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  • Writer's pictureJean Dion

How Much Sorrow Belongs in Your Negative Review Response?


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Every negative review response should include three words: We are sorry. It should be a standalone sentence—not "We are sorry you feel that way" or "We are sorry you misunderstood"—and ideally, it should be one of the first things you say.


But we all know the word "sorry" can come with gradations. Sometimes, we're a little bit upset by a customer's experience. And in other cases, we're mortified.


Does every review require the same amount of self-flagellation? Of course not. Take these four steps to find out where yours falls on the spectrum and respond like a pro.


Step One: Interview Your Staff

Reviewers don't make up problems out of whole cloth. They come to visit you, and something upsetting happens to them. They get home, and they tell the world all about it. Before you even think about responding, sit down with your staff.


Your goal is to find out:

  • Who. The customer talked to someone. You need to know who that person is.

  • When. Did the incident happen at a busy point in the day? Were you closing for business? How long ago did this happen?

  • What. Find out the exact words used by your staff and the customer. Get to the crux of the problem, of course. But find out if any inflammatory language was used.

  • Where. Did other people see the incident unfold? Could other customers have watched as everything went wrong? Did other people see the incident unfold? Could other customers have watched as everything went wrong?

Honest staff members will tell you when they've done something wrong. Remind them that you're not hoping to dole out punishment. You're just trying to understand exactly what happened.


If your staff tells you they dropped the ball, either with a faulty product or with an attitude issue, prepare to grovel.


Step Two: Research Your Customer

Some reviewers walk through your doors one time, and they emerge with a fixed opinion about who you are and what you do. Others have wonderful experiences time after time, until one fateful day.


Look through your database and find your complainer. Search out prior purchases, last visits, and former reviews. If you ever did something right, perhaps you can repeat the experience.

If this is a customer that consistently did business with you, but this time was the last time, you have a big problem on your hands.


Step Three: Call Your Customer

You will always respond to your review in the same mode in which it was written. But if you can, dig around behind the scenes with the person you've offended.

During your phone call:

  • Apologize. Open with a straightforward, "I'm sorry." And then explain how you'd like to learn more about what happened.

  • Listen. Don't jump in with your version of what went wrong or minimize your customer's distress. Let the words flow.

  • Offer. Remember that research you performed? What does this customer visit you for? Can you offer a free product or a discount?

Some customers will forgive you, and they'll even thank you for reaching out. But others will give you details during the call that could make you cringe. And still others won't be placated by anything you do. Those last two groups demand a grovel-filled response.


Step Four: Write Your Response Like a Pro

You've done your homework. You understand that your company screwed up—big time. And even though you've apologized on the phone, you still get the sense that you haven't done enough. It's time to write a response filled with sorrow.


Remember: Your customer isn't the only one that will read your note. Future customers will, too. Show enough humility and remorse, and you'll convince them that you're someone that really cares about your reputation.


Your response should include:

  • "We are sorry." This sentence should open and close your response.

  • A recap of your call. Explain that you reached out to the person about the issue, but you still feel like an apology is due.

  • The solution you proposed. If you offered a discount or a free product, mention that here. What you will do next. Customers want to be heard. But they also want you to learn from your mistakes. Explain how you'll change going forward.

  • An offer to do more. End with the opportunity for your reviewer to reach out with more questions or concerns.

What does this look like in real time? It should sound something like this: "We are sorry. We called you about this issue yesterday, and as we explained, we had staff in training on the day you arrived. You were given the wrong information, and to express our dismay, we've offered you 25 percent off your next visit. We have also scheduled an intensive training for new staff, and we will keep future new hires off the register until they prove competence. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn. We are so sorry. If you'd like to speak with us about this matter, contact us via email."


This response is full of self-flagellation. We're recommending that one review will overhaul how we do business. This isn't the approach you should follow with every review. But if you have an angry customer you can't placate on the phone, and you know the crux of the problem is your fault, this is your only way forward.


I Can Help!

Every week, I'll write up a few thoughts on this blog about reputation management, SEO, PPC, and other digital marketing topics. I encourage you to check back on Fridays to see what's top of mind for me.


And remember: I accept clients! If you need help with your digital presence, reach out! I'd love to talk with you.

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