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How to respond to a negative review – and turn it into a positive

“Come try the worst bagels some guy on Facebook ever had in his life.”

While painting that across a two-storey wall outside your store might not seem like the most conventional way to respond to a negative review, it sure hasn’t hurt Sydney bagel shop Smoking Gun Bagels. In fact, it was a stroke of marketing genius.

“The success was huge. We were surprised at how much the sign worked,” says Smoking Gun Bagels co-founder, Mark Treviranus.

“People would obviously see the sign, stop and actually come in just because of it.”

The sign, which was shared on Smoking Gun Bagels’ Instagram page, also gained traction online with 600+ likes and even a US marketing expert asking if she could use it in presentations.

“Lots of people would take photos of the sign, post it, comment, and then tag us in it on social media,” says Treviranus.

Should you engage with a negative review?

Obviously, most negative reviews are not going to lend themselves to becoming a powerful marketing tool, but if you’re thinking of just letting your latest bad review go through to the keeper, consider this.

More than two-thirds of customers read online reviews and blogs (68%) before making a purchase decision, according to the Yellow Social Media Report 2018.

Not only that, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to Bright Local’s 2018 Local Consumer Survey. This makes the importance of getting your side of the story across in a polite and succinct manner critical.

Kurt Burgess is the manager at East Elevation, a bustling cafe in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Brunswick.

He says customers simply like to know that they’re being heard.

“Engaging with them – whether in a positive or negative situation – is such an important part of a business, especially in the hospitality industry,” Burgess says.

“It shows that we care what they have to say, and that we’re taking their situation on board and learning from it.”

So how do you go about responding to online reviews? Here’s three steps:

1. Keep calm and step away from the keyboard

It’s common to feel like your world is crashing down around you when a bad review pings in, so that’s definitely not the time to respond.

“When someone takes the time out to give you a one-star review, and then rips your business apart, obviously it’s extremely gutting,” Treviranus says.

Remind yourself that every single business will get the odd bad review from time to time.

By stepping away and allowing yourself to cool down you’ll give yourself every chance to respond in a professional and polite manner.

2. Once you’ve cooled your jets, respond

It’s helpful to think of this process as an opportunity to let your customers – and potential customers – know that you take their feedback seriously.

“Firstly, it’s really important to take responsibility for the reviews you receive. Someone had a bad experience in your venue, that is their truth and they’re sharing that,” Burgess says.

“Always ask questions to get to the root of their issue – they will feel heard and respected.”

Burgess also advises avoiding hostility when responding to negative comments.

“Be open, and allow yourself and the business to grow from them. Ending on a positive note with the customer may just give you a second chance and get them back onside,” he adds.

3. Here’s a template to get you started

So, what exactly do you write when responding to a negative review? While each complaint is different, here’s a general template you can follow as a guide:

  • Say hello and introduce yourself.
  • Thank the customer for visiting your business, providing feedback and/or any positives they mentioned.
  • Apologise that their experience didn’t live up to their expectations.
  • From there, you could offer some kind of compensation, or let them know you’ve listened and adjusted your product or service accordingly.

Whether you choose to respond privately, publicly or both is up to you.

East Elevation prefers to respond publicly for transparency purposes. Smoking Gun Bagels opts to respond to its customers privately.

“What I’ve found is if you go above and beyond in your response to the customer by apologising for the mess-up and inviting them to come back in for a free bagel, or whatever it is you offer, people are over the moon,” Treviranus says.

“Most people understand that mistakes do happen. We’re all human, right? Not robots.”

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