The Negative Review Reply Playbook for Agencies with Chris Walker

negative review reply chris walker

If you’re running a small local business, being on the receiving end of a negative review can be difficult. It can be tough to manage the emotions and defensiveness you experience when you feel you’re being attacked. If you’re an agency helping your customers with reputation management or their review portfolio, this can be an uphill battle. 

Many agencies aren’t sure how to best help their clients.

In today’s podcast, Chris Walker, an agency account executive at GatherUp, discusses the ins and outs of agency review management. He’s going to share actionable strategies and tips you can use to help your clients build their review portfolios.

The highlights

  • [2:24] How agencies can help clients handle negative reviews
  • [3:11] The five-step process to follow when you receive negative reviews
  • [4:03] Why five-star ratings won’t help your business
  • [4:58] Why you should always respond to negative reviews
  • [7:09] Agency or clients: Who should respond to negative reviews?
  • [8:00] How to respond to negative reviews
  • [11:39] Why you must continue to grow your client’s reviews
  • [15:19] Why customers read negative reviews first
  • [22:37] Using reviews to improve employee performance and customer service

How agencies can help clients handle negative reviews

When small, local businesses receive negative reviews, it can be an emotional blow. As an agency, this can be a bitter pill for your clients to swallow. They’re investing their blood, sweat, and tears into their business, then along comes an unhappy client who’s willing to ruin their business with an unfair review.

Most of the time, this isn’t true.

But this is how many small, local businesses feel when they receive a negative review from their customers.

They feel attacked, betrayed even. 

This is where your agency comes in. According to Chris, your agency should have a predetermined plan to guide clients through this process.

There’s definitely a big, big concern from small business owners when they get a negative review; a lot of them really get their back against the wall and want to go on defense. The thing I always tell marketing agencies is, you need to be the calming voice. You need to be that liaison that gives them a clear cut plan of, this is what we do when we get negative reviews.”

The 5 step process to follow when you receive negative reviews

Responding to reviews is simple, but it’s far from easy. As a business owner, it’s easy to see customer criticism as an attack on your company, and it is, in a way.

Most customers aren’t looking to ruin your business, they’re looking for a solution to their problem, or they’re sharing their experience with other prospective customers. If you follow a clear process with your negative reviews, it’s easy to gain momentum, even when your customers post a negative review.

“You need to be that liaison that gives them a clear cut plan of this is what we do when we get negative reviews. I broke it into five steps, but you can really go in any order you want, but I think step one is the most important. And then don’t panic, you know, don’t freak out.

I mean, certainly, if you have a number of them [negative reviews], then you’re going to really want to focus in on why that’s happening. But first of all, relax, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Um, I used to congratulate my clients on their first bad review. I said, awesome. That’s great. Now we finally have some bad stuff because that’s what customers want. But then also equally as important is respond, respond immediately as quickly as you can.”

Why five-star ratings won't help your business

If I get lots of five-star reviews, I should be able to pull ahead of my competition, right? All I have to do is collect more reviews than my competitors, and I win.

This is actually false.

Customers today are sophisticated.

Researchers discovered that the optimal range for online reviews, as purchase drivers, is between 4.2 – 4.5 stars. This makes sense when you realize customers are aware of the fact that some brands may pad their ratings with fake reviews.

“It’s really not worth your time and effort to get banged up and, and worry about this review. Mainly because five star rated companies aren’t performing as well on Google nowadays. In fact, we did a study recently that showed the optimal rating for a business is between 4.2 and 4.5.

Now, with that being said, you’ve got to be over 4 stars. You cannot be below 4, so you have to be over 4, but we’ve actually seen sales decline at 5. And that’s because, or because searchers nowadays are smarter.

They’re realizing that maybe other businesses have gamed the system. They also recognize that not every business can be perfect. So really, you know, a negative review.”

Why you should always respond to negative reviews

The vast majority of customers read online reviews.

They’ve realized online reviews, when they’re legitimate, are a valuable heuristic they can use to gauge the trustworthiness of a company or business. In reality, this is only half the story. Prospects are very interested in the feedback customers have to share about your business. But they’re more interested in what you have to say.

The data bears this out.

“I used to congratulate my clients on their first bad review. I said, awesome. That’s great. Now we finally have some bad stuff because that’s what people want. But then also equally as important is respond, respond immediately as quickly as you can.

In fact, 86% of consumers want you to respond within three days. So realistically, you should be responding within one day. Absolutely should be, do not let it go past three days.

One thing I found that was really sort of startling when I was researching this topic, and I gave this presentation at Local U advanced awhile back is that we know that 82% of consumers read online reviews, but 97% of those people read the businesses responses.

So just as important as it is to get online reviews, it’s equally as important to respond to these reviews because people are reading them.”

Agency or clients: Who should respond to negative reviews?

There’s a good deal of flexibility here.

However, while it’s generally up to you and your clients to determine who will respond to customer reviews, it’s generally best if your agency handles it. It defangs the emotional sting that comes with a negative review and gives the clients the peace of mind they need to improve their business.

“It doesn’t matter who actually does the response, but I typically recommend that agencies do it on the client’s behalf because we’re taking emotion out of this.

The worst thing you can do is say, ‘I’ve looked through all my systems, and you’re not a client of ours.’ This is a fake review, and I’ve seen people do it.

I’ve even deleted responses from clients who’ve responded that way and edited it because we don’t want to come off as defensive.”

How to respond to negative reviews for clients

It’s incredibly easy to become defensive, it’s a natural reaction, and it’s a pattern many small business owners are quick to fall into.

It’s best to avoid that.

A better idea is to show sympathy and empathy in your response to customers. They want to be heard; they want you to listen and provide them with options for addressing the problems.

“An agency can take care of this, but there are a few things to remember, though, we want to respond quickly.

We want to be public with our response, especially if it’s a public review, we want to personalize that response by saying, I understand when X happened to you, that didn’t leave you happy show sympathy.”

Here’s an example. GatherUp has put together a great resource of review response templates to help your clients.

intro and thanks
take responsibility
offer a solution

“‘I completely understand how X could lead you to be unhappy. And we really appreciate you sharing that feedback and then put someone in charge to speak to that person.

I would invite you to please call the office, ask to speak to blank; he or she will be able to help you with this.’ So you’re basically letting them know that I appreciate that you’re unhappy because of this. And I want you to call us and talk to us now, at that point, if you explain to this customer why they’re mistaken, that’s fine, but do not explain that on Google show sympathy, take responsibility, and then make it, make it easy for them to rectify this situation.”

Why you must continue to grow your client's reviews

It’s common for clients to fixate on the number of reviews in their portfolio.

It’s treated as insurance, and it’s easy for clients to believe they have enough. Customers have a different view altogether. They’re focused on your client’s most recent reviews—the more recent the reviews, the better. Your positive and negative reviews can make a significant impact if they’re fresh.

Recent reviews are more valuable to customers and Google.

“Google looks at the number of reviews, the recency of reviews, and the velocity of reviews. People often think, ‘Oh, okay, I got 125 reviews. My closest competitors only got 80. I’m crushing them.’ And that may be true for a time. But what ends up happening is, as your reviews get older, not only do they become less effective.

Not only did they become less effective from an SEO standpoint, but they also become less effective from a customer conversion standpoint. So if you’re not consistently asking for reviews and bringing more reviews into your business, you’re not impacting these people’s decisions. In fact, for everybody who is looking at online reviews, it drops drastically after three months.

So, at most, you’ve got to look at the last three months, but you’ll also want to look at how many you have in those two weeks. Is it one, is it two? Then you only really have a couple of reviews that might impact customer decisions? So consistently asking for feedback, first of all, helps the business understand why they’re maybe running into these negative reviews, but also if the only thing you have to impact someone’s decision is a bad review.

You’ve impacted them in the wrong direction.”

Why customers read negative reviews first

Customers read negative reviews for a variety of reasons. Is the business under the same ownership? Are they still treating customers the same way and doing the same things? How do they handle unhappy customers?

Negative reviews are a wealth of data.

“I read the negative reviews. That’s actually what I seek out because, yeah. Okay. Any good business in business nowadays should have good positive reviews, and I will read those, but every single one, I sort by rating. And I look at their negative reviews first, because I want to find out, first of all, how did you handle that? Were you defensive? Did you not believe them? Did you call them out? And then also I want to know, is, does that negative experience affect me?

You know, one of the biggest things I see is people on TripAdvisor saying that that that’s the best were too firm, well, I like a firm mattress, so that’s not going to affect me. But when I hear that, the person who cleaned their room left something dirty, well, no, I want my room cleaned properly. So that will affect my decision.

So I oftentimes will look at the negative reviews and really try and get an idea of what kind of businesses is. But the second I see a defense of business, I’m gone. I’m gone. Cause if I know, I can’t complain. If I’m not happy and you won’t hear me out, I want nothing to do with you.”

Your review portfolio tells the story of your business.

Using reviews to improve employee performance and customer service

Most employees want to be viewed positively in their company and externally in public.

Review requests motivate employees to improve their performance and the customer experience in each of their interactions. Chris says this starts with identifying the hidden causes behind negative reviews.

“Immediately try and figure out why you get negative reviews. When you get them, really dial into why that is happening — if you aren’t able to fix the problem, it will continue. More often than not, the bad reviews are actually because of staff. It’s usually not anything else, mostly it’s bad service.

So if you’re able to figure out that these particular customers gave negative feedback and then go back to your systems and go, well, you know what, all of those people are handled by this person. Okay, well, we got an issue with this person. We’re going to have to get more training with them and make sure that this doesn’t continue.

But just as well, when staff members know they’re going to be reviewed, that know that the customer they’re talking to is going to get an email later asking for their feedback, customers immediately get better service. They know it because they know they’d be called out on it.”

What's your right now cause?

His right now cause is CharityWater partners with local organizations to build sustainable projects that provide clean drinking water to populations around the world.

“It’s the best catch-all to donate to right now, given all the topics it addresses.”

the spring

Connect with Chris Walker

Want to connect with Chris? You can find him on:

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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