How NOT to respond to reviews: 10 easy mistakes

When was the last time you read a local business’s reviews? If it’s true that people trust reviews more than an ex-partner’s recommendations, it was probably quite recently. And if you’re like the other 97% that read reviews, you also read businesses’ responses to reviews too. 

Business review responses show customers how they handle complaints, general issues and how they address feedback whether positive or negative. For that reason, it’s a good idea to establish a regular routine for replying to reviews. 

But getting the tone and message right is key –– you want detractors to give you another chance and happy customers to remain loyal to your business. 

Today we’re sharing common mistakes businesses make when replying to reviews, what not to do, and how to effectively reply to reviews.

Why should you respond to customer reviews?

Online reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and industry-specific sites like Zillow or Healthgrades give customers an opportunity to share their experiences with the business and fellow customers. These days, most people rely on reviews to help them choose a local business. 

For that reason, it’s important to recognize common mistakes business managers make when replying to reviews, how to avoid them and how to better reply to reviews moving forwards. 

Replying to reviews gives you the chance to shape past and future customers’ opinions of your brand.

You can improve a negative reviewer’s perception of your brand by providing solutions. Equally, you can enhance a long-term customer’s loyalty by engaging with their positive comments and encouraging them to come back. 

Taking these valuable customer insights on board will also ultimately help you improve your business offering to be in line with what customers want. 

Replying to reviews also has the added bonus of increasing your local search visibility. A study from Harvard Business Review showed businesses who replied to customer reviews experienced 12% more reviews. 

And if you need any more convincing, according to studies by Google, businesses that respond to reviews are 1.7X more trustworthy than businesses that don’t. 

Recommended reading: How to reply to reviews

10 Common pitfalls and how to avoid them when responding to reviews

Now you know why replying to reviews is essential for your business, let’s take a look at some common pitfalls and how you can make sure you reply to customer reviews effectively every time.

1. Ignoring negative reviews

Businesses sometimes avoid replying to negative reviews to try and avoid drawing attention to them. It can be tempting to just reply to those positive reviews where customers are thanking your business, praising your offer, and generally being positive. After all, we all love to feel appreciated and receive praise. 

But this strategy has the opposite effect. In fact, it makes those negative reviews stand out more since they’re the only ones without responses. It makes your business look like it only cares about the positive things customers have to say and that their complaints or concerns aren’t taken seriously. 

If you’re going to respond to reviews, make it a priority to respond to negative reviews. Prospective customers need to see that when things don’t go to plan that your business is proactive and willing to take the right steps to fix things. 

This review hasn’t got a response from the business owner or manager. Prospective customers reading the review may assume the issue hasn’t been fixed in the last 4 months:

screenshot of negative convenience store review

With GatherUp you can monitor up to 50+ review sites. Whether you receive the majority of reviews on Google, an industry-specific site, or Facebook, it’s easy to set up GatherUp to monitor all your review sites.

2. Using your response as a chance to advertise

Review responses are the place to show you value your customers’ feedback. It’s an opportunity to engage with your customers’ needs and preferences. 

Don’t use review replies as an opportunity to promote your latest offer –– you’ll risk coming off as insincere. Customers prefer to engage with businesses that prioritize people over profit.

Review replies are a chance to engage with your customers’ honest feedback. Instead of trying to promote your brand, analyze the specifics of the complaint or feedback and either identify a solution or show appreciation for their positive feedback. 

While this review response does the right thing by suggesting an offline discussion, the business tries to push their company’s ethos:

Screenshot of Negative law firm customer review

3. Arguing with the customer

Sometimes reviews can seem unfairly harsh. Customers complain and may not get 100% of the details right. But, review responses are not the place to argue over the specifics of a customer’s experience. 

Remember that everyone can see your review response –– not just the review author. You need to stay grounded and neutral. Even if the customer has got something wrong, you don’t need to get aggressive and launch into an argument. 

Remain solutions-oriented and if you need to ask customers for further details, take the conversation offline. You can leave your contact details in your review reply and ask them to get in touch with you to share further details. 

Ultimately you want to find suitable solutions and encourage any detractors to give your business a second chance. Arguing will only sabotage your chances of building a loyal customer base. 

It sounds like this restaurant tried to rectify the mistake at the time. They could try and justify their actions and argue with the customer but it wouldn’t be a good look. When replying to this review, it’s important to respond calmly and ask for more details and offer another solution:

Screenshot of negative customer restaurant review

4. Replying late

Better late than never is true in the world of replying to reviews. But replying consistently late to your customers’ reviews may give the impression that you’re not bothered. 

You might think customers won’t notice when you reply to their reviews. But, Google sends customers an email notification to alert them to a new business reply. And, 86% of consumers who complain expect a response within 3 days. 

You need to be attentive to new customer reviews and try to write a well-thought-out response as quickly as possible. When you reply punctually, customers see that their feedback is a priority to your business. 

If you’re only starting a review response campaign now, don’t panic –– you don’t need to respond to every single review. Instead, be selective about which older reviews you reply to. You might choose those that are more detailed or mention specific issues which your business later fixed. 

You could start by mentioning that although it’s been a while since the review was written, you still care about their feedback. You can then mention the changes you’ve made and encourage them to revisit your business. 

Even though this hair salon review is 2 years old, the business manager or owner could still reply with an apology and a follow-up solution to encourage the dissatisfied customer to give them another chance. A late reply is better than ignoring the review:

Screenshot of negative hair salon customer review

It’s tough to remember to reply to all customer reviews. But with GatherUp you can set up custom review notifications so you receive an alert for the review types that are most important to your business.

5. Not engaging with the problem

Sometimes business owners have lots of reviews to reply to and in trying to respond to all of them and maintain a positive tone, they miss key details.

Businesses need to pay attention to each specific detail whether it’s positive or negative to ensure customers get what they need. 

Take the time to read each review carefully to understand all the details before carefully responding. Always address the customer’s specific problems and fully engage with their suggestions if they make any. 

Avoid generic responses like “If there’s anything we can do to help let us know”. These don’t add any value to your response since it’s a vague offer. 

Instead, hone in on what they’re really asking for and offer a solution based on that. 

In this review, the salon owner doesn’t engage with the problem –– the client was in pain during treatment and received sub-par service. Sure they might have been late, but the owner doesn’t address the other issues in the review:

Screenshot of one star beauty salon customer review

Sometimes prospective customers have questions about your business. While you can’t use reviews as a general discussion, you can use Google Q&A to answer customer questions about opening hours and your offering.

6. Only replying to complaints

Don’t get us wrong, replying to complaints and negative feedback should be a top priority for your business. 

But, only paying attention to the most negative reviews makes it look like your business is only attentive to customers in the most urgent scenarios. You need to reply to neutral and positive reviews too. 

Replying to all types of reviews ensures customers know that you value all types of feedback and suggestions –– not just those that warrant urgent attention. 

While you may want to respond to very negative reviews first, make sure to pay attention to other feedback too. 

This positive review would be a great opportunity for the business to strengthen their relationship with the happy customer:

7. Leaving the customer without a solution

Sometimes to find the right solution you’ll need to take the conversation offline. When you take the time to craft a well-written and balanced review response, the last thing you want to do is leave the customer hanging.

Especially during negative scenarios, reviewers need to have a clear idea of what the next steps are. Once you’ve addressed the issues it’s time to propose a solution and make it easy for them to obtain. When customers know what the next steps are, they’re more likely to be more forgiving of your business’s mistakes and choose to do business with you again. 

Remember that once your business leaves a response, customers can’t then reply again. Make it easy for customers by offering a couple of suitable solutions and by providing offline contact details, whether that’s a phone number, email address, or physical address. 

Whether a customer takes action and gets in touch with your business is up to them. The important part is that your business offers solutions and makes it easy for customers to choose one. 

Here’s a good example of a Seattle based HVAC business offering a reasonable solution to a delay in response time:

Screenshot of HVAC business complaint review

8. Making it generic

Customers are individuals and not just messages on a scream. They have their own worries, preferences, and needs. When communicating with a business, people don’t want to feel like they’re communicating with a robot. 

If you say the same thing to every review, it’ll look like your business offers the same service to everyone and doesn’t tailor it to the customer. While some reviews may be near identical, it’s still important to personalize responses. 

Even if you’re just acknowledging positive feedback, try to write original responses. Simple things like addressing it to the reviewer’s name, acknowledging their unique comments, and what you can do to improve things next time ensure your responses are authentic. 

People will appreciate personal human responses as opposed to something that sounds generic or robotic. 

Here’s a simple yet effective personalized response to some positive feedback:

Screenshot of positive HVAC customer review

9. Just saying thanks

When you have a lot of reviews to reply to, it can be tempting to say a quick thanks and move on to the next. But by only saying thank you and not fully engaging with the full review, you’re losing out on opportunities to connect with your customer on a deeper level. 

Saying thank you for a customer’s feedback whether positive or negative is important but don’t just stop there. 

Engage with the specifics of each review and either boost a fan’s brand’s loyalty or help turn detractors into repeat customers. 

Even when you receive a simple positive review like this one, you should still write a personalized response to continue building that customer-brand connection:

Screenshot of five star positive customer restaurant review

10. Being defensive

Some businesses take reviews personally and resort to defending themselves. 

While it’s true that sometimes customers are unfair or rude, online reviews are not a court of law where you need to defend yourself and the business. 

As a business owner, you must maintain a cool head. Avoid rising to the bait and getting defensive –– this will only aggravate the customer more and will prevent you from identifying a solution that works for both of you.  

Instead of taking things personally, look at the details and try to understand things from the customer’s perspective. Were they disappointed by slow service? Were they really excited about a certain specialty on the menu that had sold out? Was this their second visit and they were expecting more? 

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes will help you take an empathetic stance and encourage you to find a suitable solution. 

Although this response starts with the right intention to find out more about the issue, it comes off as slightly defensive, as if the owner is questioning the customer’s experience:

Screenshot of negative customer review with a defensive response

Final thoughts: how not to respond to reviews

It’s easy to fall into these pitfalls when replying to reviews. But once you know how to respond in each scenario, you’ll find it easier to reply in a way that encourages both fans and detractors to continue doing business with you. 

The key is to treat reviews individually and reply authentically. Approach customer feedback with an open mind and lean into both positive and negative comments. That way you’ll be able to be more empathetic and can provide better solutions when issues arise. 

Want to make sure you never miss another customer review again? Enjoy a free 14-day trial of GatherUp and see how you can improve your customer experience. 

Related reading: 

6 Ways to Use Google My Business to Improve Customer Experience 

7 Customer Retention Strategies for Local Businesses

How to Use Customer Reviews to Improve your Business

Reputation Management for Franchises: Improving Customer Experience with Feedback

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