October 2, 2020

15 Lessons After Responding to 150,000 Online Reviews

Jane, Responder and first employee at Widewail, has been responding to customer reviews for the better part of two years. Here are 15 of her favorite lessons and tactics you can implement today.

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Hey all, this is Jane.

In the nearly two years I’ve worked at Widewail, I’ve responded to over 50,000 online reviews. 

As a company, we've responded to over 150,000

And, as you can imagine, our team has seen and answered every type of review. Reviews from happy customers, angry customers, and customers somewhere in between. 

I’ve spent 4,000 hours at my desk tuning and fine tuning my responses. I’ve shared these insights with my team, and now I’m going to share them with you.

Here are my 15 review response lessons you can apply to your reviews today.

1) Customers want to be heard

Make them feel like part of the family

You probably already know this, but to confirm I’ve witnessed it first hand. Customers love to feel special, and thanking them for their review is one of the simplest ways to accomplish this. I can’t count how many times someone has replied back to our response with additional comments, more gratitude, and, of course, emojis. It means a lot to customers to hear back from business they love. 

When it comes to negative experiences, sometimes all people need is for their complaints to be acknowledged. We’ve witnessed people upgrade their star rating as a direct result of our response. In a lot of cases a 1-star review turns into a 5-star. Even for customers who are looking for more than an apology, answering their review is an important first step to earning back their business. 

2) People can tell when a response is genuine

Your customers are world-class bot detectors

It’s 2020...

People know when they’re talking to a robot, and they also know if the person responding doesn’t care. 

That’s why at Widewail we personalize all of our responses. Using the reviewer’s name, repeating details they included in their post, and mentioning the staff they worked with are all ways to demonstrate that we actually read their review. Treating each review with the same undivided attention takes more effort, but it leaves a great impression. 

3) Don’t ignore negatives 

Contrary, negatives can be good for business

Nothing looks worse than a GMB list of reviews where every 5-star is responded to and every 1-star is ignored. Potential shoppers will look at the disparity and assume that the business doesn’t care about customers who need support. This is the last message you want to send to the people you are trying to impress. 

We all know that everyone makes mistakes, and owning up to these mistakes or at least recognizing a customer’s frustration is much more commendable than looking the other way. Show your prospects that even if they have a poor experience they can still expect to be treated well. Plus, we have some good news about negatives in point number four. 

4) Negative reviews can be salvaged

The key is to respond quickly

Widewail

When someone who originally posted a one-star review updates their review and increases the rating after they receive a response we call it a “Widewail Save.” 

This happens more than you might think. 

Again, customers want to be heard, and the one-two punch of answering their review and following up by phone can make a world of difference. Stepping up to assist unhappy customers could mean a higher rating on Google, and their future business. 

To execute on this a timely response is key. Put yourself in your customers shoes. You’re pissed off. Fuming. Appalled. And you get a response three weeks later. You’ve moved on.

Respond quickly for the best opportunity to engage with a customer that is willing to work it out.

5) The goal is to move conversations offline

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public

Reviewer

While it’s important to provide a substantive response online, the GMB review section is not where problems should be solved. Offer to reach out to the customer or give them contact information so they can get in touch. Once you’re out of the view of the public, you will be able to discuss the situation in further detail and take real steps to address it. This will limit the amount of unnecessary and potentially unflattering information published on your review sites. 

6) Don’t ask someone to contact you if you’re unavailable

Voicemail will not make the situation better

A follow-up to number five.

If you want to help a customer, make sure that they can actually contact you. This means providing the best number, clearing your voice mailbox, and reaching out when you say you will.

People who are already frustrated quickly become irate when they feel they are being lied to, and nothing is more disappointing than being told to expect a call that never comes. 

7) Sometimes it’s better not to respond before getting in touch

Be proactive

Almost every negative review should be responded to publicly, but in some cases it’s best to reach the customer directly first. This is especially true when the customer has had issues getting in touch with your business previously. Promising to get in touch is one thing, but speaking with them offline and then following up online with information about your conversation is much more effective. For those reading reviews, these responses are especially impressive and prove that your business cares about customer satisfaction.

8) Sometimes it’s better not to respond at all

Take the high road

In extreme cases, we recommend that our clients don’t answer the review at all. You might think that this goes against our general philosophy and previous tips, but if responding to a review will lead to an online fight, additional negative reviews, or social media slamming, we know that the customer will benefit from not doing so. These situations come up rarely, and as long as other reviews are responded to in a timely manner, they won’t make a bad impression. 

9) Demonstrate empathy, even when you’re frustrated

Managed services help distance you emotionally

Reviewer

Sometimes the customer is right. Sometimes they’re not.

Regardless, it’s imperative to remain composed and understanding in your response. A number of our customers appreciate the opportunity to express their frustration about the situation to us, after which we assist them to craft a more neutral response. 

Remember: responding to negative reviews is only partly about the customer you’re engaging with, it’s also about potential customers reading your response.

Would you go to a business where the General Manager blows up at a customer online?

Probably not.

Even if their argument is logical, a rude response is unprofessional, unappealing, and will live online for prospects to read forever. 

10) Review responses can be a sales opportunity, but don’t overdo it

“We can’t wait to see you back for your next appointment”

While writing a response, it might be appropriate to mention upcoming deals or new products if they are relevant to the review. For example, let’s say a poster mentions how much they loved their haircut. It makes sense to share that all haircuts will be 10% off the following month.

Keep in mind that this customer did you a favor by writing a review. You don’t want to come off too strong or like an over-eager salesperson. Still, if you believe they might be interested in an offering from your business, don’t hesitate to pass along the details. 

11) Timing means everything

Speed wins

Responding two weeks after a customer posts a negative review might be too late. It’s not uncommon for people to write back saying thanks for the response, but they’ve purchased elsewhere. If they initially had a problem that could be solved, after a couple weeks they usually will no longer be interested in working towards a solution.

In more serious scenarios, customers are offended that they’ve been ignored for so long and add more negative feedback to their review. Just as you don’t want to leave customers waiting in your brick-and-mortar, it’s vital to respond to reviews in a timely manner. 

12) Online reviews are the best marketing

Never let quality social proof go to waste

Reviewer

Every so often, a review makes me emotional. 

You can really tell when a customer is overjoyed with their purchase, or if they received assistance during a particularly challenging situation. This is the type of messaging that makes for great advertisements. 

Potential shoppers want to hear from real customers; they want authenticity. Share your positive reviews in social media posts, on your website, and even through your paid marketing. 

13) Spelling counts, especially with names

Details, details, details

A slip of the finger could cost you a customer. This might sound petty, but certain people get really offended if their name is incorrect, plus your business will look a bit silly misspelling something that is written out on the same screen. 

The simple truth is that spelling, grammar, and punctuation should be a concern for all online marketing. Taking the time to proofread your responses could mean the difference between sounding like a professional or an amateur, and between earning a customer and losing one. 

14) Review responses are an extension of your business’s voice

Take advantage of the opportunity

Every time you respond to a review, your business is speaking directly with a customer - and everyone can read the conversation. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility. You have an opportunity to impress the people who are considering your business. You have a responsibility to provide the same level of service online that you would expect for customers in your store. 

All of this is to say that you need to take review responses seriously. Don’t dash them off during your lunch hour. Devote actual work time to engaging with your customers online. If you are too busy to give your reviews the attention they need, consider partnering with a managed service like Widewail so that you can feel confident that your business is representing itself well online. 

15) To get more reviews, you have to ask

But ask via text

We have an entire guide dedicated to increasing review volume and it all comes down to this: you have to start requesting reviews from your customers. 

I can tell you which of our clients ask for reviews and which don’t. It makes all the difference. Not just in volume, but in rating as well. 

Recently, we launched a new way for you to generate more reviews via SMS. It’s pretty slick, and early performance from beta customers is showing great results. 

Over to you

4,000 hours later…

I’ve put in enough time to say there is a right way to respond. Your customers and your bottom line will thank you for it.

My boss Matt has always stressed from the beginning we need to be efficient but more importantly our responses need to be human. That’s how we set ourselves apart. 

Our marketing manager, Jake, digs into this more.

If you are working through a review response strategy for 2021, we also put together some more information on the pros and cons of response automation software. I highly recommend it.

To wrap it all up - be human, be prompt, debate in private, check your work, and always ask for more. 

Tag(s):

Jane Garfinkel

I’m a New Jersey native who joined the Widewail team during my brief stint in Burlington. Now living in Jersey City, I currently serve as the Response Team Lead and Content Specialist. My background is in writing and my work has been published by Thrillist, Reductress, McSweeneys, The Rumpus, and more. I occasionally update my own blog No Meat, Some Potatoes, and in my free time I hang out with my dog Jake.

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