How to reply to a negative online review

Many of us will have heard Warren Buffet’s oft-repeated quote about the time taken to build and ruin a reputation.

In case you were wondering, it is 20 years for the former, and five minutes for the latter.

This is especially true in social care, where the reputation of a care setting is based on a multitude of factors. The quality of care it delivers, the stimulating opportunities it provides to the people it supports, its overall culture, and its ability to recruit and retain the brightest available talent are just some of the key determinants of success.

That being said, even the highest performing care settings will at some point encounter at least one negative online review left by a resident, customer, or their loved ones. These review can stir up a multitude of emotions: guilt, regret, frustration, incredulity and on occasions, anger.

To help you navigate these negative reviews – which might be placed on your Carehome.co.uk listing, Google, or Facebook page –  it is important to provide a clear response, drafted with consideration and a level head.

Here are some key points to consider when forming your response to a negative online review with the aim of resolving the reviewer’s complaint and protecting your all-important reputation.

 

A review’s rationale

Before picking up the pen to respond, the first thing to do is place yourself in the reviewer’s shoes. They are taking time out of their own day to give you feedback. The way in which this feedback has been delivered can vary, but the principle remains the same. They are giving you a reflection of the level your service is performing at.

It may seem like they are trying to publicly ‘call you out’. In some cases, this may be the case. However, it also provides an opportunity to show you take feedback seriously, that you deeply care about your resident and customer experience, and that you are not afraid to share this publicly.

 

Fact finding

Hands away from the pen, we are still not quite there yet. This point’s relevancy will depend on the detail within the review. Instead of the pen, pick up the highlighter and run through each line of the review. To what extent do their points hold true? Does the review list points you were previously unaware of? Is the review flagging dissatisfaction that has previously been raised with you and resolved offline?

It is time to check the mirror and ask yourself and colleagues those questions. This is an important step, as the answers will help you with any further correspondence you have with the reviewer. A public review response is not necessarily the forum to share your full position, so do consider how much information you want to share publicly, and indeed how much you can share in your response.

 

Your target audience

In many cases, when responding to a negative online review you are not primarily responding to the reviewer. Indeed, many times the reviewer will be known to you as they will already have been through your complaints process.

Therefore, your review response is not designed to change their mind – but rather to contextualise and explain to neutral third parties (i.e. future readers) that you’re a reputable organisation that takes concerns seriously.

Your response should therefore reference information the reviewer will already know, but which is helpful to showcase to a neutral audience – for example, how robust the complaints process is, how a senior Director has met with them, what settlements might have been offered, or how a third party like the Council has been engaged to independently review the situation.

When thinking about your response, always bear in mind what you want a neutral third party to see and thing about how you handle situations when things go wrong.

 

Tone

Pen at the ready, now let’s get drafting.

One of the key points to try and get right is tone, given your response will be made public.

You may have read various examples of businesses in the hospitality sector going on the offensive to hit back at critics. Whilst there may be a strong temptation to follow suit, this risks fuelling further negative reviews and showing potential residents and customers that their feedback is not taken seriously.

The key differentiator is emotion. Somebody’s choice of a restaurant for the evening pales in comparison to choosing where to place themselves or a relative in care.

You may feel such a review is unjust, and that it devalues one of your business’s main currencies – its reputation. Yet, you should aim to show conciliation, and the easiest way to achieve this is through an apology.

Finally, remember the saying ‘perception equals reality’. It doesn’t matter what the truth of the matter is, if someone’s perception is that they have been negatively impacted by a situation. Certainly, for a neutral party reading the review and your response later, they will almost always take the reviewer’s side. In that sense, there is very little to be gained from arguing.

 

Apology

One of the first and most important parts of responding to a review is to show contrition in acknowledgement that someone’s experience has compelled them to write a negative review. In most cases, penning this review will not provide the reviewer satisfaction. It may even cause them upset in having to relive something which caused them distress.

The most effective way to get an apology in is at the start of the review, show empathy towards the reviewer as soon as you can. The extent of the apology, and what you wish to cover, can vary. Consider an apology as a sliding scale which can be adjusted to cover things such as how somebody was made to feel, or scaled up for egregious breaches in your policy.

However you wish to deploy it, an apology should form a fundamental part of your review response.

 

Take it offline

After your initial apology, you should remind the reviewer of what you stand for. What are your values? What is it your service strives to provide for users?

Doing so is an important opportunity to remind those neutral readers what drives you to be the best possible care service. At this point, you should then work to achieve a fundamental aim of a review response – taking the conversation offline.

Do you have an email address the individual can contact so you can hold a discussion on their review away from the public’s gaze.

Doing so achieves two aims: (1) readers of the exchange believe you take reviews and complaints seriously, and (2) you reduce the risk of the person’s experience getting any further traction.

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