We’ve all had bad days. Things don’t always go the way we plan in our everyday lives, and that can often spill into our professional lives. For small business owners, a bad day can affect a customer’s experience, leading to one of the more difficult things to deal with in our tech-infused world: a negative online review.
Because customer reviews live on the internet in perpetuity, it’s vital for small business owners to try to steer the narrative surrounding their business. That means responding not only to positive comments but also to critical ones.
Editor’s note: Looking for the right online reputation management service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Online reviews have become an essential tool for consumers who are deciding which businesses to support. With platforms such as Google, Yelp and Tripadvisor, the average person can share their experience with millions of potential customers around the world in just a few clicks. That means every good and bad review that makes its way online can affect your business’s potential sales. [Learn how to use Yelp for small businesses.]
Regardless of whether a review is positive or negative, each one offers your business an opportunity to communicate with customers and increase sales, but only if you take the time to respond thoughtfully. Here are some reasons why your company should prioritize responding to online reviews.
Consumers rely heavily on reviews to help them make purchase decisions. Approximately 98 percent of consumers read reviews of local businesses, according to the 2023 BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey. What’s more, potential customers aren’t just taking a brief glance at one or two reviews; they are dedicating time to researching products or services. In fact, a 2021 study by Bizrate Insights found that almost half of all consumers read at least four reviews before making a purchase, and according to a 2020 report by Trustpilot, 49 percent said positive reviews are one of the top three factors that influence their decision.
Before consumers enter your store or visit your business’s website, they’ve already heard from multiple previous customers and formed an opinion. Responding to reviews is a great way to guarantee that potential customers aren’t just hearing from other customers but also from you.
Consumers don’t simply read reviews when deciding on a product or service; they also check to see how businesses respond to the reviews. Another survey by BrightLocal found that up to 97 percent of people reading reviews also read company responses.
Those replies can influence consumer behavior even more than a company’s quality rating. The Trustpilot study found that 64 percent of people would prefer to buy from a responsive company than from one with a perfect rating. Furthermore, in a recent Bazaarvoice study of over 30,000 consumers, almost half said they were more likely to consider buying from a business if it took the time to respond to reviews.
Responses clearly help businesses bring in new customers, but they are also an important way to maintain positive customer relationships. Customers who take the time to write a review provide valuable information to businesses, regardless of whether that review is positive or negative, and those shoppers should be acknowledged. In fact, around a third of people who leave reviews expect businesses to respond, according to the Bazaarvoice study. Whether it’s a detailed apology or a simple thank-you, a response can help increase consumer confidence and build customer loyalty.
The hard truth is that negative reviews can hurt a business’s bottom line. A 2022 study by ReviewTrackers noted that 94 percent of people have decided not to buy from a business because of a bad review. But sometimes things go wrong, and negative reviews are inevitable. The important thing is how businesses react.
Some companies might feel tempted to delete negative reviews, but that would be more detrimental than the reviews themselves. The Trustpilot report stated that 62 percent of consumers wouldn’t support a company that censored reviews. Furthermore, consumers expect to see some negative reviews. In fact, the majority of survey respondents found companies with less-than-perfect ratings more authentic and trustworthy.
When your business is faced with a negative review, the best thing to do is respond. Negative reviews tend to bring up specific issues that consumers are interested in, such as supply chain delays, product design flaws or bad customer service. That’s why over half of consumers look specifically for negative reviews when making a purchase decision, according to research by the Baymard Institute. By responding to negative reviews, companies have a chance to address the voiced concerns, which can convince a customer not only to buy the product but to trust the company. In fact, another Bazaarvoice study found that reading a response to a review caused 71 percent of consumers to change their perception of the brand.
According to BrightLocal, 79 percent of customers said they would be “likely” or “highly likely” to leave a positive review after a business addressed the negative experience and provided a solution.
Responding to reviews allows businesses to go beyond countering the effects of negative reviews. Active responses can actually lead to more positive reviews and higher customer ratings. If you actively monitor and respond to reviews, you demonstrate a level of engagement that makes other customers more interested in having an interaction with you, too, whether that’s by leaving a review of their own or submitting a numerical rating (like five stars).
If you or your employees don’t have the bandwidth to regularly monitor and reply to reviews, you can enlist the help of a third party. The best online reputation management services can help repair any brand damage from negative reviews and enhance a company’s positive image. [Find out how to choose a reputation management service that’s right for your business.]
Research shows that word-of-mouth advertising, including reviews, is the most powerful consumer persuasion tool. When looking into potential purchases, consumers want to see not only what other customers think but also what the businesses themselves have to say. Responding to reviews allows companies to address negative reviews, build consumer trust, increase ratings and grow sales.
The general consensus is that, whenever possible, businesses should always respond to online reviews. Replying can help improve your company’s reputation, bring in new customers and keep customers who already use your business. However, there are a few strategies to keep in mind.
Some companies make the mistake of ignoring negative reviews, while others prioritize damage control at the expense of positive reviews. But 53 percent of consumers in the Trustpilot survey said they look for both positive and negative reviews before making a purchase online. And while the 2023 BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey found that 88 percent of consumers will use a business that responds to all reviews, those rates drop to 60 percent when the company responds only to negative reviews and to 50 percent when only positive reviews get responses.
Some older studies, like one from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, found that in very limited cases in which there were a lot of positive reviews, responding to online comments hurt financial performance. The study’s authors said that responding to reviews in this situation can create unnecessary information overload. Consumers may even become suspicious about the underlying motives of the response.
Meanwhile, the authors of a study that analyzed over 20 million online reviews wrote in Harvard Business Review that the best way to prevent issues like this is by delaying responses to positive reviews. This way, responses that might have a negative impact on potential customers are buried beneath newer reviews, while the review writer still feels acknowledged and maintains positive feelings about the business.
Most small and midsize businesses have limited resources, so it’s often challenging to find time to respond to every single review. If you don’t have the funds to employ an outside service, the key is to concentrate your efforts in the places where the most potential customers are likely to be.
The ReviewTrackers 2022 report found that most reviews come via just four sites: Google, Yelp, Facebook and Tripadvisor. Of those, Google is the clear leader. According to BrightLocal, Google holds 73 percent of all reviews, is used by 87 percent of consumers to research local businesses and is the most trusted platform.
Of course, consumers in some specialized industries, like businesses that sell to other businesses, might use more specific platforms. You need to find out where your consumers are doing their research and leaving user reviews so you can meet them where they are.
Negative reviews can have a detrimental effect on your business, but some good can come from them. For example, unfavorable reviews often provide useful feedback that can help companies improve their products and the way they do business. Consumers also find negative reviews helpful, as they tend to be specific and point out both pros and cons.
Responding in the right way can help ensure negative reviews turn into a positive for the company. In fact, the Bazaarvoice study found that consumers are around 116 percent more likely to make a purchase after seeing a business’s response to a negative review. Also, according to a 2020 report by Bazaarvoice, 87 percent of consumers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews, so it’s essential to take the right steps to address consumer grievances.
When you’re communicating with customers about service problems, personalization is key. Consumers want to feel like they are being heard, and addressing them personally is one way to do that. Be sure to respond promptly, as ReviewTrackers found that half of consumers expect a response to a negative review within a week, and a third expect a reply in as little as three days. Respond to the specific points the customer raised, and try to offer an immediate solution.
You can use negative reviews to benefit your business by following these tips:
Consumers have humanlike relationships with brands, so while it’s a good idea to personalize messages for each reviewer, you should similarly let your customers know there is a real person behind the response.
To illustrate how to respond to negative online reviews, let’s use a theoretical example. If a customer named John leaves a negative review saying your company’s tote bags constantly tear at the seams, here’s an example of an appropriate response that takes into account the above tips:
“Hi, John. Thank you for noting that you’ve seen our tote bags repeatedly tear at the seam — we apologize that you’re experiencing this. We’d like to offer you a credit to buy a different bag, and if that one also tears, we’ll give you a full refund. Please contact us at [your email address] for your credit, and feel free to request a call to discuss the situation further. We look forward to hearing from you, and again, thanks for voicing your concerns.” – [Your name]
Addressing complaints is essential, but so is maintaining your relationship with happy customers who take the time to leave positive reviews. Replying to positive reviews can be tricky, however. The authors of the Harvard Business Review study that recommended delayed responses reached this conclusion because they found that responses perceived as promotional were actually harmful and could cause customers to leave.
When you reply to positive reviews, make sure to personalize the message and be appreciative, but don’t make it seem like you’re trying too hard to make a sale. Follow the tips below to craft a successful response to a positive review.
To respond to positive online reviews, follow these best practices:
Using the above tips, let’s craft a response to a customer named Jane, who praises your interior design firm’s transparency and creativity. Here’s what this response might look like:
“Hi, Jane! Thanks for your kind words about how transparent we keep our design process and how outside the box we are with our designs. Remind us of this review if you use our services again, and we’ll give you 20 percent off. Thanks again!” – [Your name]
No matter what kind of reviews your business receives, you should always make the effort to respond. Multiple studies show that business responses help consumers make purchase decisions and also benefit a company’s reputation, which can translate into more sales. Whether you’re replying to positive or negative reviews, personalize the message and make each customer feel that their opinion is important and valued. Follow the strategies outlined above, and you’ll be sure to turn all reviews into a win for your company.
Max Freedman and Andrew Martins contributed to this article.