Have you heard the saying, “What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet”? It sounds scary, and it’s enough to make most reasonable people think twice about what to post and what to share online.

As a business owner, you already know not to get caught on camera yelling at the referee at your son’s little league game. But what you might not have considered is what people see first when they search Google for a local business.

Reviews are often the first things someone sees when they Google a business. When a patient or client shares a positive or negative experience about your business, what they write is usually there to stay forever.

While protecting your online reputation and avoiding negative reviews is a priority, it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, there’s bound to be someone out there who has either left you a bad review or will in the future.

What you might not have realized or considered is that you can respond to your online reviews, whether they’re on Google, Yelp, or social media. In fact, you should reply to all of your reviews.

Why You Should Reply to Customer Reviews

Here’s why:

  • You get to share your side of the story
  • It proves that there’s a human element to your business
  • You show future and current clients that you take their feedback seriously
  • It’s the right thing to do, especially if your client or patient has made a valid point

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How to Respond to Google Reviews

If you haven’t responded to your Google reviews before, you might also be wondering how to do it. Here’s a simple 4-step process:

  1. Sign in to Google My Business at business.google.com
  2. On the left side of the screen, you’ll see a list of menu options.
  3. Click Reviews. You’ll see all of your reviews appear with a Reply button.
  4. Click to reply and type your message.

Most of your reviews are going to be positive, especially if you encourage your satisfied clients to leave a review. We’ll discuss later how to respond to those.

You can learn more about Google Reviews here.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

In the meantime, here are our recommendations for how to respond to negative reviews from unhappy clients.

Think Before You Respond

When you first read a negative review, you’ll probably feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach or had the wind knocked out of you. Once you recover from the shock, the anger is bound to kick in. After all, you and your staff go above and beyond to make every customer feel like a VIP. How could someone say anything to the contrary?

Instead of running over to the keyboard and typing a scathing response to the customer’s complaint, we suggest taking some deep breaths and rereading what your customer said about you or your business. Did they point out something that’s accurate? Did they identify an area where you could improve? Was your office manager simply having a bad day? Or maybe your customer was upset about something else, and you were the most convenient thing to take aim at?

The key takeaway here is to take stock of what the patient has said and look within to see if they’ve identified something that you can improve.

Tip: After you draft your response, walk away from the keyboard for a while. Take a walk or a break. Then, review your wording with a fresh perspective before submitting it. 

Respond Promptly

The longer you wait to acknowledge and reply to the review, the more people are bound to see it and only get one side of the story.

Though we said to think before you respond, that doesn’t mean to take several days to stew over what you’ll say. We recommend drafting and submitting your reply within 24 hours. Not only does that signal to prospective clients that you take any complaints seriously, but it also increases your chances of salvaging the relationship with the customer that left the negative review.

Apologize

We’ve all been taught that the customer is always right. And it’s still true today, even if they aren’t. What we mean by that is even if the customer is unreasonable or downright mean, there’s still something that happened to them in your office that made them upset.

Though you can’t expect everyone to be pleased all the time, you may be able to sympathetically acknowledge their dissatisfaction and repair the relationship, even if you believe their review isn’t fair.

We recommend drafting each response with the three A’s:

Appreciate: Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention

Acknowledge: Identify what caused the complaint

Apologize: Offer a genuine apology

For example, if a customer left you a negative review because they were kept unattended in the waiting room for several minutes, you could begin your response by saying something like: “Hi, Karen. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. We never like to keep our customers waiting, and I am so sorry that you had to wait longer than normal.”

We’ll also discuss the importance of adding a solution so that your clients know your apology isn’t just lip service.

Customize Each Response

If you haven’t replied to your reviews in the past and you have several built up, it can be tempting to draft a single response and copy it. For example, if you were short-staffed for a week and other people besides Karen (in the above example) expressed displeasure about long wait times, resist the urge to copy and paste the response. Instead, treat each situation and review as unique and craft a custom message for each one.

Keep It Short

Depending on the nature of the review, you might have a lot to say. However, we strongly recommend keeping your response no longer than one paragraph. The main reason for this guideline is that people simply aren’t going to read a long story, especially if they’re searching for an office near them on their mobile phone and they’re skimming reviews.

It’s imperative that potential clients read your responses, and keeping them short and to the point increases your chances of that happening.

Another reason to avoid a lengthy reply is that it can make your office come across as argumentative. There’s not much that needs to happen in your reply other than acknowledging the issue, apologizing for the person’s experience, and offering a solution. If the content of the original review was lengthy and covered a lot of points, you don’t need to address each one.

Instead, we recommend a singular acknowledgement and apology with an offer to make it right. Then include a call to action to contact you directly. That keeps the argument off the internet and invites the patient to speak to you one-on-one or come into your office for an in-person discussion and resolution.

For example, in the case of Karen, who’s mad because she had to wait, you could finish your reply to her review by saying something along the lines of, “I’d love to see you in our office again, and I personally promise that you’ll be seen right away. Please call us at 555.123.4567 to schedule your next appointment, and I’ll make sure you have the VIP experience that you deserve.”

Maintain a Professional Tone and Proofread

This one may seem obvious, but in the heat of the moment, we might not realize how our tone sounds in writing. Plus, a typo or misspelling immediately reduces credibility. Before submitting your reply, we suggest having a trusted member of your staff proofread what you’ve written, checking it for any mistakes, and giving it a once-over to ensure the tone is on par with the message you’ve intended.

It can also help read your reply aloud to ensure that it makes sense and appropriately addresses your patient’s complaint.

Don’t Make Excuses (or Point Blame)

We are all human, and everyone is entitled to a bad day. If Karen was kept waiting because you had food poisoning, you don’t need to explain that you ate something at lunch that didn’t agree with you and had to spend some extra time in the restroom.

Don’t throw anyone under the proverbial bus in the process, either. Avoid blaming your office staff for not keeping Karen updated about the wait times or not offering coffee, tea, or water while she was waiting.

Be Understanding

When responding to negative reviews, you should also practice empathy. Remember that most people leave reviews because they feel like they haven’t been heard or are somehow unsatisfied. Being empathetic isn’t making excuses; it’s showing genuine concern for the customer and their situation rather than just trying to win them over.

Follow Up With the Customer

When you make your initial response to the negative review, if you offer your contact details, the customer can try to follow up with you or communicate further. This is a great opportunity to build your relationship with the customer because it shows that you care about them and their experience and satisfaction with your business.

Offer a Solution

Most of the time, when people leave a review, they want to be heard, and they want you to know that they’re unhappy. In an ideal world, the patient would have called your office first to complain and work with you directly on a solution, but at least now that they’ve aired their complaint, they’re giving you a chance to make it right.

According to a Customer Service study conducted by HubSpot, 96% of people will still do business with you if you’re able to resolve their issue successfully. If your patient’s complaint was due to a misunderstanding or a one-time mistake, it should be relatively easy to fix. Again, apologize for what happened and thank the patient for taking the time to share their experience. Then get to work on offering a solution.

Often, the best course of action is to ask them to follow up with you personally so that you can provide them with what they need.

Offer Compensation

Offering compensation is a great way not only to let the reviewer know that you care but also to soften any harsh feelings they may have toward your business. Offering compensation can be, for instance, a refund, a free product or service, or some form of credit.

The best thing about offering compensation is that it usually ends the conversation on a positive note and shows customers who are reading through reviews how much you really value them as a patron of your company.

It is important that this type of response is used sparingly, or else you could end up appearing desperate or disingenuous by trying to buy your customer’s loyalty. There is no need to offer compensation if it is not deserved, but if the reviewer has every right to complain, then there isn’t any reason for you not to try and fix their problem.

Offer Alternatives

When responding to negative reviews, it’s important that you not only respond well but also offer alternatives when appropriate. Let’s say, for example, that a customer has left negative feedback because they found that your product or service is not up to their standards. Something like this could easily be fixed by offering the customer an alternative that you believe will better suit them while still maintaining some form of contact with them. Examples of alternatives you can offer include an upgraded version of what the customer originally requested or a similar product or service for a discounted price.

How Not to Respond to Negative Reviews

It’s very rare for a business never to receive a bad customer review. If you have dodged the bullet so far, one day, you will wake up to that one-star review or an upset customer venting online. How you respond to that bad review will be critical to your success. We’ve discussed how to deal with negative online reviews but let’s look at how NOT to deal with them.

Never respond with anger to a bad review

Understandably, you might feel anger at the mention of negative feedback, especially if your small business is working hard to maintain a certain level of quality or service. However, you should do your best not to hit back with anger. Doing so may provide more information about why you are being given this rating and could potentially be taken as an admission that the reviewer was right all along. It will also bring more attention to the complaint, which can’t be good for business.

You don’t want anyone else reading the review and thinking it sounds legitimate just because you could not respond in a calm manner.

Never tell the customer they are wrong

Telling your customers that they are wrong (even if it’s true) will only cause them to become angrier, and it may hurt business moving forward. It is better to take the time and respond in a calm manner that allows you to maintain composure and, hopefully, even turn the situation around.

Never argue with your customers

If you want to avoid making a bad situation even worse, we suggest that you never engage in an argument over a negative review. Every situation is different, and it’s important that you follow a professional line of reasoning when dealing with unhappy customers.

Never be sarcastic

You might think you are pretty good at witty comebacks and sarcastic responses, but you should avoid this type of humor when it comes to online reviews and customer complaints. Remember that sarcasm can easily come across as rude or condescending, and these words could worsen the situation.

How to Respond to Positive Reviews

So far, we’ve discussed what to do when you get a negative review, but in reality, the overwhelming majority of your reviews are going to be positive. Most business owners don’t think to respond to positive reviews, but if all you do is craft replies to the negative comments, you’re missing out on an opportunity to connect with your satisfied customers. And remember, your happy customers are the ones who will refer new customers to you and also defend you against those who complain.

Also, your review page will look odd if all you do is respond to the complaints!

Positive reviews are worth their weight in gold, and we recommend responding to each and every one of them. Again, keep your replies short and sweet, and follow these guidelines:

Say Thank You

A simple thank you can go a long way. After all, your customers are under no obligation to leave a review, so if they took the time out of their day to write something complimentary about you, you can be sure that they are appreciative. Show them that the appreciation is mutual.

Acknowledge Them by Name

Don’t just say, “Thanks for the review. We appreciate it!” Instead, use their name in their reply and add something personal. If John came in for teeth whitening and left you a positive review, say something like, “Thank you for the kind words, John! Happy to hear that your smile is dazzling everyone you meet!”

Add Value

Some people struggle with compliments. Instead of a simple “thank you,” they want to shrug off the accolades, or worse, they awkwardly fumble to find something nice to say in return.

Instead, you could consider adding value by sharing some information they might not have known. In the case of John, who was very happy with his teeth whitening, you could remind him that the advanced procedure you used will last an extra three months, and you look forward to seeing him next time.

How to Get More Positive Reviews

It probably won’t come as any surprise, but the best way to get more positive reviews is to provide excellent customer service. Focusing on delivering outstanding service may encourage customers to leave positive feedback when they interact with your business. This can be achieved by hiring the right people, providing training when necessary, and ensuring everyone is on the same page when it comes to delivering a great customer experience.

Another way to get more positive feedback is to ask for it. If you own a small business that people love, there is a good chance that they will be happy to leave some feedback on the internet sites that matter.

If you have a CRM software or tool that allows you to collect and analyze data about each interaction that takes place between your business and its customers, then take full advantage of this opportunity.

Often you will discover commonalities with negative reviews. For instance, the word ‘disappointed’ often appears frequently, which suggests that customers had greater expectations than what was actually delivered. Certain online review platforms such as Yelp can be helpful in this regard as they highlight the words that are mentioned the most by customers. Once you have identified any common negative words or phrases, you can make the necessary changes to your business to improve things for future customers.

How to Respond to Bad Reviews from Fake Users

It might be the case that you suspect that the negative review you are reading is not legitimate. It could be the work of a competitor, disgruntled ex-employee, or someone who is trying to harm your business. Still, as with genuine negative reviews, you should keep a clear head and never respond with anger.

If you have reason to believe that a negative review is fake, in this situation, you could contact the site that published the review. They might be able to help you by removing the review if they conclude that it has been written as an attack against your business rather than as genuine criticism.

You can also respond to the fake negative customer feedback with your side of the story, ideally providing proof of your claim. That way, if you have evidence that someone is lying about their experience with your company, any potential customer reading the review can see your point of view and appreciate that maybe this person was not a genuine customer.

Here’s an example reply to a fake negative review:

“Thank you for your feedback; we take these issues very seriously. Unfortunately, we have no recollection of any engagement with you, and we cannot verify anything about your identity based on information in our records. If you have had a negative experience with us, we would like to speak with you about this matter further as soon as possible to resolve this issue. Please contact us [name] at [business email].”

How to Get Negative Online Reviews Removed

Sometimes, negative reviews about your business can be defamatory, libelous, or even untrue, and getting them removed from the internet isn’t as difficult as you might think.

The first thing to do is identify what type of review it is:

Non- defamatory – A non-defamatory review would focus on an opinion about a business based on a customer’s experience. These types of reviews are often written by customers who were unhappy with their purchase, and as such, they should fall under free speech rights. As such, unless the reviewer threatens to cause serious harm, you will have no real basis for asking for its removal.

Defamatory – An example of a defamatory review could be where a customer accuses your company of theft. Another example could be where a customer claims that you knowingly sold them a faulty product. In both instances, the reviews are written with malicious intent and often for personal gain or revenge purposes. If you can prove that something stated in the review is untrue, then you might stand a chance of having it removed from various websites. If a review is libelous, you will need to try and prove it to have it removed.

Libel can include false allegations of criminal activity or behavior that reflects negatively on your business. If the reviewer posts this information with malicious intent, they could be charged with slander or libel and held legally accountable for their actions.

If none of these scenarios is applicable, you should provide evidence that proves that what was said in the negative review isn’t true or that it is a personal attack on the business owner.

How to Get Negative Customer Reviews Removed From Yelp

Yelp is one of the most popular review sites around, and it has a reputation of not being easy to get bad reviews removed. However, if you have a strong enough reason, it is possible. The best option involves asking the reviewer nicely to remove or update their review if you can resolve the issue with them.

If not, these are the steps required to remove a negative review from Yelp:

Sign in to your Yelp account and Identify the review in question and click on the flag icon/report this review button.

Fill out the form giving reasons why you think it shouldn’t be on Yelp. You will need to provide a brief explanation as to why you feel this is the case.

Once this is done, Yelp will review your case and either remove or keep the negative review. You are relying on Yelp’s discretion when making this decision, and if they decide in favor of the reviewer, you won’t be able to escalate the issue any further.

You will be notified by email regarding the outcome of the review, and you can also monitor the status of your case by hovering your mouse over the flag icon on the review.

How to Get Negative Customer Reviews Removed From Google

Log into your Google My Business account.

Select ‘View Reviews’ and identify the review in question.

Click on the three vertical dots in front of any negative review you want to be removed. Choose ‘Remove this review.’

Google will ask for reasoning, so be prepared to provide evidence showing why the review shouldn’t be displayed. Provide all requested information and wait for a response from Google. You may have to provide further evidence should they request it.

With both Google and Yelp, it might take a while for the negative review to be removed. Therefore we recommend replying to the negative reviewer while waiting on a decision, as leaving it unanswered might not reflect well on your business.

Positive and Negative Review Response Templates

You can use these templates as a starting point for creating your own response strategies.

Negative Review Response Template

Here’s a negative review response example for a restaurant

“Thank you for submitting your feedback [customer name]. We are sorry to hear that you were disappointed with our restaurant service. Our goal is to provide the best possible experience every time someone visits us, so customer satisfaction is at the top of our list. We would love it if you could give us a call so we can help resolve this issue for you.”

This is an example of a response that does not directly address the negative review but acknowledges and thanks them instead. This type of response may be effective because it puts the reviewer at ease; after all, they took the time to leave a review and may now feel as though their voice has been heard. Additionally, by using this phrasing, this company could potentially receive another positive review if the customer’s issue is dealt with after you take the conversation offline.

Positive Review Response Template

It is just as important to reply to positive feedback customer feedback as it is to negative reviews.

This is an example of a positive response template.

“Thank you very much for the review[customer name]! We’re delighted to hear that you were pleased with your experience at [restaurant name]. Please don’t hesitate to tell us how we could make things better for next time.”

In this example, the company acknowledges the reviewer’s compliment while also asking if there is anything else they could do to improve their customer’s experience. By asking the reviewer what they think could be improved upon, it shows potential future customers that you are willing to listen even if your business is already doing a great job! Not only will this type of response make the reviewer feel good, but it may also encourage them to leave another positive review in the future.

These are only examples, and the responses might not apply to your business. As a small business owner, you know your brand better than anyone else. Therefore, when responding to online reviews, it is important that you think about how the review applies to your brand and what exactly you would like to say in order to maintain or improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. It may be helpful to consider what you would want if the roles were reversed and then think about how to word your response in a way that will achieve that goal.

Conclusion

Reviews are nothing to be afraid of. If you do happen to get a less than glowing online review sprinkled in with your five-star reviews from time to time, consider it an opportunity to learn and improve. The chances are that if one person complained about something, you have at least a handful of upset customers who thought the same thing but didn’t say anything.

By responding in a timely manner and professionally to any complaints, you’ll be able to strengthen your business, address issues before they become systemic, and show your clients that you’re a human being who is willing to acknowledge a mistake and make things right.