How To Respond To Negative Reviews
May 08, 2019
It can crush our feelings of success to receive a negative review about our business. Many massage therapists I've seen talking about negative reviews have stated they prefer to ignore them and/or reading them makes them feel sick to their stomach. Other responses to negative reviews are defensive and dismissive, with the argument that "Oh well, you can't please everyone".
If you’ve ever had a negative review, then you might understand these emotions I went through when there was a message in my inbox that I had a new review for my business. The emotional roller coaster started with excitement when I saw there was a new review for my business. Then morphed into feeling a punch to the gut seeing it was three stars. And, finally, after reading the review, feeling angry and defensive.
In my case, the reviewer lied about what happened at my office, hence my anger. This person lied about the time they were given in the session, lied about the music played, and other untruths about the session in general. It was months before I could come up with a reasonable reply.
In general, we should come up with a reply within a day or so, but I wasn’t sure how to respond to such a review and remain professional, so it took me far too long. But it taught me to learn how to respond to negative reviews if they come up again so I can respond more quickly next time.
If we’re in business long enough we are probably going to deal with at least one or more bad reviews. Most will probably be valid complaints and some might just be spiteful. Regardless of what the cause of the negative review is, we should always respond in a professional manner. Most negative reviews are going to be valid concerns where during the course of a client’s interaction with our business, something happened that didn’t match their expectations.
In most cases, we just need to change our mindset about what negative reviews mean to our businesses. More often then not, they are genuine complaints where someone felt they were mistreated and/or not understood. Most of the time they write a negative review is because their situation wasn’t resolved during their interaction with our business.
We all know how frustrating it can be when we are expecting one thing but instead receive another. I'm sure we've all had times where front office staff was rude, mistakes were made in appointment setting, things were running late, and so on. Some reviews may seem rude but only because the person writing it is likely feeling very frustrated.
This is why it's important to consider reading 'between the lines' of a negative review. Jay Baer, in his (highly recommended) book Hug Your Haters, writes this about shifting our mindsets about negative reviews:
“When you’re able to analyse to improve your operations, complaints become not something annoying that have to be “dealt with” but massively valuable, free information that can be a catalyst for excellence. Rather than trying to reduce the number of complaints and eliminate haters, you should instead encourage complaints and make customer feedback mechanisms as plentiful and simple as possible.”
So, what he’s saying here is that negative reviews can show us where we need to improve in our business. When we get a negative review, we can use it as a spotlight to show us where improvements can be made. We can learn to read 'between the lines' and see where the client is actually giving us some clarity.
Here are some examples of actual negative Yelp reviews I’ve found for massage businesses. I've included part or all of the review, followed by how it could be used to improve our businesses or provide a catalyst for excellence.
Negative review #1: “If nothing or a negative was an option that would be what this place deserves for the quality in which they treat their members. Cancelled my membership well before the cut off and they still went ahead and charged my account for the next month. Now it's a nightmare trying to get reimbursed.”
Catalyst for excellence: Review membership policies to make sure they are clear, work on making cancelling easy, and find out why the member had trouble getting reimbursement. It may be due to clerical error caused by a disorganized front desk.
Negative review #2: (Very long, detailed review that the massage therapist smelled like marijuana and did sloppy work) “Well I called back a week later to find out what was going to be done about this massage therapist clearly being under the influence at (their) job. It didn't seem like ___ had done much about it. (They) said (they) talked to the massage therapist and told (their) manager about it. THAT WAS IT. I asked (them) if they were going to drug test (person) and (they) said they only drug test when they first hire their massage therapist. However with what happened to me I feel (they) should have been drug tested again. I don't think anything is going to be done about this situation.”
Catalyst for excellence: In this review, the client is saying the massage therapist made her very uncomfortable and feels like management did not listen to her concerns when she called to speak with them. This reminds us we need to make sure we have very clear policies in place for not tolerating drug use during work hours.
Our clients trust us to provide professional services, the massage therapist should have been required to undergo a drug test and be fired or placed on suspension based on the workplace policies. It’s imperative we remember how vulnerable our clients are when they are on our massage table.
Negative Review #3: “(They) asked what areas I would like focus on and what type of pressure. Keep in mind I already wrote that down in detail on the front of the sheet (they) was filling out. I understand that they are striving for good customer service but what was with all the small talk?! I wasn't here to interview for a massage...
Ok, now we are in the massage room and the massage therapist asked me the same questions for a 3 time! Where should I focus, what kind of pressure...? Seriously people?!”
Catalyst for excellence: This is a great opportunity to review and teach our employees, or ourselves, if a sole practitioner, how to do a good intake. Listening is a skill that isn’t typically intuitive but definitely can be learned.
Negative review #4: “The customer service here sucks while trying to book an appointment somebody else was able to access my appointment which would have put me 2 hours and a half beyond what I wanted to stay! ridiculous (sic) they offered no help no benefit at all I would never recommend this place to anyone.”
Catalyst for excellence: Sometimes double bookings do happen! Especially if you have both an online booking and a front desk booking going on at the same time. The best thing to do here is make sure you reach out immediately to resolve this issue.
When we get a negative review, the best thing to do is just step away from it and don’t respond immediately. It’s important we relax before we craft a reply. In Hug Your Haters, business owner Wade Lombard, shares the policy he has at his business in regards to online reviews:
“We have this rule that you need to stop, and you need to just wait a little while. Because when you respond, realize you’re not responding to just this person, you’re responding to all of earth, and so make sure you’re responding in a way that when folks read it, regardless of the circumstances, they’re reading something from the business that reads well and it reads respectively.”
This really is an important message to remember. Whether the reviewer is being untruthful, exaggerating their claim, or coming off as snarky, when we respond, we should respond knowing that hundreds of people are likely going to read our response.
I’ve seen businesses respond to negative reviews in a way that made me seek them out specifically to do business with them! A well- crafted reply shows that you care about the experiences of your customers. We all know that life gets in the way and mistakes happen, when I see a business owner respond in a professional way, it gives me the strong impression they care about their clients.
When it comes to responding to a review that has obvious untruths or not giving the full story, the worse thing we can do is nitpick every instance where they are being untruthful or left out pertinent information. Just keep it short and to the point. Because yes, most negative reviews are genuine problems but there are those that are written from someone who just wants you to look bad.
In the negative review for my practice that I mentioned earlier. The client was another massage therapist and I think they were just upset with me personally and wanted to make my business look bad. Their review contained many untruths about the session, they even lied about the type of music I had playing!
But in my response, I just focused on the main point, which was this client wanted a two hour session and claimed I didn’t allow them the time. In truth, I told the client I didn't typically offer them, but did give them a full two hour session. Not only did I comply with their request for a two hour session but they came in for a couple more sessions afterwards! None of which they mentioned in their review and it sounded like they had such a disappointing session they didn't return after the first appointment.
So, how did I respond? With this:
“I would like to take this opportunity to include a couple facts you left out of your review. You came to my office on three separate visits for massage appointments. In your first visit, you did receive a 2hr massage (although I don't normally offer 2hr sessions). The other two times you came to my office were for 90 min sessions. I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy your sessions and I've used your experience as a learning tool to improve communication skills with my clientele. It is important to me that my clients feel comfortable enough in their sessions to speak out if they aren't enjoying the massage or would like something to change”
I kept it short and sweet. I didn’t address every untruth he said in the review, just the main point because I felt it was important to let the public know that his request was honored. I let the public know that the comfort of my clients is important to me. And that I used this experience as a “learning tool” to improve my business so that potential clients might see that I took complaints seriously.
It’s very important that we watch the way we’re responding to a review. If you’re unsure, ask a someone that you know has a history with being level-headed. As them if you sound defensive, snarky, or unprofessional in your response.
Looking back at the negative reviews I shared earlier, what are some ways the business owner could have responded to them? I've taken the same negative reviews with ideas on how the business owner could have responded in a professional way.
Negative review #1, Response:
Dear (name of reviewer), thanks for sharing your feedback. We’re sorry that you had difficulty cancelling your subscription. We are looking directly into the matter to find out why you were double charged and would like to resolve this situation. Please call me at #phone number so we can resolve this matter right away and credit your account.
Negative review #2, Response
Dear (name of reviewer) thank you for letting us know and we are very sorry that you had this experience. Our company strives to remain professional at all times and we take these types of situations very seriously. Can you call me at #number and we can discuss this further.
Negative review #3, Response:
Dear (name of reviewer) we set a high standard of service at our business and are sorry to hear about your experience. We will use this feedback to improve our quality of care so this doesn’t happen again.
We’d love it if you gave us another try, please call me at #phone number so that we can make it right.
I can’t stress enough just how important it is to respond to a negative review within 24 hours. The majority of reviews are from clients who have a valid concern and they really just want to feel like someone is listening to them.
Here’s a general formula for responding to negative reviews that was taken from an article referenced at the bottom of this post. I strongly recommend reading the article as it gives some fantastic guides for responding to positive and negative reviews. This formula is for the bulk of the negative reviews that we get, which typically represent real complaints of dissatisfaction.
Not all reviews are from people who are just unhappy with the quality of their service. Some are from people who are trying to destroy your business reputation for no reason. In these cases, keep your response very short but still professional.
Never respond more than twice to a negative review. Sometimes responding to a hateful review encourages the reviewer to keep going and then we just end up in this long drawn out discussion that doesn’t help us at all. If they reply to our first response, we can just let them know to please contact us privately and then leave it at that. This way we aren’t caught in a long cycle of negativity, which is basically just a trap that will make us look even more unprofessional!