Handling Negative Reviews on Yelp or Social Media

Tim Ridgely 27 November, 2016

"Can't win 'em all."

"Everybody has a bad day."

"Mistakes happen."

Eventually, a customer will have a poor experience, and take to social media or review sites (e.g. Yelp) to tell the world.

So, what to do? Do not ignore it! Bad reviews are very likely to cost you customers, reputation, and, ultimately, money.

The Approach

  1. Stay Calm!
    Sometimes, people will be hurtful. Don't take it personally; they're upset, and probably hungry.
  2. Focus on Your Goals
    What do you want to achieve? I'd look to do two things here:
    1. Try to rebuild the relationship with this specific customer, to keep them coming back
    2. Demonstrate to other potential customers that this is an isolated incident, mistakes do happen. Overall, your product and service are still tip-top, and even better, you'll respond in the event of a mistake!
  3. You're in Charge
    Along with staying calm, try to direct and structure the conversation as much as possible. Have a playbook for handling the conversation (see below).

Taking Action

  1. Respond to the customer publicly, via the review site or social media.
    • Apologize for the situation. Even if you don't feel that you're at fault, something along the lines of, "I'm sorry that you've had a poor experience. This is certainly not what we want for our customers, and we definitely want to make things right!" — goes a long way.
    • Take the conversation "offline" as quickly as possible. Get the customer's contact information, if you don't already have it, and call them, send an email, or use a Twitter or Facebook private message.
    • Even if you already have the customer's contact information, it's important to respond publicly, so other customers can see that you take service issues seriously.
  2. Listen to the customer's complaint. Listen. Ask questions to learn more about the situation.
    • You could lead with something like: "Hi Joe, it's Tom from Tom's Deli. Seems that you've had a less-than-awesome experience, what's going on?"
  3. Ask how you can make things right for the customer, or propose a solution and ask them what they think. Don't simply assume a solution on behalf of the customer.
    • Example: A customer has complained that they don't like the taste of the pastrami. You taste it, it seems fine. Who knows.
    • Example Response: "Hmm, so it sounds like the pastrami didn't taste right to you. Sorry about that! Maybe you'd like to try our turkey sandwich instead? I could have one made right up for you, and our customers really like them."
  4. Once a solution is agreed upon, execute! Get the customer a corrected order, a substitute, a refund, a comp, or a future service credit.

Going Above and Beyond

This can be a dicey topic — how far, if at all, do you go to provide "extra" service for the complaining customer? After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so do you want to incentivize customers to complain?

Here are some common tactics that I recommend:

  • Include a personal note. This can be done by email, or handwritten and included with the order – have the manager or owner send the customer a little note to apologize for the trouble and thank the customer for bringing it to their attention.
  • Offer a future service credit. This is often just a free appetizer or dessert, but could be a free entree as well. The benefit here: the customer has to come back to use it!
  • Provide a refund if warranted / necessary. Clearly, if no food was received, or it was completely inedible (think raw chicken), the customer shouldn't pay. But, what if the order was only 10 minutes late? Perhaps a service credit would suffice to make the customer happy.

Overall, I do not think customers complain to receive extra benefits (although some do), and further, future customers will not be able to differentiate between the two. Treat every complaint as valid from the start and address it accordingly.


So you've hopefully fixed the customer's issue, what now? Let's refocus on our goals here and take action accordingly:

  1. Ask the customer to return. It's a simple email: "Hi Joe, it's Tom from Tom's Deli. Just wanted to see if you'd stop in for a sandwich; remember, you can get a free order of pickles!"
  2. If appropriate, ask the customer to reconsider their review. Most review sites allow customers to adjust ratings and add more context to comments. Again, a simple email:
    • "Hey Joe, would you mind writing a follow-up on Yelp about your experience with us? I want to make sure your review reflects the level of service and quality that we provide to our customers. If you have any questions or concerns at all, please feel free to give me a call at 555-666-7777. Thanks!"

And finally, one of the best ways to counteract a negative review: dilute it with positive reviews! The best way to get positive reviews is simple: have a great product with great service.

Best of luck in your customer correspondence!

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