Like a respected film director or long-time chef, a shop’s work is always up for scrutiny. More times than not, that scrutiny appears as a shop review on Google or Yelp. While these reviews aren’t always bad (sometimes, they’re just mediocre), any critical review warrants a response. This is because 92% of consumers read online reviews.

Angry customer
Responding to a critical online review is the best way to limit its’ impact. Image copyright Ion Chiosea.

A review that claims a shop is bad at what they do must be responded to, as it’s all but certainly going to be read. Failing to respond to public criticism can make a shop look unconcerned about its’ customers. On the other hand, a good response to a criticism is a testament to a shop’s quality.

Here’s how to respond to a negative online review.

1. Stay Calm

When a negative review makes its way online, it’s best for shop owners and managers to take a moment and collect themselves. A first instinct might be for a shop owner or manager to respond defensively, but this is incorrect. Defensiveness often looks like guilt to a 3rd party.

Instead, an empathetic and measured response is best. Let the customer know that the shop acknowledges a “breakdown in the process” and that shop management is eager to work with the customer to make things right.

2. Stay Positive

A bad shop review usually isn’t limited to comments about the customer’s experience. Poor reviews often include insults directed at shop staff, unjustified assumptions about staff motives, and harsh language. The response to all of this negativity must be positive.

In this context, positive means:

  • No demeaning or insulting statements, eg “anyone who knows about auto repair knows that…
  • No assumptions about the customer’s motivations, eg “it appears that you’re trying to get free work
  • No defeatist sentiments, eg “since you probably won’t even respond to this…

“Even if you do get negative feedback, you can turn it into a positive by engaging in a constructive way and showing that you’re a genuine business,” says Shama Kabine, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing. “People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”

Orio factory

3. Formulate a Response

Before hammering out a reply and clicking ‘submit’, it’s a good idea to draft a response and let at least a couple of people review it. Additionally, follow these steps when responding:

  • Offer a simple and polite reply. Something direct, formal, and empathetic should set the correct tone.
  • Acknowledge the complaint. Tell the customer that their input was taken to heart.
  • Apologize, even if the business has done nothing wrong. However, limit the apology to something like “We’re sorry to hear you had a bad experience.” It’s not acknowledging the material complaint, just that the consumer didn’t like the interaction.
  • Direct the customer offline. Instead of attempting to resolve the issue on a message board, let the customer know the shop is eager to resolve the issue offline. Invite the customer to call, or have the shop’s lead customer service person reach out via phone, text, or email.

An example reply:

First, thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We hate to learn that one of our customers had a bad experience. We’d like a chance to resolve this issue, and our shop manager is going to be pulling your file and calling you soon. Of course, you’re welcome to call the manager directly at [phone number] so we can get this resolved right away.

We don’t recommend rehashing the facts with the consumer in the initial response to their review. Instead, it’s best to try and resolve the issue offline first. If that doesn’t work, the reply can be edited to reflect the shop’s efforts to make things right.

NOTE: If shop management has no idea who the customer is, it’s perfectly OK to ask them to share more info so their file can be found.

4. Make Every Effort To Contact the Customer

After leaving a reply to the review, the shop owner, manager, or lead customer service person (aka ‘customer relations manager’) should make every attempt to contact the customer. It’s important to note that the customer may never reply. This is not common, but not unusual. For some consumers, leaving a bad review is sufficient resolution. These consumers will not reply to contact attempts.

But if the customer can be reached, a sincere effort must be made to make things right. The person working with the customer should have the authority to resolve the complaint, including offering free or discounted work. It’s also important to make sure the person working with an upset customer understands the big picture. Diffusing an angry customer costs money in the short term, but can save the shop money in the long run.

If a customer’s complaints can be resolved, it’s reasonable to ask them to update their review. Just make sure they don’t feel obligated, or that the resolution of their problem requires them to update their review. Image copyright Teerawut Masawat.

5. If The Issue Can Be Resolved, Ask The Customer To Update Their Review

Assuming the shop can make the customer happy, the customer should be asked to update their review. However:

  • The request to update the review should be delivered after the business is concluded. Asking before the issue is resolved can make the shop seem insincere, as if they’re just trying to get a good review.
  • Before asking the customer to update their review, the shop’s customer service person should explain that online reviews can have a big impact on business. If the customer can see their way to revising their rating – or explaining that their issue was resolved – it would really help the shop out.
  • The person asking the customer to update their review shouldn’t offer any sort of enticement or bribe…telling the customer they’ll get a free oil change if they can revise their rating can often have the opposite effect.

Consumers are often willing to revise or amend a bad review, especially if the shop has resolved some or all of their complaints. Requesting a revision or update is perfectly reasonable, and the request can be repeated.

If for some reason the customer isn’t willing to update their review, the shop should update the review and report that the customer was contacted and that – to the shop’s understanding – the issue is resolved.

6. If The Issue Can’t Be Resolved, Update The Shop’s Response

The recommended initial response to a negative review is intentionally vague. The hope is that by offering a vague reply, the customer can be enticed to work with the shop to resolve whatever problems they have.

However, if a customer can’t be enticed to work with the shop – or if the customer is unreasonable – the shop’s response to the original review should be updated. The update should try to lay out the facts, explain what the shop offered to do, and that it was unfortunately not enough.

If this update is done correctly, shop owners and managers can essentially “flip the script” of the complaint and highlight the positive qualities of the shop. Even if the complaining customer can’t be made happy, prospective customers might decide that the bad rating is undeserved.

7. Finally, Consider Changing Processes To Reflect Customer Complaints

The hardest step in any customer satisfaction exercise is acknowledging failure. A shop that gets a poor review has likely made an error somewhere in the process. The error may have been small – setting the wrong expectation, for example – but an error is an error.

Shop managers and staff should acknowledge any error(s) and work to prevent them from re-occurring. The customer is always right – right?