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Breaking Down a Bad Review: What Went Wrong and How to Respond


“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” – President John Adams

These famous words were spoken well before online business review sites such as Yelp, Facebook, and Google+ existed, yet the message still applies when a business receives a bad review.

Since it is roughly 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, customer satisfaction should be a top priority for any business. Not only does a 1-star review signify an unhappy customer, but it could scare away other potential clients who are researching your business online.

If your business receives a 1-star review, the best thing you can do is attempt to rectify the situation in a calm, quick manner. 70% percent of customers say they will do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved—meaning this is a great opportunity to salvage the relationship. Not only can you retain the unhappy customer, but you are showing online visitors a dedication to customer satisfaction, making them more likely to choose your business.

Let’s take a look at this example 1-star review left on any of the aforementioned review sites:

“I came here last week for a nice dinner. The prices were a little high for my liking, but I had just received a promotion and wanted to splurge a bit. I ordered the shrimp alfredo. After about 30 minutes of waiting, the waiter brought over a chicken and vegetable dish. I explained to him that this is not what I had ordered, and he got an attitude with me, saying there is no way that he messed up the order. He reluctantly told me he would put in an order for the shrimp alfredo. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, I was given the food I had ordered, but it was cold. There was actually a piece of frozen shrimp in the meal! The waiter insisted it was fine, but I demanded a hot dish. After yet another 20 minutes (does it really take that long to heat up food?) I was served my meal. No apology from the waiter or manager, no discount for messing up, and the food sucked. I would not advise anybody to go there.”

Now, let’s break down the review piece by piece:

  • First, the customer sets the scene for his complaint by laying out some background information.

  • Next comes the legitimate complaint: the wrong order, the cold food, the rude waiter, etc.

  • Lastly is the lash-out, or revenge. The customer says “the food sucked” and told potential customers not to go there.

Next, let's look at 2 ways the business owner can respond to this comment: the right way and the wrong way. Here’s Example A:

“First off, I would like to point out the history of this user’s reviews. All negative. Does this guy not have anything better to do than bash businesses online? As far as your complaint with our restaurant, it was a very busy night. I seriously doubt there was a piece of frozen shrimp in your pasta, and if there was, the waiter would not give you a problem for sending it back. Maybe you were just rude to him.”

If you couldn’t tell, this was the wrong response. Here are some key mistakes made by the business owner in his reply:

  • The opening statement is spent shaming the customer. This is the worst possible thing you can do. The customer is already lost.

  • The owner makes excuses for bad service, i.e.: It was busy. It is not the customer’s job to understand this, even if it’s true.

  • The owner suggests that they doesn’t believe the customer. The last thing you want to do is call the customer a liar.

  • The last sentence further insults the customer, which will only makes an already bad situation worse.

  • Never once did the owner apologize for the experience or try to rectify the situation.

Now, let’s look at Example B. Here is how the business owner should have responded to the comment:

“As the owner of this restaurant, I would like to apologize for your experience first-hand. I remember that night. Our computers glitched and re-assigned orders to different tables. It took us a while to figure out what was happening, and you must have been one of the first victims. I’m also sorry about your experience with the cold food. There is no excuse for that. I wish you had asked to speak to the manager at the time. I would have made it up to you in person with a free dinner. If you want, come in this week and ask for Vinny. I’ll be sure to give you a hot, delicious meal on the house.”

What made this response so much better than his first one?

  • It starts off with a sincere apology.

  • It includes legitimate reasoning as to how the mistake occurred.

  • The owner admits fault for the cold food.

  • It encourages readers to speak directly to the manager if a problem occurs.

  • The owner offers a free meal to make up for the bad experience.

As a business owner, how you respond to a bad review could make or break your relationship with the customer. By showing empathy and attempting to resolve the situation, you not only retain an unhappy client, but you prove your commitment to customer satisfaction as well.

Scorpion is a full-service digital marketing agency which helps businesses like yours improve their online presence and generate more business. To learn how we can help you achieve and exceed your online marketing goals, contact our team!