If you’re getting a ton of negative reviews, unfortunately nothing will save you (at least on TripAdvisor). However, if you get only the occasional negative review, people will look to your response to see whether the review was fair or not.

If you have 90 positive reviews and 1 negative, people will obviously give you a chance to explain yourself. PhoCus Wright and TripAdvisor revealed the statistics and found that ‘84% of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review “improves [their] impression of the hotel” while 64% of users agree that an aggressive/defensive management response to a bad review “makes [them] less likely to book that hotel.”‘

When responding to a negative review, your goal should be to come across as a relaxed, friendly person. It’s a bit like a political debate — the contrast between one is angry, aggressive person and another that is friendly, measured and calm, this second person will most often win. The tone of your response is everything!

There are three types of negative reviews:

  • The generic ‘I didn’t enjoy it’
  • The specific but completely wrong ‘they didn’t even bring me water!’
  • The specific but seemingly accurate ‘they used a replacement guide without warning us, and he was unfriendly’

As you can probably imagine, each requires its particular type of response. Here are a few simple tips for dealing with negative reviews the right way:

1. Take a moment.

Getting a negative review is something that ticks most people off, especially when it hasn’t been warranted. Our advice is do not respond straight away. Put it aside for an hour or two and chew on it.

2. REALLY take a moment.

It’s too easy just to dismiss negative reviewers as being idiots. The reality is that nearly all your negative reviews give you a genuine opportunity to improve. Most people — including negative reviewers — are honest and offer you a path to get better.

A disproportionate amount of negative reviews appear when a tour operator makes a change to a tour that the guest did not expect. They might trade one guide for another, take a different route, or merge two tour groups at the last moment. Each of these situations could be improved upon by a tour operator and if not avoided, at least prepared for.

Take the time to investigate the issue, but don’t wait too long — you need to get a response up there ASAP!

3. Be personal! That is, don’t use a stock answer.

‘We take all feedback seriously’ is almost always written by someone who doesn’t actually take feedback seriously. Instead of using stock responses or clichés, use their name and address their specific situation. Words that make you seem like a corporate PR department are not helping your case, as that indicates indifference to the customer.

4. Don’t snipe back.

Don’t forget that the whole world is reading! So stay positive. If you get upset and go on the offense, you’ll lose a good amount of customers you could have had.

This is an example from TripAdvisor of a response gone wrong. The customer said she had received a rude email from the owner, and part of his reply was: ‘I’m disappointed your experience was not what you had hoped for and that you’ve mistaken my response as being rude and hostile.’

Passive aggressive responses such as this are not going to do you any favors. The response should have been: ‘I’m honestly shattered that my email came across that way. I really wasn’t trying to be rude or hostile. If you see the rest of the reviews, you’ll know that I put so much effort into making people happy. I’ve just sent you an another email; hopefully I can make this right for you.’

5. Address the issue directly.

State clearly that you have investigated the issue (if it needed investigating) and what you have done to fix it. Nearly all negative reviews that I see raise genuine issues where a response is required. Show your desire to improve by actually looking into matters raised and fixing the causes of the problem. Note: in this type of response, it is SO crucial that you use human language. Use ‘looked into’ instead of ‘investigated’, ‘fixed’ instead of ‘corrected’. This will connect you to the reader in a more personal way.

6. Feel free to express appropriate emotion.

Express that hearing about their negative experience has greatly impacted you and that you’re distraught. Of course, I’m not talking about aggressive emotion. The last thing you want to do is get angry in your response, and the next-to-last thing is a cardboard impersonal reply.

Something along these lines can help you stay graceful: ‘Hey Joanne, we honestly thought you were enjoying yourself! This kind of thing matters really matters to us, and I’m shattered to think you had a bad time.’

This goes hand in hand with our next step.

7. Make it right.

When responding to the customer, offer to make it up to them where appropriate. Say that you’ll do anything to make it right, and if you had just known at the time, you would have done something about it.

Try to avoid saying ‘if I had known at the time’, though. It will sound to the client like ‘if you had bothered to tell me…’, which is obviously not the best way to do it. Try instead: ‘We’re always ready to make things good, so I’ve just tried to get in touch with you to offer a refund if you need one. Please check your email.’

8. Correct them with grace.

From time to time, a negative review will be a bit malicious. They might say things which are completely incorrect or neglect to mention the real reason you kicked them off your boat. In this instance, you have to tread quite carefully. If you bite back, you won’t look great to potential guests.

This is why you need to open with a line such as this: ‘I’ve never been a fan of “he-said she-said” situations, but given that this review is public, I feel the need to respond and help shed some light on what happened here.’

By introducing it like this, you come across as someone who is graceful and has not lost their temper. Do everything you can to avoid getting emotional and come across as calm and in control. If you find yourself too close to the situation, you could have someone sit next to you and give them the mouse to click the ‘submit’ button. In this way, the reply only goes up when both of you are satisfied with it.

9. Don’t mention the business’ name.

If people Google your business name, do you want the negative review to show up? This is why I recommend not using your business name in your responses. So instead of ‘On behalf of the team at Sundowner Tours, we would like to…’, say ‘On behalf of our team, we would…’. This will keep your unsightly review down on the list when Googling is involved.

Responding to negative reviews can be a tough situation to be in. With these nine tips, you’ll be well on your way to diffusing online situations and maintaining the pristine name of your company.


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