When and How to Respond to Negative Comments Online

Bad Yelp review? Negative Facebook comment? Here’s how to minimize the damage and keep new customers coming in.
online feedback
According to Karen Fischer, a business coach and consultant, if you decide you want to respond to a complaint, make sure to respond fast. (Photo: Ditty_about_summer/Shutterstock)

Bad reviews happen. And seeing a negative comment from a customer on Yelp, Facebook or Twitter can hurt. But what you do next can make the difference between losing more customers and improving your business’ reputation.

Here an expert weighs in on how, and when, to respond so your business comes out on top.

Decide whether to respond

Some negative reviews aren’t worth worrying about, said Karen Fischer, partner of RK Fischer and Associates, a business coaching and consulting firm in Toronto. “If you have an occasional bad comment, you have to remember that you can’t please everyone.”

“Address the reviews that have specific issues,” Fischer advised. If the complaint is general — if the reviewer doesn’t include a particular criticism about the food or service, for example — it may not be worth a response.

Respond ASAP

If you decide the complaint warrants a response, respond fast.

“Ignoring someone is worse than taking the brunt of what you have done wrong, admitting it and looking to correct it,” said Fischer.

“You want to respond to the comment swiftly, within a maximum of 72 hours. The longer it is out there without a response, the longer you are exposed.”

Here’s why a prompt response is critical: “It isn’t just about that one dissatisfied customer,” said Fischer. “In most cases, you have already lost that customer because some people are just pickier than others. But you have to think of the other customers who are Googling you and who are going to read your reviews. By responding effectively, everyone can see for themselves that you have calmed the issue.”

Apologize and make amends

It’s important to take the high road with an irate customer. After all, in the end, the customer is always right.

Fischer discourages engaging in an online back-and-forth. “You will not only turn off that customer but other customers as well.” Just take a breath and apologize for what happened — and consider offering them something as compensation.

“If they came into your establishment and received poor service, you want to acknowledge the person had a bad meal or experience and offer to help them out with providing a discount or something free,” Fischer said. “It doesn’t really cost you anything because, in the long run, your business is benefitting. They may not take you up on the offer, but other customers have seen that you have taken the steps to address the situation.”

Address only issues you can fix

“If a server didn’t come back to check on the table or the food was late, then you want to address that,” said Fischer. But if you can’t or won’t rectify the issue the customer identified, don’t bother responding.

“You want to address the things that you can fix but not complaints like ‘the food was too salty’ because that is more of a personal taste and cannot be resolved.”

Take certain complaints offline

In some instances, you might want to respond privately to negative reviews.

“If a commenter gets verbally abusive, then a good idea might be to request the customer to call the restaurant and speak to you directly,” Fischer said. If the complaint involves a particular employee, choosing to discuss the issue privately would be advisable rather than having the berating continue online. “There are two sides to every issue, and especially with employee situations, you don’t want to discuss those online.”

At the end of the day, when it comes to responding to negative reviews, Fischer said, “It is about proper etiquette. How you deal with a customer online is how you would deal with them in person.

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