Negative online reviews, no one likes to see one about their business. A client has just left you a negative online review on Google Reviews or Facebook. How should you respond? Should you even respond?
In an offline context, how you responded to a customer only affected the dissatisfied customer. However, in an online context, there are potential customers who will read the negative reviews and your reply. A lot of customers rely on online reviews to make purchase decisions.1 How you reply to negative reviews can affect potential customers’ attitudes towards your business and whether they praise it or not.
Our blog article Why Online Reviews Are Important for Your Business explained the benefits of online reviews. While the majority of our professionals have an overall rating of over 4 stars on Google Reviews and Facebook, no one is — unfortunately — protected from negative reviews.
The Response Strategies to Negative Online Reviews
In their study, “We(b)care”: How review set balance moderates the appropriate response strategy to negative online reviews (2015)2, Nathalie Dens, Patrick De Pelsmacker and Nathalia Purnawirawan, give a nuanced answer to the question.
There exist six response strategies, depending on the context. They are:
1) no response
3) apology only
4) apology + prospective explanation
5) apology + compensation
6) apology + prospective explanation + compensation
While most service providers will usually not respond to negative online reviews, that isn’t always the best solution.3
Here are the different response strategies to negative online reviews explained:
When the service provider doesn’t respond explicitly to the negative review, either intentionally or because they are not aware of it.
When the service provider denies the situation.
When the service provider acknowledges the problem and assumes the responsibility.
When the service provider promises that the problem has been fixed and will not happen again.
When the service provider provides monetary compensation.
Based on the study, your response strategy will depend on your ratio of positive vs negative reviews. In fact, this ratio influences how potential clients assess you, as a professional, or assess your business.
Scenario 1: Most reviews are positive
In the first scenario, you have more positive reviews than negative ones. If your objective is (a) to enhance positive attitudes and support intentions, you should not respond. If fact, the study showed that there was no significant difference in people’s attitudes and support intentions toward the service provider across all response strategies. Therefore, opting for least effortful response strategy makes sense. However, if your objective is (b) also to spread positive word of mouth, you should provide an apology, a prospective explanation and a compensation.
Scenario 2: The balance between positive and negative reviews is neutral
In the second scenario, you have an equal amount of positive and negative reviews. People may have doubts on who is accountable (either your business or the dissatisfied customer). Therefore, the impact on others’ attitudes is less severe. If your objective is (a) to enhance positive attitudes and support intentions, you should provide an apology and a prospective explanation. However, if your objective is (b) to spread positive word of mouth, you should provide an apology, a prospective explanation and a compensation.
Scenario 3: Most reviews are negative
In the third scenario, you have more negative reviews than positive ones. People will most likely assign accountability to you or your business. Therefore, more efforts are required from you. You should provide an apology, a prospective explanation and a compensation.
You may be wondering: "What about the refutation strategy?" Well, it might be the worst strategy to adopt for neutral and negative review balances. Although refutation is an acceptable strategy to use when the review balance is positive, it is not effective in encouraging positive word of mouth.4 In fact, previous studies found that the use of refutation was perceived as a lack of empathy by the review readers. It also gave more credibility to the person leaving the bad review.5 Consequently, it is suggested to opt for the no response strategy, or the apology, prospective explanation and compensation strategy, based on your objective.6
Understanding The Negative Online Review First
While the article from Nathalie Dens, Patrick De Pelsmacker and Nathalia Purnawirawan didn’t mention this aspect, we would like to share one experience we’ve had with a bad review. Sometimes, it is only a misunderstanding. At a time when GOrendezvous had few reviews on Google, an unhappy client had left a rating of 1 on 5 on Google Reviews from his own account and from his wife’s account. We know it; one bad review can have your average review score drop drastically. Our founder tried to understand the situation.
A 45-minutes phone call and a couple of emails later, our founder still wasn’t able to address this issue. Yet, this was a misunderstanding. Our founder ended up explaining to the client the impact his reviews had on the business: two potential clients had recently mentioned that they were worried about our service after seeing the bad reviews online. Taking the time to talk one on one with the dissatisfied client can help. The client ended up changing his review. In fact, as an entrepreneur himself, this talk made him realize that his reviews, written under impulsion, could hurt a business and the people working behind it. It happens to us all: when we are angry, we do not necessarily think before talking or sending a message full of anger. This can happen to your clients as well. In scenario 2 and 3, it can therefore be worthwhile to take the time to understand your client’s bad review first. If the talk works, you may not even need to use the response strategies.
In summary, more negative reviews means more efforts to enhance people’s positive attitudes, support intentions and positive word of mouth intentions. Additionally, if your objective is for other people to have positive attitudes towards your business AND spread positive word of mouth about it, you will need to put in more effort than if your objective was solely to enhance people’s attitudes. Although this study looked at the attitudes and intentions of the review readers and not the dissatisfied customer, it was shown that they reflected the ones of the dissatisfied customer as well.
If you are dealing with a lot of negative reviews or a neutral review set balance, don’t despair! Nathalie Dens, Patrick De Pelsmacker and Nathalia Purnawirawan showed that, when using the appropriate strategies, you can improve people’s attitudes and intentions to the same level as in the positive review balance scenario. Also, having more positive reviews means that less effort is required whenever a customer leaves a negative online review!7
On a final note, don’t let negative reviews scare you. Encouraging your customers to leave reviews can help your business. Now, you know which strategy to choose in the advent of a negative review. If you haven’t read our blog article on Why Online Reviews Are Important for Your Business, we encourage you to do so.
1 Hennig-Thurau, T., Malthouse, E. C., Friege, C., Gensler, S., Lobschat, L., Rangaswamy, A., & Skiera, B. (2010). The impact of new media on customer relationships. Journal of service research, 13(3), 311-330.
2 Dens, N., De Pelsmacker, P., & Purnawirawan, N. (2015). “We(b) care” How review set balance moderates the appropriate response strategy to negative online reviews. Journal of Service Management, 26(3), 486-515.
5 Kerkhof, P., Utz, S. and Beukeboom, C. (2010). The ironic effects of organizational responses to negative online consumer reviews, Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Research in Advertising (ICORIA), Madrid, June 25-26.