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How to respond to negative Yelp reviews: dos & don’ts

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Author photo: Loni Klara

Loni Klara

Humans have a negativity bias. We remember the bad more than the good. The weight of five positive reviews focused on customer experiences should be greater than one negative review. But it doesn’t happen that way, does it?

All business owners go through this. That one negative review on Yelp goes straight to your heart, no matter how many other positive reviews you read. It can’t help but feel personal when you give so much to your business, only to read angry feedback from an unhappy customer.

Don’t take it personally. Crafting out a well-thought-out response to the review can not only win over the reviewer, but also win points with future customers and improve your overall reputation online.

We’ll go through a few strategies for how to respond to bad Yelp reviews but first, let’s look at why you should respond at all in the first place.

Why respond to Yelp reviews?

Learning how to respond to a Yelp review is more important than ever. All businesses must pay attention to online customer reviews today, where 86% of consumers check review sites for local businesses (and the number goes up to 95% for people between 18-34) according to a survey by BrightLocal.

Customers read about 10 reviews on average before feeling like they can trust the business. What’s more, 89% of customers actually take the time to read business responses to reviews and 40% only consider reviews written in the past two weeks. This means you have to be checking and responding to reviews consistently—this is not a one-time project!

95% of millennials and Gen Z users (18-34) consider online reviews for businesses.

Responding to reviews about customer experiences serves two purposes:

  1. It makes it clear you’re an engaged business with an up-to-date profile on review sites.
  2. It shows potential customers that you care about customer service and are willing to address concerns.

Why is this important? Yelp follows the 1/9/90 rule, a concept that was examined as early as 2006 by none other than Bradley Horowitz, the VP of Product for Google.

Yelp elaborated on this phenomenon on its own blog, saying the rule holds true for its platform. It gave this definition, citing writer Susan Kuchinskas:

“The so-called 1/9/90 rule posits that on a social media network or review site, only 1 percent of users will actively create content. Another 9 percent, the editors, will participate by commenting, rating or sharing the content. The other 90 percent watch, look and read without responding.”

You might be responding to the 1%, but you have to address the other 90% of the visitors on your page too.

According to Yelp, the most successful pages on Yelp aren’t the ones that have the most reviews, but the ones that have the most visitors. So whether you have 100 reviews or 50, thinking about that 90% who never leave reviews but still read them to make decisions is a smart move. When you write a response, you’re not just talking to the reviewer, but everyone who visits your page.

Since we know customers read business responses and tend to read the most recent reviews, staying on top of them will give you a better chance of making a good impression.

Who should respond to Yelp reviews?

Now, let’s look at whose name should be on your response. Generally, this depends on the size of your business.

Startup/small: CEO/Owner

Medium/large: Customer support or marketing

For smaller companies, having the CEO or owner write a personal response helps a lot to impress customers, such as ones who wrote negative Yelp reviews. It shows that you care about each customer and actually carve out the time to respond to them yourself instead of leaving it to a member of the team.

Unfortunately, as the business grows, this just won’t be possible due to time constraints.

If you run a larger operation, you’ll likely have a team of marketers or a customer support team that could handle the responses to unhappy customers. Delegating the task to customer service is an obvious choice. They’re trained to respond to complaints, including bad reviews, and offer solutions.

On the other hand, assigning the customer review task to the marketing team can have its perks too. They might be able to use the opportunity to raise your business’s profile by offering incentives or writing enticing copy that will be read by other customers.

However, the main focus of the response should always be to directly address the complaint brought up in the review. While it’s okay to leverage the opportunity for further marketing, make sure the response doesn’t sound shallow or sales-y (more on how to write the review below).

Should you respond to positive Yelp reviews?

Before diving into what makes an awesome response to a negative review, let’s talk about whether it’s worthwhile to respond to every positive review as well.

Maybe you’re a business that gets a ton of positive reviews on Yelp. Why not just carry on what you’re doing and let the customers leave their praise? You’re clearly doing things right. Will responding to them really help?

Again, these customer review questions might might come down to size. If your business gets tons of reviews, it might get too time-consuming to respond to every single review. In this case, you can try to pick the exceptionally well-written reviews and respond to those only.

It doesn’t even need to be long. Just keep it short, simple and appreciative:

This can help you maintain a positive relationship with your happy customers and show that you appreciate their feedback. Throwing in the occasional discount as a show of appreciation doesn’t hurt either. It also means your page isn’t just filled with your responses to negative reviews, which can come across as defensive.

How to respond to negative Yelp reviews (with examples)

Here are some tips on how to write a response to a negative review that boosts your credibility instead of making you sound defensive.

The dos

1. Address the user by name: This seems like such a basic thing to do, but it’s crucial. Talking to the person as opposed to using a generic “Dear Customer” or “Dear Sir/Madam” is the best starting point for writing a thoughtful response. The customer can feel it when you sound like a customer service department rather than a real person.

2. Include key details of the review: Find specific details in the review you’re responding to, so that you can better personalize your response. Even if you’re going off a template, including these details will go a long way in making sure the user feels like you actually read their review.

Here’s an example of the difference between the two bad-review response approaches––1) personalized; 2) template.

Example review:

The service here was horrible. I waited 15 minutes just to get the waiter’s attention and when they brought the food, they’d gotten the order wrong! My fries were missing and they were cold. Definitely would not go back.

An example of a tailored response:

Hi [First name], we’re so sorry the waiter forgot your fries and that they arrived cold…

An example of a more generic response:

Hi there, we apologize for your experience...

3. Do some customer research: If you want to go more in-depth when responding to a bad Yelp review, the good news is it’s now very easy to look up the reviewer. There are two reasons for doing this:

  1. It helps you determine the validity of the user/review.
  2. It makes it easier to personalize your messages to customers.

Clicking on the user’s Yelp profile shows how many reviews this person has written and whether they were positive or negative.

Pro-tip: If the person has written tons of negative reviews, they’re likely to be a troll or someone who only uses Yelp to attack businesses.

If this is the case, it’s even more of a reason not to engage in any hostile interactions or take the review personally.

Another thing you can do is to use your CRM to look up the name of the customer, if you’re keeping track of your customer relationships in there. (Hint: you should be.) This can help you understand who the customer is, their past interactions with your company, and reach out to them personally. It’s also easier to track your interactions with them:

In Copper, you can quickly see your interaction history with customers and all their contact details.

In your response, you can also use the information you discover. Like this:

Dear [First name],

We see that you’ve been our loyal customer for two years and we wanted to say that we really appreciate your support...

4. Show understanding: When crafting your response, acknowledge first and foremost that the customer had a bad experience. People sharing their bad experiences want to feel they’re heard rather than hear excuses from the get-go (even if they’re valid). So if you don’t know where to start, this is a great starting point.


We’re so sorry you had a rough time at our store last week...

5. End on a positive note: A genuine apology in itself can go a long way, but it’s always better if you can offer a suitable solution or positive way out of the situation. Whether it’s a coupon, complimentary items, or free service, offering some kind of solution can go a long way to win back a disgruntled customer.


Please check your messages for a personalized discount code and a complimentary item...

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Know thy customer

Learn how to gather customer data—and use it to your advantage—with this free handbook.

The don’ts

1. Don’t get defensive: Sometimes, a particularly harsh comment can throw you off and lead you to adopt a defensive attitude. This is only normal if you feel you’re being attacked. However, it’s not the best way to respond because it can give off the impression that your business can’t handle valid criticism.

2. Don’t take things personally: Before you respond to a negative review, remember that this person just had a negative experience and wanted to vent. Customer service can’t be perfect 100% of the time either, so acknowledge that and move on instead of dwelling on the details. Remain professional so that future customers see that you’re able to handle these situations with grace.

3. Don’t attack the reviewer: Adopting a nasty, sarcastic tone to attack the reviewer’s grammar, word choice, observations, or character are all a big no-no. Not only does it not resolve the problem, it also makes you look juvenile. Take the high road and don’t engage in bad behavior.

While the above don’ts should be observed for 99% of your responses, exceptions do happen. The customer is not always king and the internet is full of trolls. In the rare case that your reviewer is posting a fake review or seems like a troll, here’s one example of a business response that addresses this (although it's not advisable):

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether to spend time engaging with someone who’s obviously a troll (7500 Yelp reviews!) in the first place. But responding with humor and some hard science is an option when keeping your page clear of them.

However, the above example also does all the things you normally shouldn’t do, like getting personal and defensive while attacking the reviewer:

It gets defensive: Whether a justifiable decision or not, the review immediately defends their business decision that was attacked in the review re: poké bowls.

It gets personal and dwells on details: It nitpicks on the word “pathetically” that was used in the review.

It attacks the reviewer: The response shows that they spent time calculating how much time it would take to write 7,500 reviews and implies the reviewer is wasting his time on Yelp.

Example of a good response

A good response includes all the dos from the above, ideally in your brand or company voice. It’s personal, apologetic, and ends on a positive note. This response below hits all those points:

The response excels on one point in particular. It offers an explanation for the negative service (“busy night”) without making it sound like an excuse (“apologize for the slowness in delivery”).

Finally, it ends by saying they hope to offer a “much more typical excellent … experience” on the customer’s next visit, implying that they know the service was less than par, but that it is not typical. It’s another way of asking them to give it another chance so they can offer something better.

Example of an okay response

Average responses technically do the job. They acknowledge the problem and show a willingness to offer a solution. However, they might sound like a cookie cutter or standard protocol response because they aren’t detailed and personalized.

Here’s an example:

And the same message repeated under another negative review:

Reading this response, it’s clear that the business uses this as a standard protocol for negative reviews. This in itself is fine, especially if the volume of reviews far exceeds the available hours to respond to them all.

However, the response misses an opportunity to impress future customers by not crafting a more personalized message that also includes what solution they’re offering. Also, when customers read that you give the same response to every negative review, it can seem like you’re just doing the minimum.

Example of a bad response

When trying to think of whether your response is sufficient, a good rule of thumb is to read the original review, then read your response. (Or better yet, get someone else—who doesn’t work for you—to do it. Less bias.) If you were a person reading reviews of your business to decide whether to visit or not, would you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after reading this negative review and your following response?

If the answer is no, your response didn’t do enough to address the complaints.

Here’s an example from a hair salon. The reviewer mentions that they went in a brunette and came out a blonde (which was totally not what they asked for). Potential miscommunications aside, the review is there for other customers to see:

The response starts off correctly with an apology. It even shows a willingness to improve their own techniques.

But it ends with a comment that borders on an excuse: “We should have exchanged more ideas and images,” then finishes by saying thank you for “your time and advice.”

This is a weak finish considering that the customer wrote that they shared extensive details of what they wanted and couldn’t understand how the communication went wrong. It’s also a bad example because the customer clearly isn’t giving the salon their “advice.” It offers zero solutions and thanks the customer for coming in when they clearly aren’t happy with the result.

How to make it better:

1. Miscommunication can happen and there are always two sides to a story. But instead of sounding like you’re giving yourself excuses, you can remedy this by saying something along the lines of:

“I’m so sorry there was a miscommunication. It’s clear I didn’t fully understand the look you were going for. I will do my best to improve on this in the future.”

2. Don’t thank them for coming in without offering a solution. If you really think you messed up or that the customer had an unusually bad experience, end by offering them a complimentary restorative service. Use your discretion to determine which solution would be the best for the situation.

Use Yelp to boost your business’s reputation online—and offline

When used wisely, Yelp can be your best tool to attract potential customers online.

There are many reasons why you should learn how to respond to a Yelp review. People are reading about you and perusing reviews of local businesses online before deciding whether to visit. Not only that, because people often pull up business reviews on their phones to decide where to go then and there, what you do on Yelp easily translates offline through word-of-mouth.

Say a group of friends are deciding which restaurant to visit on their night out. One of them pulls out their phone, scans through reviews on Yelp and goes, “This place has 5 stars on Yelp.” The place becomes the restaurant they end up visiting and gains a bunch of new customers who will spread the word if the meal is good.

The more favorable the impression you give on Yelp, the more likely you are to gain new customers. If they’re on the fence between your business and a competitor but you’re the only engaged one of the two, your responses can also sway the decision in your favor. By responding to negative reviews on a positive note, potential customers will see that you’re engaged, willing to improve, and appreciative of feedback.

That makes you look good in their eyes before they’ve even visited.

Do you have reviews on Google as well? Here's a step-by-step guide on how to respond to Google reviews.

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