austin-restaurantThey used to say one dissatisfied customer would tell eight people about their bad experience. Today, thanks to online review sites and social networks, it could easily be 8,000. In an era when customers can wield so much power, and when good customer service is king, letting bad reviews sit without a well-crafted response can be extremely detrimental to your business.

So many business owners don’t seem to understand that not responding comes across as not caring about what its customers think. At worst, these poor reviews can drive potential customers to steer clear and to go to a competitor with better reviews. But despite the dangers, I’m no longer shocked to come across so many festering, unanswered bad reviews while I’m browsing for new restaurants on Yelp. That’s why I was so surprised when a restaurant owner replied to a bad review of my own and completely turned me around.

The restaurant was a typical American-fare joint in Austin, Texas. My friends and I stopped in for dinner, and while the food and atmosphere were decent, the service consisted of one frustrating error after another. Within a few days, I Yelped about it:

We walked in, didn’t see a hostess, and the minutes ticked by. After 15-20 of no acknowledgement, we flagged a waitress down… She wasn’t very attentive – we ran out of waters, had to ask for enough silverware, and one beer we ordered never arrived. The food took forever – we were starving and asked a few times to make sure it was actually coming… Finally, there was an error on the bill.

Just a few days later, an email notified me that my review got a reply. Before I read it, I was anticipating a terse, defensive reply from the restaurant. But instead, I got this:

Although it’s great to hear how much you enjoyed your taco and our ambiance, your description of your visit as a whole is incredibly disappointing. Not only is the wait you described unacceptable, but the service you experienced is embarrassing. We apologize, and we can assure you that this is completely out of the ordinary for us. That said, we are very grateful that you are still willing to give us another shot. We look forward to welcoming you back, and we hope to better demonstrate how much we appreciate our customers. Until then, thank you for taking the time to leave such candid feedback.

All the best,
Cuatro, Owner

During my stay in Austin, I went back to the restaurant. Twice. And then I wrote a more positive review about my next experience there. Here’s a breakdown of everything Cuatro did everything right to win back my business.

  1. Timeliness. I got Cuatro’s reply 3 days after my initial review. 1-2 days would be ideal, but when most bad reviews go unanswered, 3 days was short enough to not be too little, too late. Regularly and proactively monitor your reviews so you can respond to them quickly.
  2. Acknowledgement. Rather than trying to argue with me about my experience, which some owners actually do, Cuatro addressed my complaint head on. Validate your customer’s feelings whether you think they’re wrong or right.
  3. Apology. Your response to a bad review is no place for pride. Cuatro wrote a heartfelt apology,  calling his own restaurant’s service “unacceptable” and “embarrassing.” Keep your tone humble, calm, and professional.
  4. Gratitude. Occasionally you’ll see owners thank customers online for their positive reviews, but it’s rare to see a thank you for a negative one. Even if they set your teeth on edge, remember that customers’ bad reviews can be a valuable tool for improving your business’s customer experience, and likely its success.
  5. Invitation. Even though I was an unhappy customer, Cuatro welcomed me back, and frankly I was curious to see how the service would be the second time around. Many positive reviews and loyal customers are born out of a corrected bad experience.

The next time you read a scathing customer review, channel Cuatro’s approach, and you may earn yourself a new loyal customer.

Want more online review tips? Contact us about our online review management services.

Online Reviews: 5 Ways This Restaurant Owner Nailed It
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