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How To Deal With Poor Customer Ratings and Reviews

  • by: Allen Graves
  • On: 29, May 2019
7 min read

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it gives every customer an opportunity to review a business, it’s product and its services.

But, wait. That could be a bad thing about the internet, right?

Well, not really. But no business owner can be blamed for feeling that way on the day they wake up to see a customer has left a scathing, negative review of their business on a prominent website. 

This can be quite detrimental to your business because negative reviews are, indeed, almost always scathing. That’s the nature of the internet.

This is especially tough for restaurants, where one bad review can spread like wildfire through your community and spell disaster for your restaurant. As Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Michael Luca says, “Restaurants are a classic example in economics where the consumer has to make a decision based on very little information.” This is why restaurateurs should do everything they can to keep their online reviews and ratings as high as possible.

Receiving a poor review is not the end of the world, though. There are positive ways to deal with negative reviews. It just takes the proper mindset and follow-through on actions.

So, if you find yourself staring a bad review in the face, resist the initial urge to fire back. Wait a few minutes and take a few deep breaths, then consider the following.

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Don’t Ignore It

Once the initial feelings subside, in walks denial. For many restaurant owners, the decided course of action is to take no action at all. They try to forget about it, thinking it will just blow over. In reality, it might not.

The worst thing you can do is ignore a bad review. One critical review can sit prominently online unanswered for years, costing you customers, damaging employee morale and maybe even having an effect on your ability to recruit new employees.

It’s unfair, but it’s just a fact of the digital world. So don't ignore it. This is a great opportunity to engage with your customer, offer an apology and explain how you have resolved, or plan to resolve, the issue. It's also a great way to show the public that your care about your customers' satisfaction.

Don’t Take It Personally

We've all seen it. Reviewers on the largest rating sites often use more dramatic language than necessary. This is partly due to the anonymity of the internet. It also can help boost their reputation as a reviewer.

Don’t allow a negative review to affect you to the point where you aren't able to give your current customers the very best. 

It can be difficult sometimes, but you cannot take poor reviews personally. Bad things happen, and great leaders are able to resist dwelling on it and move forward.

Don’t Respond with Anger

The natural response is to immediately defend yourself. Some restaurant owners respond quickly to negative reviews with comments that are fueled by anger. Certainly, it can be satisfying to point out the flaws in a negative review. However, as a long-term business strategy, it’s not the way to go.

Resist the urge to attack. 

Imagine someone six months from now trying to decide where to eat. They see an exchange between an unhappy customer and an angry restaurant manager. Will this weigh into their decision to visit your restaurant? Maybe so.

Plus, becoming involved in an online confrontation can make you and your restaurant appear negative and uncaring of your customers.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

Much like in-person interactions, it’s best to take a calm, reasonable approach to negative reviews.

First, make sure to open your response with an apology for whatever the issue was. Try to address the negative reviewer’s concerns in a way that is level-headed and not defensive. Do your best to offer workable solutions. Consider whether something in the review is legitimate and should be addressed by you or your staff.

Accept the criticism for what it is.

You should also thank the reviewer for bringing it to your attention. Those who see this exchange will look much more favorably on your restaurant.

Apologize Publicly, Address Privately

Again, apologize on the review site to the customer. Then offer to follow up with their concerns by reaching out to make contact privately. That way every detail of the issue isn’t hashed out in a public forum. Plus, people tend to react better in one-on-one conversations where others aren't reading or listening.

Make sure to comment in the original review that you'll be contacting them privately. This gives the public a clear indication that you are being proactive in dealing with the situation effectively. 

Staying on Top of Negative Reviews to Increase Revenue

According to a study by the Harvard Business School, a one-star ratings increase leads roughly to a 9% increase in revenue. Imagine what this could mean for your business and your career. 

By consistently watching your online reviews, you may spot trends or inconsistencies that you can address in your operations. For instance, if you receive multiple complaints about a specific menu item, or wait times, or front-of-house cleanliness, you can make changes to resolve these issues and avoid these negative reviews in the future.

You should also consider these tips: 

  • Provide direct channels for customers to lodge complaints with the restaurant, negating their need to go on Yelp and write a review. A WiFi analytics and marketing platform is perfect for this.
  • Make sure to respond quickly to these complaints - otherwise Yelp and the like will be their next stop.
  • Ask those who file complaints to come back and give you an opportunity to make it right - risky, perhaps, but worthwhile if they have a legitimate complaint you have addressed.

Negative reviews are a fact of life in the restaurant business. They sting. But the path to handling them best is to accept that they are going to happen and have effective methods of quickly addressing them - privately, when possible.

It will make some of the upset customers happier, it will make future and current customers happy to frequent your business, and it will help you increase your overall bottom line.


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