How Not to Respond to Reviews: 10 Common Pitfalls

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Contrary to the popular saying, all publicity isn’t good publicity. For example, it’s generally recommended that businesses respond to consumer reviews on local sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook. This is good practice because, although businesses can’t entirely prevent complaints or control consumer sentiment, review response helps to mitigate reputation problems and works to establish a positive voice for the brand on search channels that have become increasingly social in nature.

However, it’s quite possible to go about review response in a way that does more harm than good. Listed below are 10 common practices that won’t do your business any favors and are arguably worse than no response at all. They’ve been anonymized so as not to embarrass anyone, but if you recognize your own habits in any of these examples, you’ll want to do some course correction.

All examples are taken from real Google reviews with business owner responses.

#1: Customer Service Isn’t Just for Emergencies

Some business owners only respond to a small number of the most negative reviews. In this example, the restaurant has only responded to one review among 201 reviews on Google, a whopping 0.5% response rate. The customer complains that they’ve had hair in their food twice. It’s amazing that they came back a second time, but the problem here is that by responding only to the worst review, the owner creates the impression that they only provide attentive customer service in the most severe of circumstances. The owner can fix this problem by responding to a wide range of reviews.

#2: Leaving the Customer Hanging

You need to give customers a way to follow up with you offline if you want to continue the conversation beyond your initial response. Remember, sites like Google only permit one response by the owner; the reviewer can’t respond to you beyond that. So, a response like the one below is not very helpful because the business owner has left the reviewer no way to respond to the request for follow-up.

If you want more feedback from the customer, you’ll have to provide a phone number, email address, or contact form so they can reach out to you.

#3: See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Some businesses respond regularly to positive reviews, thanking the reviewer for their praise, but conspicuously ignore negative reviews. I can’t imagine why, but perhaps it’s a matter of trying not to draw attention to complaints. Unfortunately, this strategy will backfire. Negative comments with no response stand out even more starkly when the business owner has taken the time to engage with other reviewers. As an example, here’s a response to a positive review:

And right next to it, a negative review with no response:

Notice that the negative review even has an upvote, indicating that other users are paying attention to the reviewer’s complaints, even if the business owner wishes this reviewer would go away. It hardly seems necessary to state this, but if you’re going to respond to any reviews at all, make sure not to skip the negative ones.

#4: Thanks for the Thanks, But No Thanks

Thanking reviewers for their positive comments is a great practice, but if all you ever do is say “thank you,” you aren’t doing much to engage your customers or turn detractors into fans. In this case, a roofer regularly thanks customers for positive reviews but doesn’t have much else to say (and doesn’t respond to negative reviews either). Instead of just offering a thank you, use your response as an opportunity to engage with the specifics of this review. In this example, the business owner could have reinforced that they pride themselves on great prices and helpful staff.

#5: Not the Place to Advertise

Review response is your chance to show that you listen to your customers and take their feedback seriously. Don’t neglect that opportunity by using your response as a forum to post promotional messages about your business. In this particular example, the practice comes off as especially tone deaf, given that the business owner’s self-promotion does nothing to address the complaints raised by the reviewer.

#6: Don’t Feed the Trolls

Customers are sometimes rude, disrespectful, and even unfair in their assessments of your business. But you should never, ever let yourself sink to that level. Always strive to maintain a courteous tone and, above all, don’t engage at all with comments that can only put you on the defensive. Business owners can sometimes take reviews very personally, but just think how bad it looks to get into a scrap with a customer online for all to see. If you can’t take the high road, don’t respond at all. Better, though, to cultivate a brand voice that is always calm and professional.

#7: Danger, Will Robinson

Don’t sound like a robot and repeat the same response for every review. Even if you’re actually a human being and not a bot, it sounds repetitive and creates the impression that you’re responding by rote rather than actually trying to engage with customers. Change it up a little bit, even when simply thanking customers for a positive review.

See mirror image response #1:

And right below it, mirror image response #2:

#8: Late to the Party

Timely responses are important. Just recently, Google started notifying reviewers via email when the business owner responds to a review; before that, a delayed response would probably never be noticed by the original reviewer. Even so, consumers move at the speed of social media these days and expect business owners to do the same. A response like the one below, posted three years after the original review and suggesting ludicrously that the customer “check back with us soon,” will do little to re-engage the original reviewer, and doesn’t make the best impression on other potential customers either. Instead, make sure you’re responding to reviews as soon as possible, preferably within 24 to 48 hours. If you’ve just started a response campaign, be selective about older reviews. You don’t have to respond to all of them, but if a few reviews in particular seem to call out for a response, feel free to reference the fact that, although it’s been a while since this review was written, you still care about the issues the reviewer has raised. Perhaps you’ve made some changes since then that you can use your response to mention.

#9: I’m Listening to You, But I’m Not Hearing You

Sometimes, even in an effort to be friendly and positive, business owners forget that online reviewers are trying to tell you, in detail, what they liked or didn’t like about doing business with you. Remember to read each review carefully before responding and address the reviewer’s specific comments. The business owner below is clearly not paying attention to the fact that this reviewer has listed several specific ways the business should improve. The owner demonstrates this by writing, “If there is anything we can do to help improve your experience, let us know,” when the customer has already done just that.

#10: The Court of Public Opinion Isn’t an Actual Courtroom

Attorneys, this is for you. Don’t approach review engagement as though you were litigating a case, because even if you win, you lose by looking too much like a bully. In general, it isn’t necessary to write a dissertation in response to a review, and make sure to avoid digging too deeply into specific details that might be considered private or personal, even if the reviewer has already decided to go there. Keep it professional, to the point, and suitable for public consumption.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.