3 Rules for Replying to Negative Online Reviews

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Lenny DeFranco

5 min read

Feb 24, 2020

3 Rules for Replying to Negative Online Reviews

Whether you’re a budding local restaurant or a luxury dining destination, you’re going to deal with your share of negative online reviews.

Don’t worry. It happens to everyone.

Ever since websites like Yelp and Google My Business have emerged and expanded the traditional notion of word-of-mouth marketing, online reviews have changed the way restaurants do business with customers. A staggering 93% of consumers use reviews to determine if a local business is good or bad before they even set foot in the door. And considering most of these online review platforms don’t let you delete comments, you’re stuck with one option: responding to them.

How to respond to negative restaurant reviews

Step one of managing your online reputation is gathering all the positive and negative reviews in question into one place. It’s one thing to peruse Yelp and Google My Business, but with new review websites popping up every day and with many regional variations to monitor, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

One option is to use online reputation management software to track, measure, and respond to customer reviews. Once you’ve set alerts for your company’s name you can get started on replying to your bad reviews. Another option is to implement restaurant software that offers built-in review aggregation.

However you decide to go about it, engaging with negative reviews is an important part of showing the online community that you take all feedback about your service seriously. Here are three things to keep in mind.

1. Every negative review is a chance to shine

Online complaints about your restaurant typically fall into one of two categories: problems with the restaurant service or problems with the food. That’s rough, considering service and the quality of food are two of the biggest reasons people would patronize your restaurant.

The good news is that you can even the playing field by replying to your negative reviews. In fact, 7 out of 10 consumers changed their opinion about a brand after the company responded to a review.

The key to responding to a negative review is to follow this simple formula:

  1. Apologize for the negative experience
  2. Empathize with the customer
  3. Offer a further audience
  4. Ask for the chance to make it right.

Here’s an example of what that might look like:

“Hey, Jenna! We’re sorry you had a bad experience. We would love the chance to speak directly and learn more about the details of your experience. Please reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to make a note of this for your next reservation. Our apologies again.”

The customer might accept your apology and take you up on your offer, which would be great. But what’s most important is that other customers see that you made an effort to respond and mend things. A pleasant and empathetic answer to a negative review shows potential guests that you care about their experience.

2. Not all customers review are 100% truthful

You’ve probably encountered a customer who exaggerated or lied outright about a situation. Sometimes they do it because they’re looking to take advantage of you; sometimes it’s a genuine disagreement with your staff member about how an event transpired. In the controlled chaos of dining service, many versions of the truth are possible.

If a bad review seems a bit off, do some investigation.

  1. Talk to your servers and staff who dealt with the situation or look into your guest data system to see if you can identify any apparent issues.
  2. Ask yourself if this situation sounds plausible.
  3. Decide how you’re going to respond.

If you believe the customer isn’t telling the truth, that doesn’t mean you should respond in a defensive way. Remember, the audience is all those potential guests who weren’t there.

Be firm but unfailingly polite as you defend the actions of your restaurant and your staff. Don’t get into specifics, and above all don’t escalate the situation. Do offer a way for the guest to have made an honest mistake.

Above all, represent your restaurant as a business that takes service seriously enough for the incident in question to be at worst an outlier, if not a misunderstanding altogether.

3. Pay special attention to reviewers with large online presences

All customer complaints should be handled with care and attention. That said, there is a difference between a customer with a low profile and one with a sizable following. And if you get put on blast with a larger-than-usual audience watching, your response strategy needs to adapt.

Acknowledge the complaint publicly — their followers are already watching — but try to take the conversation out of the public eye as soon as possible. You want complaints from celebrities and influencers handled away from the prying eye of their followers, some of whom might give the customer the benefit of the doubt in all possible scenarios.

Regardless of who is in the right, work relentlessly to achieve the guest’s complete satisfaction. Why? Because even if this is a case where they’re trying to take advantage of you or exaggerating a misstep, you can use their prominent position to your advantage.

Once the situation has been handled, make sure the world knows. Ask the customer to follow up their original post with one saying the issue has been smoothed over. Make your own social media content touting the (renewed) relationship you’ve begun with them. With many followers watching, potentially hoping for drama, this unfortunate incident could be turned into an opportunity for free, if stressful, advertising.

Let’s review everything once more

Only you can decide how you will respond to negative customer reviews. Understanding when to stop engaging with a disgruntled customer or even what to offer them is up to you. Hopefully, these tips will help guide you in the right direction.

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