human instead of a bot or faceless corporation.

Some brands even respond to online feedback by identifying the person responding as the owner or with a first name or initials.

Another way to humanize your company is simply saying, "I'm sorry, we made a mistake." People make mistakes, and owning up to them with a mea culpa builds trust.

6. Show your values.

Imagine you're a services company, and one of your values is integrity. How should you respond to feedback accusing an employee of lying?

While that's a complex situation that can't be solved in a single response, you can demonstrate that you're concerned because the complaint contradicts your values.

Here's an example: Integrity is one of our top values here at [company name]. I'm concerned by your report and would like to learn more so we can investigate. Can you share more details at this link?

7. Acknowledge the positive.

Reviewers sometimes give negative feedback sandwiched between positive comments or hidden in a 4-star review. "Nice property, but…"

Mixed reviews can be your best customers to pay attention to because they're a fan of your product or service but want to see improvement because they're likely to return.

When you get a mixed review, even one that's mostly positive, it's still important to respond. Show the customer appreciation for their business and praise, and acknowledge their pain point and how you plan to fix it.

8. Surprise and delight.

Have some freebies ready to show your customers how much you care and encourage them to try your business again despite a negative experience.

You can offer a significant discount or credit for a future visit, a free item, or even a refund.

9. Share an action plan.

To build sustainable relationships with customers, you can't just collect endless feedback. You need to show that you're listening and taking action.

If there's a quick fix to the customer's complaint, like a broken link or downtime on your website, respond to the customer by thanking them for bringing this to your attention and letting them know that it's been resolved.

For larger issues, like feature requests on a software program, a solution may take some time. By tracking customer feedback, you can categorize your feedback and prioritize which to implement.

Once you make changes, you can follow up with the customers to let them know about the change and that you were listening. This is called the A.C.A.F Customer Feedback Loop: Ask, Categorize, Act, and Follow-up.

10. Redirect.

Companies may receive reviews from someone who's not in their target audience or hasn't actually tried the product or service.

Customericare calls this the "Not Your Target Audience" type of feedback.

You can spot this if the feedback goes against your core value or unique selling point.

For example, the suggestion might change your entire business model, or the feedback may attack something irrelevant, like the color you painted your storefront.

Carefully read it, then reply by explaining your vision, inviting them to try the product or service, or suggesting an alternative business if relevant.

Bonus: How Not to Respond to Bad Feedback

Now that we've covered how to respond to reviews, let's reiterate a few ways you shouldn't react as a business. You can learn a lot from others' mistakes.

No Response

Not responding or only responding to positive reviews doesn't build trust.

88% of customers are likely to use a business owner who responds to all reviews, while just 42% of people are willing to use a business that doesn't respond to reviews.

Only 50% of customers would try a business that only responds to positive reviews.

The Rambling Response

A review website is not the place for a diatribe about how hard it is to be a small business owner, supply chain issues, or the state of the world. Keep your review short and focused.

The Insult Response

When you receive a negative review, particularly one that's nonsensical or unfair, you might be tempted to attack the reviewer back. Don't take the bait. Give a short response inviting the customer to come and try the business again.

Need more inspiration? Let's look at some examples of companies responding to bad reviews.

Examples of Responses to Negative Feedback

Watch and learn how these three businesses responded to bad reviews online and turned a detractor into a potential promoter.

Adventure Whale Watching San Diego on Google Maps

bad review example, google maps

When tourists left a bad review for Adventure Whale Watching in San Diego, the company responded with empathy and action.

They greeted the person by name and thanked them for their feedback, stated their values, explained that this wasn't a regular staff person, and said they wouldn't use that person again.

Hotel Santa Barbara on Google Maps

bad review example, google maps

A guest at the beautiful, 4.5-star rated Hotel Santa Barbara was surprised to find that the room in their hotel was, well, historic. The hotel addressed her by name, apologized, and offered her a free upgrade to a larger room on her next stay.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery on Yelp

bad review example yelp

At the popular brunch spot Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, getting in can be a pain point.

When a customer left a 1-star review, mostly due to the wait, the owner responded with a brief, upbeat comment. They apologized for the wait and gave some recent solutions they've added, like their online waitlist.

You can't escape negative feedback, but you can embrace it and respond with empathy and transparency. There's also a way you can prevent bad reviews from happening: by asking for more feedback.

Making the Most of Feedback

Regularly asking for feedback will mitigate problems sooner and give customers a productive way to share negative feedback before it lands on social media or online review sites.

When you build a system for measuring customer satisfaction, you can create feedback loops that foster customer dialogue.

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