You spend a lot of time and sweat into running your business. Suddenly ... you get a bad review on Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, or some similar site. Of course, the reviewer is wrong, wrong, wrong. Probably a competitor trying to make you look bad. The bastards.
So you wind yourself up, get to the nearest computer, and go online to respond. But wait, because chances are good that you're about to make a huge mistake.
The battle in which you are about to engage is usually a losing proposition, at least if you approach it as an avenging vigilante. There are plenty of examples of just how bad this can be. Amy's Baking Company is a classic example of what happens when owners battle customers (although starting off as a bad example on Kitchen Nightmares does make things a bit more difficult).
There may be times that pushing back is necessary, but often the only people who cheer are those who have worked in restaurants. Here are some things to consider when you face a negative review.
1. Take some time
There may be situations that call for rapid decisions. Responding to a bad review is not one of them. This is like the potential of doing a rage reply to an email. Giving in often means prolonging pain or even stoking it into agony. Walk away from the keyboard until you can think clearly and without the same overwhelming rancor that may drive you at first.
2. Try to understand their frame of mine
It is easy to see critical words and then read in motivation. That can be a critical mistake. Don't assume that someone is out to get you. A customer may have found something to be problematic with your company and might genuinely want to alert others. Chances are slim that they want to destroy you or see your business fail or any of the other assumptions owners might make. The negative reviewers don't necessarily have the best of intents at hand. Some might only want to feel like an important person and use your business to achieve that. Whatever the case, the specifics will direct your response.
3. Consider what might be true
Remember the old saying that all criticism can have a kernel of truth to it? Often there's a lot more than that. Take the time to hear what someone says and to consider how something similar would seem to you if you were on the receiving end as a customer. You may have a thousand excuses of what they're being unreasonable, but if you're paying money to a company, you don't generally care. Excuses aren't your concern.
4. How bad can it be?
Realistically, if you have a lot of solid reviews of your business, how much damage is one going to do? Are you ready to get into a war over something that doesn't actually matter? If so, maybe the issue isn't your business but your ego, in which case be wary of posting anything.
5. Respond effectively if you must
If after all this, posting a response seems both wise and necessary, then be strategic in how you do it. If there is fault, acknowledge it. Make amends if necessary. Or, perhaps, limit yourself to saying that you are sorry they had a bad experience and that you hope they give you another chance. Remember, review sites are ultimately social media and not real life. Being bigger is generally the better course.