As a business owner, there’s no worse feeling: you see new customer feedback online, only to find it’s completely negative. Maybe this customer realized their takeout order was wrong once they brought their food home. Or maybe they had a run-in with an unhappy employee as they were browsing your store’s merchandise. Whatever the case may be, having your business criticized online doesn’t feel great. But receiving this criticism can open the door for an opportunity to connect with your customers, strengthen your relationship and even boost your business’s reputation. That is, as long as you’re taking the right steps to respond appropriately.

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Don’t panic – and don’t respond in the heat of the moment.

When you see a negative review or comment posted, you might feel hurt or angry, and your gut reaction may be to immediately respond and defend your business. You’re only human after all. But the truth is, a hastily written response could reflect poorly on your business. The less thought you put into your response, the more likely it is that you will come across as rude or dismissive. Give yourself some time to move past the hurt feelings you have upon reading any criticism.

You should also put in the necessary effort to understand what the customer has to say – it’s important to get all the details around the event before you react. For example, if an incident with a specific employee is mentioned in the customer’s criticism, it’s crucial that you get their perspective before responding. It could help you form a more appropriate response, too.

Once you’ve calmed down and fully understand the customer’s feedback, you’ll be in a better place to respond.

Acknowledge the customer publicly and then reach out privately.

Replying publicly to a negative review posted to Yelp or Google, or criticism posted in the comments of your social media outlets can be an asset. Apologize for the customer’s negative experience and express your commitment to providing a solution and improving in the future. When potential customers view the negative review, they’ll also see your response and recognize that you are an involved business owner who cares about their customers.

If a customer’s criticism is particularly concerning to you, it never hurts to reach out to them privately through direct messaging. By doing this, you’ll not only learn more about the situation that led to their negative feedback, you’ll also be providing the customer individualized attention that will make them feel valued.

If you can, make the situation right.

Depending on the criticism from the customer, you might be able to offer a gift card, refund or a replacement item to remedy their bad experience. You might even consider a small change to your business operation if a customer details a problem they ran into while placing an order online or browsing your brick-and-mortar.

Sometimes there is no quick fix to an issue a customer has written about, and in those cases, the best thing you can do is make sure the customer feels heard and that their input is taken into consideration moving forward.

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Know when to move on.

Sometimes, a customer will voice criticism about things that are out of your control as a business owner – perhaps they couldn’t easily find street parking or the customers at the table next to them were a little too loud for their liking. In cases like this, let them know you’re bummed to hear they didn’t have the best experience and move forward, no need to dwell. Focus on engaging other online customer feedback (both positive and negative) and building up your reputation as an involved owner. 

No business owner likes to hear that one of their customers had a less-than-stellar experience, but online criticism isn’t game over – in fact, it’s the opposite. The next time you receive a negative review, consider it a new chance to prove your commitment to your values as a business owner and the customers you serve.