Poor Yelp reviews can be damning for a business, but your chance to shine through may depend on how you react.
No business aims to receive poor reviews from its customers, but any misstep can lead to one. Whether you’ve hired a disinterested employee, a customer had to wait longer than expected, or the bathroom toilet was overflowing with sewage causing an elderly lady to slip and break her pelvis, any number of things can turn a positive experience into a negative. How you choose to respond to the negative reviewer can change people’s opinions of that bad review.
citygurl84’s 1-star review of Deb’s Pizzeria spiraled out of control
Jenna (known on Yelp at citygurl84) and her besties Zoey and Gina were planning to enjoy a fun night out on the town. First stop? Food. And where better than Deb’s Pizzeria? Just around the corner, the neighborhood had been abuzz with excitement since the much ballyhooed food truck had opened its first brick-and-mortar establishment in a quaint up-and-coming neighborhood.
Unfortunately, their night at Deb’s was such a disaster that the next day this review was posted by Jenna on Yelp.
“Deb’s is the worst pizza place in town, hands down. And that’s saying something because I made the mistake of eating at Ernie’s Pies drunk last weekend and that sh!t was vile. Like, I get Deb’s is new and has a great location, but the wait was unreal. The wait to get in, the wait for the bathroom, the wait for drinks, the wait to order. No. Just no. My grl Zoey’s wine glass had lipstick all over it, like WTF is that shit, and my spoon looked like someone used it to unclog a sink. The waiter Brendan was the most incompetent tool I’ve ever seen. He had like four tables and it was too much for him. We waited 56 minutes for our one pizza to arrive and finally said peace out and left a few bucks on the table for our horrible drinks and app. Sooooo irritating. Understaffed, overpriced, OVERRATED. Will not return.”
Deb was in her office preparing for a slower Sunday daytime crowd when the review came in. Her heart raced as she read the hurtful words. She knew very well that citygurl84 came at the very busiest time of the week and never even tried the pizza, the reason everyone puts up with the wait. Her fingers trembling, she considered three different responses.
The “I Hate You Too!” Response
“Good, I’m glad Brendan overlooked your table you little bitch! Now that I know what you and your libtard friends look like, I’m officially banning you from ever returning. You’re lucky you left before your pizza arrived because I swear to God I would have poisoned it myself!”
“Posted! There, that will teach her,” Deb cackled to herself as she went back to work, feeling a little better.
Ohhhhh boy, was Deb in for a world of hurt.
Deb’s usage of the term “libtard” to describe a customer she had never met alienated about 50% of her customer base that read the review. Her name-calling and threat to poison—and presumably kill?—three of her customers also didn’t sit well. A local food journalist saw the response and posted a screenshot of the exchange in an e-newsletter. Soon, angry people who had never even been to Deb’s began leaving one-star reviews and warning people not to eat there. Deb’s did see a slight uptick among the far-right, but overall it was painfully clear that the review had hurt the business.
Granted, Jenna’s review was scathing and specifically called out a poor waiter by name, but the customer is typically given a little leeway.
The “Let’s Make This Right” Response
“I’m SO sorry you had such a disappointing experience Saturday night. I want to make it up to you and your friends and prove to you that this was a one-time hiccup on what was an extremely busy night. Message me directly and I’ll be happy to send you a $75 gift card to try us out again on the night of your choice. Again, we are terribly sorry about your experience!”
In this scenario, Deb was admitting wrongdoing and allowing a snotty customer to walk all over her, her hard-working employees, and her lifelong dream. But she was showing the public that she’s an upstanding business owner who strives to satisfy each and every customer, even if it comes at the cost of $75. If Jenna returns with her friends and loves it, they may return many times again and spend much more money.
Many Yelp readers saw Deb’s exchange with citygurl84 and it prompted them to try the restaurant despite the awful review. After Jenna accepted the gift card and tried Deb’s again, she changed her review to 4 stars and said she would definitely be back.
Deb ignores it and goes on with her life. She doesn’t engage in a heated exchange, but she also doesn’t attempt to make it right. Each Yelp reader will have to come to their own conclusions on whether or not citygurl84’s review holds water or not.
So, what items must be considered when replying to a terrible review for your business?
- If you’re super heated, don’t reply right away! Let things sink in for a while. A prompt response fueled by emotion can cause you to write things you will regret.
- It can never hurt to just reply and try to make things right with the customer who left the bad review, unless you show you’re a complete pushover and people start trying to take advantage of you.
- If the customer calls out an employee by name and makes insulting remarks, it may be in your best interest to stand up for that employee to show you’ve got their back. If, of course, you believe the employee is in the right.
- Unless the customer was completely abusive, is obviously in the wrong, or is leaving a bad review that you know to be false, replying in an angry manner is probably a bad idea. Replying and correcting the customer on their claims is acceptable, but be careful!
- If you are a new business and you only have three reviews and one of them is that horrible 1-star review, it carries a lot more weight. Consider trying to make it right with that customer with an apologetic review. Conversely, if you have 893 perfect reviews with just a few scattered bad reviews, they probably aren’t hurting your business any.
- Making a habit of thanking reviewers for their review—good, mediocre, or bad—is good practice. Thanking the customer for taking the time to review shows you care. Acknowledge the review as constructive feedback and say you will take their ideas into consideration.
- If the terrible review was completely warranted and perhaps ruined a momentous occasion such as an engagement party, you might be better served to stay quiet and not chime in online. Consider trying to reach out to the person privately if possible.
My Hot Take
I’ve left my share of bad reviews for businesses, and in each case I felt they were fully warranted. In at least two instances, the business owner reached back out and offered me gift cards to give them another try and re-write my review. Both times I gave the business another shot, and both times it paid off for the business as I had much better experiences. One was a car wash and the other was a restaurant. The car wash didn’t get my car clean, had a broken vacuum, and overflowing garbage bins. The second time it had all been fixed. The restaurant waitress completely ignored us the whole night. We saw tables turn over multiple times while we continued to sit and wait for our order to be taken. The second time service was prompt. See, it pays! No business owner has ever reached out to me angrily after a bad review.