Most businesses will face a negative online review at some point. (If you haven’t had one yet, consider yourself lucky — and enjoy it while it lasts. The potential for a poor review increases exponentially with your workload and your number of years in business.) And while a bad review is enough to sour a wedding business owner on the existence of review sites at all, it’s important to remember that you take the good with the bad.
That being said, most sites — WeddingWire, Yelp, etc. — give business owners the opportunity to respond to a negative review. How you choose to respond will deeply affect other prospective clients’ impression of you, and can tremendously mitigate — or aggravate — the damage.
Here are a few things you should never do when it comes to responding to a review:
- Don’t post when you’re feeling emotional. Getting your response posted quickly is important, of course, but it’s also important that you take the time to calm down and work through any hurt feelings before you craft your reply. (I personally find that wine helps tremendously during the feelings part, but not so much the writing part.) Remember, too, that many poor reviews are written out of anger, so if you can maintain a sense of calmness and professionalism, you’ll come off looking much better than if you responded in kind.
- Don’t go overboard with information. A review site is not a court of law, and you are not tasked with addressing every indvidual claim and complaint contained within a review. Keep your response simple, choosing only one or a few important items on which to focus.
- Don’t get personal. Leave out anything that could possibly be interpreted as a jab — avoid mentions of anything remotely contentious such as the client’s relationship with his/her new spouse, family relationships, personal appearance, etc. (And for goodness’ sake, DON’T mention any spelling or grammatical errors on the part of the reviewer!) Remember, no prospective clients are going to want to hire you if they feel you’ll be judging and insulting them the moment something goes wrong.
- Don’t embellish. Stick to the facts that really matter. For example, saying “The reception unfortunately started behind schedule because the bridal party was about 30 minutes late to the reception” is much better than “The reception was late because the bride and groom couldn’t agree on their group shots and spent 30 minutes arguing in front of everyone.”
- Don’t be defensive. Your response is not the appropriate forum for your resume, so don’t go into detail about how many years you’ve been in business, how much education you have in your field, the awards you’ve received, and so on. Again, stick to what’s relevant here: you had a customer with a less-than-pleasant experience, and this is your opportunity to present another side.
The don’ts really are the easy part, though — it’s much harder to know what you actually should do:
- Do accept the client’s right to state his/her opinion. No, really — you need to truly accept it. We’re all delighted when good reviews come in, so we need to acknowledge that customers also have the right to share a bad review when appropriate. Bonus points if you state in your response that you respect your client’s opinion (or at least recognize that your client has a right to state that opinion), even if you perceive the situation differently.
- Do address the readers of the review, not the client who posted it. When a client posts a review, his or her review is being taken public — it’s no longer a back-and-forth private correspondence. By directing your response to any prospective clients who may read the review in the future, it’s much easier to avoid the trap of making your response overly emotional and personal.
- Do express disappointment that the client had a bad experience. This can happen a couple of different ways. If you really did royally screw up, you can always take full responsibility and issue a direct apology. If there were factors beyond your control, however, you can still say something like “I deeply regret that this client’s experience with ABC Flowers fell short of that which we strive to provide our clients.” (On the flip side, however, be sure to avoid the dreaded “I’m sorry you feel that way” approach. A passive-aggressive apology is not an apology at all.)
- Do keep it simple. Aiming for your response to be one-third to one-half as long as the review is a good rule of thumb, if for no other reason than it forces you to choose your words carefully. Inclement weather conditions or unexpected traffic delays can be explained in a sentence; they don’t require a paragraph.
- Do keep it focused on the future. Acknowledging what happened at the reviewer’s wedding is important, of course, but remember that this is also your forum for explaining what positive changes you’ve made to avoid similar problems in the future. Perhaps you’ve changed product suppliers, or hired additional help, or created some new system to ensure your processes run smoothly. Use your response to concisely explain these changes and how they will give clients an even better experience in the future.
It’s absolutely true that one or two negative reviews, among a bunch of positive ones, helps to paint a more balanced and realistic picture of a business. A carefully worded response to a poor review gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you’re professional and are open to ways of improving your business for the benefit of future clients.