When speaking at conferences or writing about review replies it’s often an eye-opener that a business should be replying to their reviews … bad, good, or neutral. Responding to reviews is an important customer interaction and signal to prospects that you are listening, care, and that you own your experiences.
This new-found importance of review replies brings on a common question from businesses and marketers. Should I respond to old reviews and how far back should I go … months, or even years?
While there isn’t a set answer to this question, I thought it would be helpful for Mike Blumenthal and I to give our opinions on responding to old reviews. Let’s look at our thoughts and some ideas for the structure of your review replies for “old reviews” that are positive, negative, and neutral.
Q: Should I respond to old negative reviews?
Aaron: For negative reviews, I believe that you want to subscribe to no bad review left behind. For most businesses I would guess (or hope) you only have a small handful of bad reviews from past years you didn’t respond to.
Replying to a negative review from a few years ago you can send a current message to that past customer and future readers of your reviews that you are now listening and willing to engage with customers that need help to resolve an issue.
If it’s a very hostile review, you may want to pass on that and let it be. But overall I think going back a year or two with the message you are now engaged has too many future benefits to ignore. Time isn’t as important as covering all your bases with 1-star and 2-star reviews.
As a sample reply I’d use some language like this:
“Hi, sorry for missing your review at the time. We are now actively listening to our reviews and we’d like to resolve your issue. Please contact us by (this email) or (this number).”
Here is a 1-star Google review that uses this same framework. You can see that the review was written 10 months ago, but the lawn care business has just responded in the last week.
Mike: Some things never go away; taxes and death are but two examples. A negative review is a third. It will sit around and haunt your business for ever. You owe it to yourself AND your future customers to respond to that review.
Even if it doesn’t recover that long lost customer it will show your prospects that you are a reasonable person. Better late than never is the adage of choice when you consider responding to old reviews.
Q: Should I respond to old positive reviews?
Aaron: For positive reviews I ease up a bit on responding to every single one from years ago, but it won’t hurt. If you are a small business with only dozens of reviews or less, do them all. I’d caution you to make sure you don’t respond to all of your past positive reviews from months or years ago and leave your negative reviews alone. That’s a bad signal.
When people ask me about responding to positive reviews in general I always say go for it, especially if that’s the personality of your business. Thanking that customer for taking the time to share the love for your business, even if it’s years later, is still a great move.
A small bakery my family frequents recently proved this. I wrote her a review 2 years ago, but she just recently started replying last month to her Google reviews and replied to mine. I smiled when I received it, no judgment.
Mike: Humans love to know that they have been seen, heard, and most importantly appreciated. And a review response to an old positive review, particularly one addressing the customer directly as Clover Meadow Bakery did, is going to be appreciated by almost everyone that has left you a review.
Beyond recognizing that individual customer and review, you can add nuance and detail about both your products and how you treat your customers. It can be a small marketing opportunity.
If you are in fact writing for your future prospects as well as this particular customer, you can help them better understand what you do and how you behave. The above-belated response is a great example of letting the sunshine come through.
Q: Should I respond to old neutral reviews?
Aaron: Here is one area of replies I’m less bullish on. I think you can get the same wins in responding to neutral reviews as outlined above. It gives you the opportunity to thank them for the praise or a positive comment if it exists as well as addressing what fell a bit short.
Taking the tone here that you have made improvements, care and would love another chance to get their business just might get them to give you another shot when they get the email that you replied.
The bakery here is a good example and while the review left little to go on, she replied with reasons to stop back in.
Mike: I find neutral reviews hard to get excited about in the best of times and even when they are fresh. This is even more true if the poster doesn’t provide specifics about the good and the bad. From where I sit, you can skip these particular oldies with no great consequence.
Use the time you saved to be sure that you have a really good system in place for responding to any new reviews that come in.
Final Thoughts On Replying To Old Reviews
Aaron: For me, just do it and reply to all of your reviews with few exceptions as noted. The benefits outweigh the time and even the pain of reliving old wounds. If anything, this helps you shape your reply tone and voice for your future responses to new reviews.
Mike: There are times when it makes sense to work on your business not just in it. Having a solid review response plan in place will help you going forward in a myriad of ways.
Going back and replying to your old reviews will reignite old relationships, show your prospects that you are a reasonable human being, and help you refine your review response plan going forward.