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6 Tips to Respond to Bad Online Reviews

Many small business owners rely on word-of-mouth to grow a customer base and build a solid reputation. So if your company falls victim to too many bad online reviews, it could easily hurt your bottom line.

Unfortunately, human nature is such that customers are awfully likely to take the time to write reviews when they have something to moan about. Case in point: Unhappy customers typically tell 9 to 15 other people about their negative experience. And when customers aren't satisfied, there's a 91% chance they won't do business with the offending company again. So if you're on the receiving end of a bad review, it's imperative to take steps to respond appropriately. Here's how:

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Be respectful

It's never easy receiving criticism in a public forum, especially when some people can get downright nasty. But rather than stoop to their level, make a point of keeping your language professional and respectful, no matter the context. If you follow this basic rule, you'll avoid digging yourself deeper into a hole as you craft your response.

2. Acknowledge your customers' gripes

You never know what might set a customer off, so if you see a bad review that stems from a seemingly minor issue, resist the urge to dismiss it. Instead, thank customers for taking the time to post feedback, and acknowledge that they have every right to be upset over the events that transpired. Sometimes, validating customers' feelings will get them to change their tune.

3. Always apologize

There's something about the words "I'm sorry" that can turn a negative experience into one that's not all that terrible. So when responding to bad reviews, be sure to toss those words in there at least once or twice. The only caveat? Avoid the "I'm sorry, but..." trap. If a customer's order was botched, don't say, "I'm sorry, but your instructions weren't clear." Instead, make it the pure, unadulterated apology your customers probably feel they deserve.

4. Don't make excuses

When responding to a bad review, it's natural to want to offer some sort of explanation as to why things went wrong. But there's a fine line between explanations and excuses, and the last thing you want is to cross it. So choose your words wisely. If you own a restaurant and spot a review in which a patron complains that the food took too long to arrive, don't say, "We were understaffed and filled to capacity that night, and so most orders were delayed." Instead, own up to the problem by saying something like, "We recognize that our service was unacceptable on the night in question, and we're sorry it impacted your dining experience."

5. Offer concrete solutions for fixing existing problems

Everyone makes mistakes; it's how you address them that can set you apart from the pack and minimize the damage otherwise caused by a bad review. So it's crucial to offer specific solutions for fixing problems that are brought to your attention. For example, if a customer complains that the wrong item was shipped from your store, don't just say, "We'll try to do better next time." Instead, say, "We just hired a new quality control manager to ensure that mistakes like this don't happen again." This will give the customer who wrote the review -- as well as anyone reading the exchange -- more confidence in your business.

6. Ask for another chance

Your goal in responding to negative reviews should be to prevent potential customers from writing you off while attempting to retain current ones. So if an existing customer has a bad experience, you should make it as easy and painless as possible for that person to give you another chance. If you own an online apparel shop and see that someone received a torn or damaged item, offer to ship a replacement overnight at no charge. If you're a restaurant owner, invite a guest back for a meal on the house. Give your customers a reason to grant you one more chance to prove that your business does offer value. And with any luck, they'll take you up on it -- then keep coming back for more.

Writing online reviews is easy for disgruntled customers. Dealing with them on the business side, not so much. But if you're strategic about how you respond to negative reviews, you'll be doing your part to preserve your business' reputation -- and avoid losing customers in the process.

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