When you started your business, you probably assumed you were creating a product which people would like. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have much success. But people have different tastes, preferences, and needs. So if you are really honest, you know that to please some people, you may turn off others.

This point was hit home for me recently as I read a collection of 1-star reviews of local restaurants. assembled by Marissa Miller of the Indianapolis Star. Many of the restaurants on the list are places I have been to and enjoy so I wondered about the negative reviews.  While some of the complaints were about bad service, the vast majority were people complaining because they didn’t like the product. For example, someone complained the shrimp cocktail was too hot at St. Elmos. Really? That’s kind of what they are famous for, but the person complained anyway.

So if you own a restaurant, entertainment venue or any public service type of business, how and when do you respond to negative reviews? How do you use the information to adjust your offers, or do you simply laugh when someone misses the point of your product?

When to respond to negative reviews

As soon as possible is always the right answer. For high volume businesses, a 24 hour response time for comments on Facebook, Yelp, and Google are ideal. If you aren’t hopping on and off those platforms regularly, you might want to invest in reputation monitoring software to send you alerts when new reviews are posted.

Twitter complaints are a little different. These short bursts are often done in the moment and the user is hoping you can respond faster than the clerk in front of them. The investment to be that responsive is a big one. You, or a member of your team, must be monitoring Twitter regularly and respond in real time. It is tedious, but the pay off can be huge.

For example: When Scotty’s Restaurant launched their social media campaign, owner Scott Wise would respond directly when someone tweeted a complaint. He would DM and ask which location you were at. Then he would contact the on-site manager and have someone stop by your table, usually with a complimentary plate of his famous fried pickles. He would be equally responsive if someone checked in with a positive comment.

The results: While there were still the occasional complaints in the newsfeed, they would be drowned out by the steady flow of positive comments, thanks for the pickles, and photos of people having fun at Scotty’s. The company has grown, and Scott doesn’t personally monitor the Twitter account, but they still monitor and interact with their very loyal community.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

If you are an accomplished chef, who has worked hard to create innovative dishes and use unusual ingredients, it is hard to read complaints without taking it personally. But you need to do just that. If it is a legitimate complaint about food quality or service, reach out.

As a general rule, do not engage in a public conversation back and forth. You will never come out ahead on that. “I am sorry you were disappointed” is a safe, non-committal way to open a dialogue, without accepting blame if someone doesn’t like your hot sauce. Then encourage them to take the conversation offline so you can learn more about the complaint. Once you resolve the issue, encourage people to update their review.

Use Negative Reviews to Adjust Your Products (to a point)

Sometimes, your customers actually have a better idea. If they are telling you something is too salty, go back and taste again, and maybe you do need to adjust your recipe, portion size, or variety. These suggestions can improve your product, and widen your customer appeal.

But some people are not in your target audience, and you have to be ok not meeting their demands. If you have a specific business model, for example, you only serve European Wines, you can ignore the complaint that you don’t offer Robert Mondavi by the glass. Or you can do a better job of communicating upfront to prospective clients why you only serve European Wines. If people know what to expect, they can’t legitimately complain when you deliver what you promise.

Closing Thoughts

The reality is, there are trolls out there who will simply never be satisfied no matter what you do. It is ok, to ignore those people, like the man who was angry he couldn’t bring his Starbucks coffee into another restaurant. Real, potential customers will see him for the troll he is and move on to the next review on your page.

The best defense against negative reviews is always a stack of positive ones, so make sure you are cultivating those positive reviews every single day.

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