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How to Respond to Negative Online Customer Reviews

If you ignore a one-star Google review or bad online comment in 2023, you can easily turn your labor shortage into a customer shortage. While the last few years have not been easy, we must remember that buying habits are slowly shifting toward conscious consumption. That means more consumers are choosing to spend their money with brands, founders, and managers that represent good company values.

Therefore, online review platforms have become essential in the restaurant sector. They allow diners to share their experience and restaurateurs to show-off their customer service skills. However, negative reviews are inevitable and can impact your reputation. Learning how to respond to these reviews constructively is key to maintaining your brand image and building customer loyalty. 

Let’s explore some practical tips for handling negative reviews with both diplomacy and professionalism.

Read negative reviews carefully
The first step is to read and analyze a negative review carefully. Identify specific points to better understand the customer’s concerns and tailor your response accordingly. It’s important to put egos aside and not take things personally. Even if the customer poorly expressed their frustration, put yourself in their shoes and look at the criticism constructively.

Keep calm and take a step back
As mentioned above, it’s normal to feel offended or frustrated when faced with a negative review. However, it is important to stay calm and take a step back before responding. An impulsive or aggressive response could further damage your reputation.

Respond quickly
Customers often expect a quick response from restaurateurs. By responding promptly, you show that you care about their feedback and take their concerns seriously. The ideal time is ASAP, and the maximum response time is 48 hours. You want to demonstrate to future customers who look at the reviews that you’re not indifferent and that you make a daily effort to offer the best experience.

Thank the customer for their feedback
Begin your response by thanking the customer for their feedback. It shows that you appreciate their efforts to share their experience and are willing to listen to their concerns.

Offer a sincere apology
Acknowledging mistakes and offering a sincere apology is a sign of professionalism. Even if you don’t fully agree with the customer’s opinion, express your regret for any disappointment or inconvenience they may have felt.

Explain the actions you will take
Reassure the customer by explaining the steps you plan to take to resolve the issue raised. This may include training staff, improving procedures, or modifying menus.

Invite the customer back
To end your response, invite the customer back to show them that you are committed to providing a positive experience.

Offer a discount or benefit
In some cases, you can offer a goodwill gesture, such as a discount or special perk during their next visit. This can help regain the customer’s trust and show your commitment to customer satisfaction. However, use this strategy wisely, as it may not be suitable for all situations.

Remain professional and courteous
It is essential to remain professional and courteous throughout your response. Avoid the use of inappropriate or aggressive language and address the customer with respect.

Monitor online reviews regularly
To effectively manage negative reviews, it is important to regularly monitor online review platforms. This will allow you to respond quickly to feedback and take action to improve your customers’ experience.

Being able to differentiate a “real” complaint 
Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right. But how do you draw the line between the customer who abuses the restaurant’s good graces, and the customer who has a legitimate reason to complain? The customer who doesn’t offer any constructive points or only complains without using concrete facts is a good indication. Don’t be afraid to respond to this type of customer with facts showing that everything went well and invite them to come back and see it for themselves.

Here is a good example…

A customer complains that he waited one hour to get seated, had to sit at a table instead of a bench, and found the whole experience deplorable and unacceptable. However, he failed to mention that he was 30-minutes late for his reservation and that you tried contacting him twice before giving his table to the next customer. In this example, it is imperative to mention the facts politely and professionally in your response. Any sensible customer who sees your response in the future will quickly understand that you are actively managing complaints.

 In conclusion, negative reviews are inevitable in the restaurant business. However, by learning to respond constructively and professionally, you can preserve your brand image and retain your customers. Take the time to listen and understand your customers’ concerns and implement changes to improve their experience. Ultimately, your commitment to customer satisfaction will contribute to the success of your establishment and be reflected in future online reviews. Feel free to share this article to help your peers and other restaurant professionals. 

Contributing author: Kim Charlebois, president/founder/coach at RestoCoaching
514-295-2195 | www.restocoaching.com

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