How to Fix a Negative Review with Compassion & Contrition

Linda Buquet

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How do you write a meaningful reply to a negative review? A customer with a legitimate complain about something you actually did not handle as well as you could have? Now that complaint is out there for the world to see.

It's hard not to get defensive. For the sake of potential new customers that could be reading the review - and your reply - you need to carefully think your reply through and I'd suggest having at least 3 people critique it before you publish it.

I was reading a post over the weekend about how to fix a bad review from CustomerLobby.

<a href="http://blog.customerlobby.com/2014/09/18/fix-bad-review/">How to Fix a Bad Review</a>

It was short and to the point and had links to other really good insights on the problem. But one of the links was KILLER, so I wanted to share it with you.

<a href="http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/09/two-elements-of-an-apology.html">Seth's Blog: Two elements of an apology</a>

Compassion and Contrition

"We're sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir."

That's a statement of compassion.

"Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn't do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We'll do better next time."

That's what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.
If you are helping a client work up a reply to a legit negative review - a customer complaint - I think it's worth keeping Seth's words in mind.

Click over to read the rest of both posts.

Don't remember if I've ever told this story here... But in a previous life eons ago, I managed a Bell Altantic Compushop - computer store.

Sales reps would come in my office and say "This customer is so irate he's yelling and screaming and ready to throw things. He says he deserves a free printer or something for all the trouble we've put him through. What do I do?" The rep would be shaking and almost in tears because this customer was so mad."

I'd take that red faced customer into my office and 10 minutes later he would walk out with a smile, telling everyone to have a nice day.

My staff would be like: "What the heck did you do? What did you give him? Did you cave in and tell him you'd give him a free printer or what???"

I'd reply: "No I listened to his concern. And AGREED he had a good reason to be upset and let him know I understood why he was so upset and didn't blame him. Then I gave him a sincere apology."

They would stand there with their mouths open and say: "He was so mad he was ready to throw things. Words could not have calmed him down. You MUST have promised him a free printer!"

I didn't realize until I read Seth's post this weekend, that the reason my approach worked so well, is that my reply always had elements of both compassion and contrition.

I know we've all seen terrible replies to reviews written by an upset business owner that took the defensive.

But have you seen replies to negative reviews that you thought were really well done or even brilliant?

Negative reviews happen. If you ever have to deal with one I hope you the CustomerLobby post above and Seth's words of wisdom come in handy.

<meta property="og:type" content="article"><meta property="og:title" content=""><meta property="og:description" content="Next time you have to deal with a legit negative review - try this.">
<meta property="og:image" content="http://marketing-blog.catalystemarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/hotpot2.png">
 

Nikki Brown

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Thanks Linda! I think that learning HOW to apologize is a very valuable lesson. Not just for responding to negative reviews but just for life in general.
 
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This is so good. Thanks, Linda!

A fair consideration when applying this "formula" to negative reviews, however, is whether to do so publicly or privately. Many times, when you know who the disgruntled customer is, you have the option of responding to him/her offline.

The reason I mention this is: expressing *some* contrition in public is probably a good thing, but expressing too much may create a bad impression--like you're real sorry but also ineffectual.

Instead, resolving a matter privately with compassion and contrition and then demonstrating the resolution publicly--e.g. "I'm glad we were able to resolve your issue on the phone," etc.--may be preferred.

Two cents for ya!
 

RobinOctane

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I like the contrition part. I run social media for a client and I totally believe in responding quickly and sincerely. And then even following up after I know it's been resolved.
 
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I was thinking of "compassion and contrition" today when I had to field a call from a reporter about how to respond to fake negative reviews.

My earlier point about "too much contrition" is really just a caution against creating the impression that your business is always making mistakes and apologizing. But of course you'd never want to legitimize a fake review by apologizing. What to do?

Anyway, I wanted to come up with some Godin-like alliteration that would complement "compassion and contrition" so I'm trying out "dispassion and dissection." The best way to neutralize the effect of a fake review is to respond to it in a way that makes the situation clear to any third-party, like:

"We take these matters very seriously. However, we have no record or recollection of any customer experience fitting your story and description, nor can we verify anything about your identity from your Google+ account, which appears to have just been created for the purpose of disparaging our firm."

Anyone have a tried and true response for fake negative reviews that the gatekeepers refuse to take down?
 
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I think there's an implicit point there worth mentioning: sincerity counts for a lot. I managed a moderator team at an Alexa Top 50 network, and I can't tell you how many times my approach -- the triple threat of sincerity, honesty, and compassion -- worked to diffuse some of the tensest moments.

It's incredible how much a small concession and a willingness to be sincere can do to make a customer feel valued. It's the fastest (and, arguably, cheapest! ;) ) way to convert an irate customer into a brand evangelist!
 

Linda Buquet

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Really great points Aarthi!

I like your triple threat approach and feel it can really turn things around - even in the somewhat impersonal online world we live in.
 

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