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“No business is immune to a negative online review.”

Even those with a 5-star reputation receive the occasional scathing comment from a customer-turned-critic (or a bitter ex-employee-turned-hater.)

On review platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, and Facebook, such comments can stand out like a bad apple that spoils the bunch.

How to Respond to a Negative Review:

  1. Apologize.

  2. Explain it’s not normal, and not okay.

  3. Promise you’ll do better next time (and mean it.)

  4. Ask them to come back.

  5. Sign your name and take it offline.

Why respond?

That one-star rating can drive away your potential customers. That 100-word rant can cost you in sales. That figurative (or literal) “fly in the soup” complaint that’s on the Internet for everyone to see can prevent anyone from ever trying your soup.

That’s why it’s so important that you respond to negative reviews.

Responding allows you to minimize any negative impact the review may have. It allows you to protect your reputation in today’s Yelp age. It gets rid of the bad apple, or at least prevents it from spoiling the rest. You have to respond.

More importantly, you have to respond in a way that doesn’t put your business in a worse light than the review already does.

Use these 18 simple words to turn it around.

Ever heard of Amy’s Baking Company? If not, Google it. Or check out the company’s Yelp page. Read about how they have become an example of how NOT to deal with online reviews.

“Scandal.” “Implosion.” “Crisis.” “Nightmare.”

Obviously, these are not the words you want associated with your business.

Smart, savvy business owners know better than to lose their cool after a bad review appears on their Yelp or TripAdvisor page. So should you. Sure, one-star reviews hurt. They can feel like a punch in the gut. But instead of doing an Amy’s Baking Company and retaliating, use the No. 1 technique that has helped 5-star businesses deal effectively with ugly negative reviews.

Commit this statement to your memory:

“We’re sorry. It was an uncommon instance. We’ll do better and hope you give us another chance. John”

These 18 words are all it takes. In the face of one-star customer reviews ranging from legit and “fair enough” to exaggeratedly bad and downright nasty, these words can be a life saver.

To be clear, the way you respond to negative reviews is going to be contextual. It depends on the situation, on what the customer has written, on how you’re planning to resolve or address the specific issue at hand.

When you’re writing your response, you’ll probably feel like you have to add to these 18 words. And that’s okay.

But if you closely examine the engagements and communications of businesses that consistently win over their harshest critics, you’ll notice that the statement above applies some of the most important fundamental principles of online review and reputation management.

Let’s break it down.

“We’re sorry”

Saying sorry shows that you care about your customers, and that you’re not too proud to own up to your mistakes. Even if it’s not your fault (and there will be times when this is true), say sorry anyway. No need to have the last say, or hold a grudge, or fight back.

Besides, people don’t like businesses that are too perfect or too proud to apologize. With “we’re sorry,” you become much more likely to have a scathing review taken down or win over a critic than if you refused to say anything at all.

“It was an uncommon instance”

This reassures the customer (as well as other potential customers reading the review) that you hold yourself to high standards — higher, certainly, than what was shown during the incident that provoked a bad review. What happened was an uncommon instance, an isolated case, an unfortunate incident, an off day.

In other words, it isn’t what your business is known for.

By acknowledging the “uncommon instance,” you put yourself in a position to preserve your reputation, as well as prevent customers from lowering their expectations.

“We’ll do better”

These words are phrased like a promise. “Next time you come here, we promise you’ll have a better experience.” It’s a great way of showing confidence in your ability to earn 5-star reviews and provide something worth raving (instead of ranting) about.

More than a promise, “we’ll do better” also means that you’re taking responsibility for what happened. You’re already taking action so that it won’t happen again. You’re listening to the customer and using feedback to make better business decisions.

People happen to love companies that listen. Put yourself in the position of a customer. Would you ever give a bad review of a business that says, “We’re all ears. We value what you have to say. In fact, we’re already working on these issues so we can do better next time.”

“Give us another chance”

These words are the opposite of “Don’t ever come back,” which is NOT the kind of message you want to send the reviewer when you respond.

Instead of slamming the door on critics, extend a hand. Invite them to come back, because you want them to. And when they do, welcome them with open arms. Doing so creates an opportunity for you to change the conversation, and for them to retract and revise their original review.

“(Your First Name)”

Signing off with your real name — instead of the name of your business — humanizes your entire review response. It gives the customer the sense that he or she is communicating with a real person. Not a public relations firm, or a group of faceless people in suits and ties, or some random third-party group hired to pay lip service. A real person.

Again, you’re free to come up with your own variations of these 18 words, as long as the fundamental principles apply. These will help you get real results as you work to minimize 1-star reviews and build a 5-star reputation.

Good luck!

Chris Campbell

Chris is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.