a local business owners review response guidebook

10 Example Responses to Negative Customer Reviews

and a boatload of tips so you can...

Stay Safe, Save Time and Win Back Upset Customers

Bonus: Save Time & Stay Safe when responding to reviews - Get the "10 Examples of Management Responses to Customer Reviews" guidebook.

Preface: The High-Stakes Game of Online Reviews

Are Reviews That Important?

I've created this book to save you time and reduce headaches when replying to reviews.

But before we dive it to the review response examples, I want to tell you about why I'm obsessed with helping businesses improve their reputation when it comes to online review sites.

It's really simple. And it starts with two questions:

"Who reads online reviews? And why do they read them?"

  1. Your customers and potential customers.
  2. To avoid risk and pain.
Nobody likes reading reviews.

People read reviews because they are trying to make a wise decision.

It doesn't matter what they are deciding: where to go for dinner, where to get their teeth cleaned, looking for a new gym to try - whatever it is. They want to avoid the pain of making a bad decision.

The real point is, they, your potential customers, are at a critical moment - they are looking for the best place to spend their money.

When people are (reluctantly) reading reviews, they are telling us "I'm interested in spending money at ____(your company) or ____ (your competition)."

And which one will they pick? The one with the best reputation on Yelp, or Google or another review site they trust. If they are in a hurry they won't even bother reading the reviews - they'll look at the star ratings and number of reviews and go with the highest numbers.

The reason I am obsessed with reviews and getting them right is that I know how much they matter to your customers. And because of that, how much they matter to your business.

Intro: Why It's Essential to Respond to Reviews

I believe that reviews are the most powerful and overlooked form of marketing. Positive or negative, reviews are written by your customers with the intent of influencing your future customers.

  • Even bad reviews are good for you!

A negative review, with a great management response, can actually be more effective at creating a positive impression for your business than a 5-star review.

Negative reviews offer you, the business owner, opportunities to demonstrate caring, correct facts, and even go viral.

We’ll get straight into the examples, but there are three keys that need to be front of mind when you’re going to respond to a review – especially a negative one:

  • Empathize… how would you feel if the same thing happened to you?
  • Be Humble … a reviewer is your customer. In a way, your customer is your boss!
  • Take Responsibility even above and beyond what you think is fair.

These points are not just important life-skills and PR posturing, they are also wise business policies. 

One more important point when it comes to responding to negative reviews. Remember that now, in the era of hyper-connected smartphones and social media, customer service is a spectator sport

  • Always keep the cost of potential negative publicity in mind.

Giving a customer a $25 refund, even if they violated your policy or you feel they don't deserve it, may be a smart expense when compared to $1000s of lost revenue if that person shames your company online to their 100,000 social media followers (it happens!).

Needing to be right, or to make a point with an upset customer, can be expensive and damaging to your business.​

Bonus Section: What's Your Magic Number?

Usually, authors put the bonus chapter at the end of the book. In this case, however, while this content is not directly related to responding to reviews, it is so important to understanding why and how to respond to reviews, that I felt it had to be read first.

Small companies are often completely unaware of this number. While larger companies know it and make many vital business decisions based on it.

The Lifetime Value of a Customer (LVC)

In a moment I'll show you how to calculate this number for your business, but first, why is it important in a book about review responses?

The stakes are high. Most of the businesses that I work with don't realize the cost, in real dollars, of an unhappy customer and a negative review.

Is the Customer Always Right?

It's a question that's asked a lot, but in my opinion, it's the wrong question.

The fact is that right or wrong, an unhappy customer costs your business money. I'm guessing that if you haven't calculated the LVC before, you'll be shocked at how much money an unhappy customer can cost in lost revenue.

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be profitable?

The point of the LVC number is to help you make decisions about how to react in difficult situations with your customers.

Lifetime Value of a Customer Example

Here's a real-life example from a sushi-loving acquaintance of mine - Brian. He's maybe not a typical customer. Which is why if you were doing this for your business, and I highly suggest you should, you would average out at least five different customers. However, Brian's story serves as an excellent illustration for purpose of this book.

Brian goes to his favorite sushi place and has a bad experience. He tries to work it out with the manager, but the manager doesn't show any empathy and just comps his meal to try and make Brian happy.

Brian wasn't looking for a free meal, he's a successful businessman. He wanted to be heard and feel like his complaint was valid. Brian is unhappy, and won't return to this sushi restaurant.

Let's calculate what it means to this sushi business.

Brian is a bit of a big spender, his average bill is $120 when he goes out for sushi - he almost always takes friends or business guests.

Brian loves sushi, he goes to his favorite place once a week. That adds up to $6,300 a year of direct revenue for this restaurant.

Brian is a creature of habit, so it's not uncommon for him to go to the same places for five years or more. That's $31,500 in lifetime value.

As I mentioned, Brian is a social guy. He introduces friends to his favorite place on a regular basis. Over the course of a year, he brings about 50 people (some more than once). If we multiply that times five years, that's 250 new potential customers Brian is responsible for bringing to this business.

If only three of them become regular customers, we can safely add $60,000 to the value of Brian's business to this company.

This one regular customer, that the manager upset by not taking his complaint seriously, represents about $100,000 in revenue to this sushi restaurant. 

I'd bet that if the manager knew the value Brian represents to his business, he would have responded differently to Brian's complaint!

If that wasn't horrifying enough to any business owner, let's go through the cost of Brian now taking his pain at the hands of your business online to his 1000 Facebook friends - not to mention Yelp and Google Maps.

What if he influences just three or four other sushi lovers just like him? That's a potential $350,000 loss in revenue because of one unhappy customer.

If you're thinking these numbers are absurd, let's compare with a very successful business.

Starbucks estimates a $15,000 lifetime value for one customer. Roughly half the value of the extreme sushi buyer of my calculations. If they factored in referrals and negative reviews the cost of making this coffee-drinker unhappy, could easily get to $150,000.

Every business will have a different value for LVC, but they are almost all much higher than managers and owners would guess.

Let me provide a bit of more detail using a recent study.

This study was about the correlation between a restaurant's survival and their star rating on Yelp. They used the $1/hour increase in minimum wage in California as a stress test.

... in the period they studied, looking at 11 Bay Area cities that saw minimum wage hikes over the last decade, a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage led to a 14 percent greater chance of a restaurant with a 3.5-star rating shutting down. 

That chance went up to 25 percent if the restaurant had a 2.5-star rating.

Meanwhile, restaurants with 4.5- and 5-star ratings saw no discernible impact from the wage hike.

This study at least hints at a strong relationship between higher ratings (less unhappy customers) and the viability of a business.

Hopefully, this drives home my point about the high stakes game of keeping customers happy and managing your online reputation.

Key Point - Calculate the LVC for Your Business

Use the average of at least five customers with the LVC calculation examples and get your business's number.

Remember this number when deciding how to respond or react to an unhappy customer. The thought of losing $100,000 or more in revenue can put it into perspective when you feel reluctant about giving someone a free month of yoga classes taking five minutes extra to listen with empathy when they are telling you about something they don't like.

1 - Responding to a Tough 1-Star Review

Below, I've found a fairly typical 1-star review from Yelp to use as an example. The kind that almost any business can receive.

yelp.com

1-Star Customer Review Example

1-star negative review rating on Yelp

Service is HORRIBLY SLOW!! Nice ambiance but the service here is non-existent. The bus boy delivers our appetizers, drops the plantains and immediately leaves without apologizing or replacing the plantains. We finished eating our appetizers and 15-20 minutes later the waitress asks us what we wanted for our entrée. So total time that the waitress was gone was 30 minutes and we did not want to wait another 30-45 mins for our entrée.

Come here if you are able to waste 3 hours of your life. Food is mediocre. Their steamers were filled with bell peppers and onions. Should be called bell pepper and onion with a hint of clams and mussels. Don’t waste your money or time here.

It is Sunday, march 15 at 6:20PM in the outdoor patio. I hope the waitress reads this because she knows who she is. I’ve already told her I didn't have anymore time for her.

Management also can care less.

The person is upset and to an impartial observer, that pain seems completely justified.

The correct management response is to follow the three keys: empathy, humility, and responsibility.

A Great Management Response

As the manager of Habana, I am deeply upset to hear of the poor experience you’ve had at our restaurant.

I really get what a frustrating experience this was for you. You were not well taken care of, by any stretch of the imagination. If I had received the service you have described, I’d be very upset as well.

Obviously we are not doing a good enough job training our servers and bussers as your review indicates service that is no where near what we consider to be our standards.

At our last staff meeting I read your review out to all of our staff and we went through everything that I find unacceptable so that the service you experience never happens again.

We would love to have you come back and give us another chance to show our true colors.

Thank you very much for taking the time to leave a thorough review, I welcome all feedback as hearing from our customers is the best way we can improve our business.

1-Star Review Response Analysis

Paragraph one: humility is the best policy. Notice, no defensiveness. The manager accepted the complaints of the customer at face value.

It's a common mistake to get off-track when responding to negative reviews because of one simple misunderstanding.

Arguing about what's true.

Here's a hint. Objectively there is only one truth.

The police clocked you going 70 in a 50 zone - there's an overwhelming chance that you were actually going 70.

But, you have a super smooth and quiet car, so you may feel like you weren't going very fast.

Objective truth = going fast. 

Feeling or emotional truth = not going very fast.

Both are true!

Let's go through a more personal example...

Your girlfriend says, "I feel like you don't love me."

You say, "Of course I love you."

Why doesn't she become less upset?

Because your response mixes facts and emotions. Fact = you love her. Let's assume that's 100% true.

She feels like you don't love her = 100% true.

A great response to her feeling of being unloved is, "Ahhh, it must hard feeling unloved. I'm sorry you feel like that."

When facts and feelings are not the same, you'll never get someone to "see" the facts, unless you first acknowledge the truth of their feelings.

Key Point #1a - Feelings are Always True

No matter how absurd it may seem to you. Let your customer feel the way they feel. 

Feelings are incredibly powerful, if you dismiss them, it will only upset people further. Always validate feelings to resolve conflict and diffuse anger. 

Key Point #1b - Avoid Protecting your Employees

Another way this mistake plays out is when customers complain about an employee to a business owner. The owner knows the employee well and trusts them, so when the owner hears the complaint, the thought in their head is, "That can't possibly be true!"

Then they take side with the employee and don't validate the feeling of the customer, leading to greater upset, and often a negative online review.

Even if you know your employee would never do what the customer is saying, let the customer be right. Let them feel upset, be on their side. Imagine that what they are saying is true - it is to them. That doesn't mean that you are betraying your loyalty to your staff, it just means that you understand that their are levels of truth, which is very wise!

Paragraph two: empathy is being able to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Here the manager illustrates it perfectly.

This point is almost always true. Anyone would be upset at the experiences this customer received.

Empathy has the effect of putting you, the manager, on the same side as the reviewer. It diffuses conflict... "I understand and get what you are experiencing" is the message.

Paragraph three: taking responsibility. In a lot of review responses, you'll see management say something like, "if only you would have expressed how upset you were at the time - we could have taken care of it."

This is a way to push responsibility back to the customer. It might help you feel less guilty, but it won't work at improving the reputation of your business.

Again, you will just be invalidating their feelings. Even if you think that it's 99% true, that the customer should have behaved differently, what's the 1% that you or your staff, could have done differently to make a better outcome?

Focus on that 1% like this manager did, and you'll impress any future readers with your maturity and kindness.

Key Point #2 - Management Responses have Two Goals

Number one is to trying and win back or to "recover" the upset reviewer. A great result would be to have them change the review, or write an update with praise about how the review was handled.

Number two, and this can certainly be considered the more important reason, is to demonstrate the caring and maturity of the business owner/manager to any future readers of the review.

It's number two that is so important and people often forget. Yes, you may be tempted to try and win an argument with the reviewer. But even if you succeed, you can come across looking bad to future review readers. In short, you can win the battle but lose the war.

Paragraph four: demonstrate that you took the review seriously! 

There is a weak version of this that you see a lot in mediocre management responses. Saying something like, "we'll make sure this never happens again."

However, when this manager tells the reviewer about the actions that they took with their staff in response to the review, that has a really powerful effect.

Remember in the original review it said, "management also can care less."

A tepid response would be, "yes we do care."

However, this manager wins the day by demonstrating that he did care. He made his staff members sit uncomfortably through a meeting where the review was discussed and analyzed.

He proved that he cared, not just to this reviewer, but to everyone that reads this review. I'm convinced that his staff is more aware of their customers after that meeting. And the quality of service that customers receive has gone up.

Key Point #3 - Show, Don't Tell

Actions speak much louder than words. Demonstrating the steps you took to make changes in your business as a result of customer feedback will have a dramatic impact on the reviewer and prospective customers.

Now you have everything you need to know to write fantastic responses that will turn 1-star negative reviews into customer-pulling lead magnets for your business.

Follow the key points and always remember to keep the perspective of future readers in mind. Don't get locked in the perspective of simply replying to the one upset customer.

Imagine all your past, present and future customers will be reading and judging your response!

2 - Responding to Fake Reviews

It this section we'll cover how to identify "fake" reviews and the most effective ways deal with them.

yelp.com

2-Star Fake Review Example

2-star fake review example

BAD BAD BAD SERVICE!! Our waiter was rude and kept spilling water everywhere, as if on purpose. I have been to many places in the city… this one is so far the worst! Try RN74 instead. Machael Mina is always a treat! :)

A review that recommends a competitor is often a fake.

One of the other signs of a fake review is when the reviewer talks about themselves and doesn’t give any details about the place (how could they, they haven’t actually been there).

When dealing with this type of review the best course of action is to flag it (report it to the review site) and suggest it is likely from a competitor.

This may or may not be effective since it is difficult to prove and review sites have varying requirements about what reviews they will and will not remove.

It never hurts to try having fake reviews removed. I've had Yelp and other sites take them down which is great news for my clients.

The second thing we can do with a suspected fake review is to leave a response that "neutralizes" the effect that the review might have on any future readers.​

Management Response Examples

Approach One

“Sheila B. is neither a current or past customer of our store. This review is a fabrication.”

I recommend that you must be certain that the reviewer is not a customer before attempting this type of response.

Approach Two

“This fake review has been flagged for a violation of the Yelp! terms of service.”

Approach Three

If neither one of the above is appropriate for a suspected fake review, then the best course of action is to see Chapter 1 and respond sincerely as if it was a valid negative review.

Demonstrating empathy, humility and taking responsibility always creates a good impression - you can never go wrong by using these tools- even if the review is completely bogus!

Fake Review Type Two

In the previous section, we looked at a fake negative review. Often left by a competitor, or a someone associated with a competitor to try and damage your business.

This next type of fake review is even more common - it's a fake positive review

TripAdvisor

5-Star Fake Review Example

fake 5-star reviewer
2-star fake review example

Wow! We arrived to be meeted by a lovely lady. Offered a cup of tea/coffee but as we were running a little late we declined, although shortly after my girlfriend decided she wanted coffee so she went down and I snuck off to the ship inn to enjoy a pint. The whole experience was very tranquil. Beautiful village combined with a beautiful b&b. Everything was perfect. Room and breakfast was exquisite. Will definitely be coming back at some point to explore the local area!! 5*

It looks like a legit review, good profile picture with a sweet little family photo.

Now, I'd like to introduce you to a secret weapon in the battle against fake reviews...

Review Skeptic - http://ReviewSkeptic.com/

a deceptive review on review skeptic

​Review Skeptic uses complex math to detect signs that a review is fake. It claims to be right 90% of the time.

Once you find a review is deceptive, then report it to the review site (usually there is a little flag icon in the lower corner of the review) and it doesn’t hurt to include the Review Skeptic result in your request and also state that the reviewer has never been a customer of your business.

Management Response Example

None, as this review will be on a competitor's business, you won't be allowed to respond.

The best thing you can do is flag the review as inappropriate and fake and give evidence to support your claim.

Key Points For Spotting Fake Reviews

For a negative review: look for any mention of your competition or similar businesses. It is against most review sites, like Yelp's terms of service to write a review if you are representing a competing business. Report any reviews like this and many times the review site will take it down.

For a suspicious 5-star reviews: these would be found on your competitor's site if their star rating or their number of reviews suddenly goes up. When you read the review, ask yourself, "are there any details in this review that proves the person actually has visited the establishment?

If you re-read the fake 5-star review above, you'll see that the reviewer doesn't even mention the place he's reviewing. He talks about his story and the village nearby, but no details of the actual place - easily fabricated. Poor English and bad grammar are also signs that someone in India may have been hired off of a site like Fiverr.com to create artificial reviews.

Report any reviews like this and many times the review site will take it down.

The most effective way to deal with "fake" reviews is to ask the review site to remove them. With your request, supply as much supporting evidence as you can as to why the review is fake.

And just one last word on the  topic of fake reviews. Don't buy them for your own business. Besides being unethical, they always suck and look stupid. Unfortunately, your customers are not stupid and won't be fooled. They will backfire. Put your energy into getting reviews from your actual customers. (If you need help with that, look up my contact info at the end of this book.)

3 - How to Handle Nonsense Reviews

Nonsense reviews, which is my personal term for them, are reviews that sound like they were written by a crazy person. They don't make any sense.

Unfortunately, they are often negative 1-star or 2-star reviews, so having a strategy for dealing with them is worth considering.

TripAdvisor

1-Star Nonsense Review Example

nonsense review of 1-star on TripAdvisor

Bad service, staff who swear at their customers, thugs shanked my mum, my baby drowned in the appalling gravy, my Grandmother was already dead anyways but you get the point. Terrible, disappointed at the person at the counter sexually harassed.

ratings for 1-star nonsense review

The only reason that I can think of to write a review like this, is to be "cool" and impress friends. Notice how this one has 24 "helpful" votes. These would be ego-strokes for the reviewer.

If your business receives a review like this, think long and hard before replying. The best thing you can do with a review like this is to completely ignore it.

At this point, you need to trust the intelligence of anybody, a potential customer of yours, that might read the review. It will be obvious to them that this review is not serious and can safely be ignored.

If you respond, you will be only making it worse. The only thing you will do is encourage the attention-seeking of the reviewer and more importantly, make yourself look stupid for taking the review seriously.

Don't take the bait.

Using a review management system to get more reviews from your happy customers takes care of these type of reviews. Once you have more reviews, one like this does less damage to your star rating. 

Management Response Example

None - just focus on getting more reviews from your happy customers to repair your star rating.

4 - Don't Respond like Middle Management

In case you're unfamiliar with the phrase "middle management" here's a definition:

Middle management is the intermediate management of a hierarchical organization that is subordinate to the executive management and responsible for at least two lower levels of junior staff.

They are typically in a very difficult position in an organization and in job satisfaction surveys, they are consistently the most unhappy employees.

The reason for this is because they have very little power. They can't change anything because their superiors would have to approve it, but they are responsible for a lot of things that could use improving. In a way, they are trapped and powerless.

Most likely, everyone has had the frustrating experience of having a rule that makes no sense to us enforced by someone in middle management. It happens a lot when dealing with the government.

It's a horrible experience and it shows up in responses to unhappy customers in real life and in online customer reviews.

Below, I've found a fairly typical 1-star review from Yelp to use as an example. The kind that any business can receive.

Yelp.com

Upset Customer 1-Star Review

1-star rating on yelp
Yelp reviewer profile

If I could leave no stars I would. I stayed at this as my friend had a wedding in their facility. To start the hotel over charged us. We were told guests had a $109 rate. We were charged $180. When we complained the day of we were told $140. Better but not good enough.

The day of the wedding we were getting ready in the honeymoon suite and when I ran back to my room to grab something I found housekeeping cleaning our room. When I asked why she was there she said she though the room was empty. Completely ignoring a wedding dress hanging from the window, our luggage on the bed and all our random personal items still in the bathroom and around the room. I asked her to leave and she argued with me. I went downstairs to ask the manager why there was someone cleaning our room when we had a late check out and he was confused… (snipped - you get the point)

This is a review from an upset customer of a hotel in my town. See the response in the next section for major, yet common, mistake that this hotel's manager makes with his response.

Middle Management Response Example

business owners profile - review response on yelp

9/3/2015 – It’s something our staff takes great pride in, so we value your feedback both positive and negative which tells us the places we need to make improvements with the aim of offering our guests with a more pleasant and comfortable experience.

On behalf of our entire staff we apologize for the concerns you shared about your experience during your stay with us. I have addressed your comment to our team, and I assure you we are working diligently to ensure a similar situation does not occur again in the future.

We appreciate the feedback and will use it to fine tune our operations.

Sincerely,

Hany Assal, CHSP, General Manager

Radisson Hotel & Convention Centre Edmonton

This response is completely lacking in empathy.

If you don’t demonstrate empathy to someone that is upset, they will just become more upset. 

Even I get upset reading this response, No one reading this will be excited to stay at this hotel.

It’s what I call a “middle manager” response. It is all about their hotel and its improvement, rather than acknowledging the upset of the actual person that is complaining.

Look at the phrases I have marked in bold. They are about how to improve the hotel. Does the person who wrote this review care about future improvements to the hotel?

NOPE. Zero.

What she's upset about is that she doesn't feel like the hotel management cares about HER. 

And in this response, the manager has demonstrated that she is correct. All he cares about is making the hotel better.​

And even worse, no one reading this review will be convinced that the manager will actually make the hotel better.

If he wanted to use this approach, what he should have done is to outline all the actual changes that have been made to hotel policies as a result of this complaint. Then the reviewer would have felt heard.

You make a business better by careing about your customers. The hotel's business is about caring for people who need a place to sleep and hold events. This manager completely misses the point with this response. ​

Key Point - Customers Need You to Put Them First

Putting customers first can't just be some platitude written on a wall somewhere. In order to "recover" upset customers and create a shining reputation, you must demonstrate empathy and understanding.

And you must put customers first with your actions, not just words.

It's an illusion that siding with your customers' feelings is counter to your business goals. Making your customers happy is the only business you have.

People need to feel that you care about them personally - that you care more about them than you do about the image of your business or even the feelings of your employees.

5 - Fixing Reviews that Have the Facts Wrong

Sometimes these are fake reviews that have the facts wrong because the reviewer hasn't actually been to the business, or they can be assumptions that actual clients make that are untrue.

Either way, it's important to point out any incorrect facts in an online review - especially a low star review.

TripAdvisor

1-Star Review with Incorrect Facts

1-star rating on TripAdvisor with facts wrong

Over all a less than perfect experience with Noorish. I found prices much too high and the quality of food inconsistent; sometimes great and sometimes quite less than mediocre depending on which chef was on duty. Huge chunks of almost inedible hard granola that were crumbled from a granola bar for our breakfast. For such extravagant prices it seemed a bit much. Sometimes the food was great though but the inconsistent nature of its quality and extravagant prices were a downer.

Above is an example from one of my clients' restaurants.

The review is from November 2015 and is complaining about the granola, but this restaurant hasn’t served granola on its breakfast menu since 2012.

Management Response Example

I'm sorry to hear that your experience was less than perfect. It may be possible that you've left this review for the wrong restaurant however, since we haven't had any type of granola on our menu since 2012. 

In this case, it doesn't hurt to politely direct responsibility for the mistake back to the reviewer. Being respectful is important if you go this direction. Remember that as management responders, we first want to project caring and maturity.

In the case of this review, since it is a 1-Star review, it is doubly important to correct the mistake. This discredits the entire review and people will dismiss the reviewer as an unreliable source of information about this business.

The Attacking Fake Fact Review

For example a reviewer says that your restaurant is not accessible to people in wheelchairs because there are steps leading to the front door. The truth is you have a side door that is level to the sidewalk and when people show up in a wheelchair, you simply take them through that door.

In this instance, it would be critical to point out the error, or your business could be damaged severely by this mistaken belief.

Key Point #1 - Always Correct Factual Errors

Incorrect facts can be very influential. Imagine a review with the facts wrong that mentioned that your business was not wheelchair accessible (as in the example above).

All potential customers reading that review would believe a critical piece of information about your business that was untrue.

Correct all incorrect facts about your business - even on 5-star reviews.

Key Point #2 - Distinguish Between Facts and Opinions

Make sure you know and correctly identify the difference between facts and opinions. For example, if a yoga studio reviewer writes, "They don't like fat people." That is an opinion.

If you argue or disagree with someone's opinion, you'll only start a fight.

Facts can be objectively verified.

- No granola on menu = fact. Correct if wrong.

- Wheelchairs can get into the business = fact. Correct if wrong.

- They don't like fat people = opinion. Validate their feelings, it's horrible to feel discriminated against. Don't tell them that what they are saying is untrue.

6 - Fighting Back with Finesse

It is possible to turn a negative review into a positive by coming back at the reviewer with a counter-attack.

But BEWARE, this is a high-risk strategy. It also requires just the right set of circumstances to pull it off properly.

Let's get into a successful example below, and I'll point out why it worked and what to be careful of.

TripAdvisor

Scathing Review - Chef Fights Back

Disgraceful Prices for morsels of food 1-star review

I have been to many Michelin star restaurants in my life and I have to say Purnells has been the very worst for food and the cost of food. £68.00 the 6 course tasting menu for tiny quenelles of food on a plate with a sprinkling of leaves is just sinful in this day and age.

The St Austelle mussels consisted of 2!!!! With about a tablespoon of Finely shredded pickled cucumber!!!!! As 2 of the party were not able to eat shellfish the only alternative was a sliver of Monkfish at an additional cost of £10 per person. It is unbelievable that if one has an allergy to a certain food they should be required to pay extra or do without that sliver of a course.

Another member of the party had an allergy to fish The Scottish Halibut! I asked for an alternative and was presented with approximately a serving spoon of beetroots!!! Just unreal!!! All of our party are good meat eaters and would have had no problem with normal cuts of meat.

I asked the head waiter prior to taking the order about the Slow Cooked Daube of beef. I advised him that I would not like it. He went to great lengths to advise me that it was superb and I would enjoy it.

Upon our return to Ireland last evening I called Purnells to outline exactly what I have stated in this review. The manager said he would bring the comments to the attention of his manager and the chef. In conclusion we feel that it is just immoral to charge such prices for food whereby the actual content or amount of food served to a client would cost under £7.00 at max. We dine out a lot and we have no problem paying for beautiful good food with flavors and we like tasteful food. We really had been looking forward to visiting Purnells but what a LET DOWN.

Maybe the chef should watch Masterchef The Professionals for a few lessons to see how food should be served and give some decent portions of wonderful food not just the content of a decent starter over 6 courses. A starter for £68.00

(trimmed....)

This technique is completely dependant on the reader siding with you (the business owner) and not the reviewer. This is a very difficult thing to predict, but if you are mean to the reviewer, no matter how much you might feel like they deserve it - you will only push readers to take sides with the reviewer. This can be disasterous.

Stick to facts and add humor. You don't want to come across as a bully. 

This restaurant’s owner, who also happens to be a Michelin-starred chef felt he couldn’t tolerate the factual errors and the lack of accountability on the part of the reviewer… the following is his edgy response.

Management Response Example

Glenn P. Restaurant Manager – Sonal at Purnells, responded to this review

December 2015

“Michlen or Michelin”

Message to the author – Thank you very much for ensuing your threat of going to social media following our telephone and email conversations.

Having spoken to this "reviewer" over the telephone on Tuesday night, we were shocked to hear that her and her party had a bad experience. We were not made aware of any issues during their dining experience.

We would like to address a few things about this report;

  1. We DID NOT charge extra for the monkfish as she has claimed. We have a copy of the receipt and there is no record of this.
  2. ​We were not informed prior to their visit that a member of their party was pregnant, so as a restaurant on a busy Saturday night we had to adjust and crate a new menu for a guest that could have affected our service for the whole evening.
  3. ​Had this guest stated that she was unhappy with the daube beef we would have done something else or offered an alternative. It clearly seems this reviewer does not like the fact we want to rectify an issue she has brought up but is not willing to accept anything from us.
  4. ​If all 4 diners were embarrassed and it was in fact the worst food, I am embarrassed for them not having enough courage to express themselves that evening. These are 4 adults all upset by their dining experience who ate all 6 courses without once alerting us to the fact that they were not enjoying it.
  5. ​Having dined in several Michelin star restaurants I am amazed this was their first review! I worry for all the other establishments she is going to! She is clearly self-conscious and defensive and happy to slander an establishment.
  6. ​The 12.5% service charge that was added to the bills is discretionary and can always be removed. And why should you feel embarrassed to ask for it to be removed? If I am asked to pay for something that I feel I have not received I would refuse! The service charge was £41.30 (and has now been refunded).
  7. The gentleman that paid the bill quietly organized it at the bar away from the table. This was a perfect opportunity for the service charge to be questioned, for him to let us know how very terrible the evening had been. There were no guests within earshot so there would have been no reason for any embarrassment. However, when asked how the meal was he responded positively. The gift voucher was not presented at the time of the payment, yet we kindly obliged to take it off the bill and collect the voucher at a later stage. This was arranged with the gentleman and handled very discretely as requested. There was no fuss whatsoever.

We wrote an email to acknowledge the feedback following the telephone call. We offered the party a complimentary meal and a full refund of the service charge. This was declined and and the lady stated that she would use this site as a tool for being detrimental to our business and 30 members of staff. Not to mention a dedicated and passionate Chef/patron who has helped develop the culinary dining scene for the people of Birmingham. They are clearly not willing to compromise with us., which shows the way that social media has changed the way a restaurant has to operate. And how guests’ can influence and affect the organization.

Should any person reading this report or any other establishment find it useful, please do not visit the restaurant.

In regard to Masterchef, Glynn is well celebrated and well received in the public scene. Perhaps this reviewer would have more satisfaction from watching Man versus Food. We want guests to enjoy their experience here at Purnells, and if we don’t meet their expectations, then we apologize. Food is subjective, we are not right or wrong, but this is our belief and ethos. Everybody has their own right and opinion and we fully understand that we may not be to everybody’s taste. When this is the case feedback is welcome and used constructively. When feedback is false and littered with lies, it is not welcome and as an independent restaurant we will fiercely dispute any attempts to blacken our name. This review is not based on facts and we have tried to contact the author to discuss and settle this and strangely she has not taken our calls.

Counter-Attack Response Analysis

As I mentioned, this is a risky response tactic. But there can be a big payoff if done correctly. Responses like this can go viral and attract a lot of positive (or negative if it backfires) attention for your business.

The success of this response relies on two key factors:

The reputation of this chef. Being able to respond as a Michelin-starred chef, gives him the credibility and respect to be able to get away with a lot more than a regular joe chef.

And that the reviewer comes across as manipulating facts to express her upset. All of the chef's 7 fact-correction points clearly illustrate that the reviewer is not reliable. He even tossed in an extra jab at the fact that she spelled "Michlen" wrong, while at the same time saying she had eaten in many such restaurants.

Key Point - Be Careful of the Counter Attack

Make sure you aren't using this technique out of self-serving emotion. If it feels like a fight, or you are triggered by their review, your response is almost certainly going to damage the reputation of your business, even if you succeed in emotionally wounding the original reviewer.

Stick to facts. Avoid personal insults against the reviewer. People will defend them if you come across as a bully.

Important: if you are going to try this type of response,  run your response past your most emotionally stable and mature friend before you post it.  

Ideally this person is not connected to your business. You want their opinion of the response to represent the reaction of a potential client of your business.

Part of the reason to respond to reviews is to set the expectations for how your business operates. For a Michelin-Starred restaurant, it is reasonable for the business to expect customers to have a certain standard of behavior as well – like being able to express a problem in the moment so that it can be taken care of before any great upset develops.

People who frequent these types of high-end restaurants are expected to have a certain sophistication.

If in doubt, play it safe and stay away from this type of response. If it goes well, it could bring a lot of new business and attention. But if it goes poorly, you could be out of business!

7 - Conflict of Interest Reviews

Conflicts of interest are when the reviewer stands to gain from the review. This section also extends to people with close ties to the company being reviewed.

Some examples would be a current or past employee or a friend or relative of the business owner or anyone associated with a competing company.

Yelp.com

Conflict of Interest Review Example

1-star conflict of interest review on Yelp

Steve seemed like a nice guy but did blow off our first appointment that was a huge hassle to make (which I let side and rescheduled). Red flag. Then was impossible to contact via email, office, cell for weeks after. Red flag.

Having been in the construction and engineering field myself since 2001 dealing with contractors on a daily basis it was very evident Steve was not knowledgeable about basic building systems or structural design and a bit scary to think of him as the GM of a project where communication is one of the most important tools.

Please do your self a favor if you need a carpenter, electrician, plumber, exact., call them directly. You'll get better quality work and save the money of having this guy make phone calls for you to people who actually know what they are doing.

If you need someone to hire laborers in front of home depot to hang drywall or paint you MIGHT be able to use this company but that is about all it's worth.

If someone mentions that they are in the business then they are not allowed, by almost all review sites’ Terms of Service, to leave reviews for their competition.

Full stop - this is an invalid review and should be removed.

This is a business owner using the review site to undermine his competitor. It isn't a review.

The same is true for ex-employees – not allowed to leave reviews for their former or current place of employment.

Actual Management Response

1-star conflict of interest review perfect management response

8/21/2015 This review has been reported for TOS violations.

I attempted to contact the reviewer and have yet to hear back.

I would like to comment on a few things they alleged. First, I have never "blown off" an appointment, especially one with a client. Second, the "reviewer" said he thought I didn't know what I was talking about and yet he tried reaching me for "weeks"...it doesn't add up.

Third, I have full time employees that I use for most things and I sub out specific things to people I have been working with for years. I do not hire people from Home Depot parking lots. This person's claims are utterly false.

The number of reviews this person has also should be a "red flag". Seems more like a personal attack than an actual credible review of my company.

Conflict of Interest Review Analysis

This business owner does a great job to pick up the fact that this review is a violation of Yelp's Terms of Service and to report the review.

Stop! the perfect response to this review would have been just what I marked in bold above.

There are a couple reasons why it works so well to say, "This review has been reported for TOS violations." in this situation.

1) Even though it is a response from the business owner, it looks and sounds like it is an official response from Yelp. It completely discredits the review. No one would give the claims in the review much weight after reading "this review has been reported."

2) It never works to be defensive in any review response. Especially in this case, it only weakens a reader's impression of the business owner. The result of this review and response is that the reviewer looks bad and so does the company owner.

Key Point - Just Report it and Leave a Simple Message

The most powerful response to this type of review is to simply state that it is in violation of the review site's terms of service and has been reported.

Unfortunately reviews sites rarely take reviews like this down, even when reported. But they will also rarely remove the message from the business owner that the review is a violation - which protects your reputation.

How to Report a Conflict of Interest Review

This applies to Yelp, but all major reviews sites have a very similar system.

One: look for a flag or "report" link to start the process.

Two: select the appropriate reason for reporting the review. It's good to familiarize yourself with these reasons so you are aware of all the types of reviews you can report.

reasons to report a review - conflict of interest

Three: on the next page you'll be asked to provide details. Quote the exact phrase in the site's terms that is violated by this review. And quote the exact section of the review that violates that phrase. And I do mean quote... copy/paste - don't paraphrase. 

In the example above I would quote Yelp's terms:

"...For example, you shouldn’t write reviews of your own business or employer, your friends’ or relatives’ business, your peers or competitors in your industry..."

"Having been in the construction and engineering field myself since 2001"

It's really clear that this review is in violation. And you've done all you can (including your short management response) to get it taken down and minimize the damage.

Tip: Look for even the most subtle conflict of interest in any negative review and use that to ask to have these type of negative reviews removed. Also leave a response that you have reported the review.

8 - Responding to a Personal Attack Review

In the review below, one of two things has probably happened. Either the reviewer has a personal relationship with the owners and is attempting to hurt the owner with this review. Or he is simply offended by the entire concept of the place and is expressing that anger in a review.

We also see these type of attack reviews with opponents to a politician, or with vegetarians protesting cruelty to animals at restaurants that serve meat.

TripAdvisor

1-Star Personal Attack Review

a bad place 1-star noorish review
traveloflight reviewer on tripadvisor

I found the ambience nice and it seemed that they were or are trying to create a community atmosphere but I personally found the over all philosophy polarizing and the place or rather ownership to act rather arrogant to me and others at times in obvious ways.

(In my honest opinion and extensive experience, the Feng Shui of the place is aligned to suck energy and money from individuals on a consistent basis unconsciously...)

This review, at first glance, does seem similar to what I call a "nonsense review" but it actually is much more attacking and potentially damaging.

This is not a "fair" review by any measure. The reviewer is commenting on his opinion, and not on actual facts or specific events that happened during a visit to this restaurant.

The reviewer here is not expressing upset, it is more like a person thinking they are in authority passing judgment. You can not use the "empathize and take responsibility formula for this review." The only one of my three keys that applies in this case is humility.

It is obvious that this reviewer has a big ego, and the best way to deal with someone like this, is to just let him keep his lofty self-opinion. If you try and poke holes in it - he will defend it with more venom and attack and you'll be in an argument.

Management Response Example

Thank you for taking the time to review our restaurant. To be honest, the ownership and management teams were initially taken aback by your review. However, we understand that you are completely free to your own opinion. We will do our best to improve on the points you have brought to our attention. We truly thank you for allowing us this chance to practice compassion, patience, and acceptance.

Attack Review Response Analysis

Humor and humility: humility is the best policy. Since this is a spiritually-themed restaurant - the response is completely perfect.

It's appropriate to re-iterate because this is such a good example: when you write a review response you feel like you are replying to the person that wrote the review, but you are also writing for everyone that may see the review and its response in the future - your potential customers.

It's much more important to create a good impression with the future potential customers, by coming across as a mature and responsible adult, than to win a petty argument with a judgemental person.

Key Point - The High Road is the Profitable Road

Find a way, using humor, creativity or kindness to reach your audience and go beyond taking a review personally.

There's nothing more powerful than demonstrating kindness to someone that is not being kind towards you and your business. It isn't easy to do, but it has a tremendously positive effect on your reputation.

9 - Responding to a 5-Star Positive Review

It isn’t as important to respond to positive 5-star reviews as it is negative ones, but it’s still a really good policy.

ratemds logo

RateMDs.com

5-Star Positive Review Example

a 5-star review on ratemd.com

Friendly staff and professional service. Have been going to them for many years. I used to be a nervous wreck seeing the dentist, but not here.

There is an opportunity to just express your gratitude to someone who has done something fantastic to promote your business - they deserve at least a thank you.

And it’s also a chance to expand on what the reviewer has said and emphasize an important point about your business which will potentially influence others reading the review.

Management Response Example

Thank you for being a great patient for years! We're happy we've helped you gain confidence in yourself, and with dentistry :-)

5-Star Review Response Analysis

Gratitude: recognize that someone took the time to promote your business!

The other important thing you can do replying to positive reviews is to emphasize the positive aspects of the review.

In this case, the dentist has done a great job of sincerely expressing happiness that the customer has overcome a hurdle in their life - with his help.

Another thing to be aware of is that even with positive reviews reviewers can still make errors with facts. Make sure, at the very least, to watch out for and correct things that aren't true in your response.

Key Point - Responding to Positive Ways Builds Rapport

While responding to positive reviews is not as critical as responding to negative ones, it is a way to distinguish yourself as a caring and friendly business owner.

It's also really nice to thank someone publicly when they have expressed kind words from you on a website that is used by millions of potential new customers.

Responding to great reviews is a chance to elaborate on the great things that the reviewer has mentioned.

10 - Don't Make This Disastrous Mistake

In this last chapter, I’ll be giving you a very strong lesson on what not to do when responding to reviews. The worst possible thing is to take a review personally and attack a reviewer.

This is the most common mistake made by business owners and it always ends up being bad for their business.

TripAdvisor

1-Star Review and Terrible Response

rubber chicken 1-star review with terrible response

Very rude management ! ordered a takeaway which took 45 minutes to appear , when it did the Chicken was completely overcooked and tough .when my partner phone to complain he was told to just go elsewhere in future.

Terrible unprofessional attitude .will not be back .

Your food is crap .

rubber chicken 1-star review marked as helpful 51 times on tripadvisor

Reviews and responses are all about perception and the following response makes the business look unprofessional and uninviting.

Management Response Example

shimlacottage2014, Owner at Shimla Cottage, responded to this review, 14 March 2016

Hi, We are disappointed to read that your first review of our restaurant; following your numerous lunch, dinner and takeaway visits made since our opening, by yourself and partner you could only define your review heading "Rubber Chicken" and that Our food is crap.

Well its the same crap food that you've been eating for the last few years and raving about it and it was the same batch of chicken that some meat 300 people were served for lunch before your carry out meal and it was the same chicken that we served near enough 200 diners after you.

The fact that your partner waited 45 mins for his take away due to the fact that we were undated with customers for takeaways and sitting in speaks volume itself

After both our experienced Chefs the owner and manager examined the chicken for RUBBERINESS gave us confidence to dismiss your accustions and advised you to take your future business else where as we couldn't meet your demands or provide you with a better Quality Food than we did.

Defensive Management Response Analysis

Compounding the Hurt: the 1-star review is very negative, but the management response is much more damaging.

In the response, the owner comes across as uncaring and mean-spirited.

The review has hit a nerve with the business owner. He/she felt attacked and took that attack personally - rather than seeing the review for what it really is - constructive criticism for their business. 

Since the owner took this review personally, they did what we all do when we get our buttons pushed, we try and make the other person wrong.

However, reviews are public, and people expect the business owner to be the "adult." It does sound like the reviewer had to wait longer than they expected and that the food wasn't very good. The review is fair enough - the complaints come across as valid.

Notice that the original review has been marked as "Helpful" 51 times, that’s a lot and it shows the readers are siding with the reviewer and not with the business owner

The original review is nothing that would normally ever be marked as helpful, people are marking it as helpful as a reaction to the attacking and defensive response by the business owner.

What will be conveyed to all future customers is:

"If you are critical, we will defend and attack back and make you wrong. It isn't our problem - you, our customer, are the problem.

Key Point - Review Readers are Always Judging YOU

We have a keen sense of right and wrong and of emotional balance. We are always judging and taking sides.

When you argue, you make yourself and your business look weak and immature in the eyes of others. The worst case is that you come across as a bully.

It will be much better for your reputation to give someone what they want, even if they are completely wrong than to try and prove them wrong or discredit them by being unkind. Especially if you are doing it for all to see, forever, online.

"You can't win an argument. If you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it." ~ Dale Carnegie

Besides just making the original reviewer angry, the danger of this type of response is that people will start sharing it around the web and before you know it, it has gone viral and there is a huge backlash.

​In the current environment of social media, a reviewer has tremendous power. There have been restaurants that have had to close down only because their review responses caused such upset that people came to their establishments just to be hostile to the owner and staff.

Stay safe, ask yourself if you are angry or upset or defensive before you post any review response. Even better, ask someone neutral to read it and get their feedback on how your response would come across to a potential customer.

Imagine all your past, present and future customers will be reading and judging your review responses!

11- Summary and Final Tips

I've given you specific techniques to handle any type of review response. Now I'd like to tie it all together and give you a couple last tips to focus on when managing reviews.

Review sites are like high-stakes poker for business owners. You can win big, or lose big. When used correctly, review sites are a marketing tool to grow your reputation and your business.

Not to get even, or set someone straight or to win an argument.

Those are all not worth it and will ALWAYS backfire.

It's much more important to create a good impression on potential customers by coming across as a mature, responsible adult than to win a petty argument or shame a grumpy person.

There are three opportunities available when responding to online reviews. If you follow the guidelines I've given in this book, you will accomplish all three:

  1.  Turnaround an Upset Customer: our first goal is to reach out to and attempt to win back someone who is upset. Even if we feel they are 99% a jerk, it’s worth making every effort to win them back because of the 1% that we could have done better. I've seen reviewers change their rating from 1 to 5-stars because of a great management response.
  2.  Create a Positive Impression on Your Review Page: from a marketing point of view, great management responses to reviews are the most powerful tool we have to convince any future readers that we care and can handle problems in a professional manner.
  3.  To Distinguish Your Business: Someone who can be mature and caring when things go against them is very rare and people identify such a person as trustworthy. 

As business owners, we must accept the fact that our customers do have the power, thanks to the internet, to make us successful, or to DESTROY us.

It's like David and Goliath, but when it comes to small business and online customer reviews. David has a bazooka. 

"Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint."

Customer Service is Now a Spectator Sport

I've touched on it already in this book, but let's take one last look at the importance of online review sites.

I Call it Critical Moment Marketing

When your potential customers are using review sites, what are they really doing?

When I’m reading a review page for a business, I’m at the critical moment of deciding whether or not to go to that restaurant or book that haircut. In short, I'm about to spend money, and I want to know the best place to spend it.

The reason I know that reviews are so important is that they are directly influencing the critical moment of the buying decision process.

That’s why creating a great impression on your review pages may be the most influential marketing activity for your business.

Bonus: Save Time & Stay Safe when responding to reviews - Get the "10 Examples of Management Responses to Customer Reviews" guidebook.