How To Respond To Online Customer Reviews

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If you’ve found your way over to this post, you probably already know the importance of online reviews. A business’ star rating on major review sites, like Yelp and Google, has very real consequences on its bottom line. So making review management a priority is essential to maintaining a brand’s online reputation. Here at Go Fish Digital, we work with dozens of clients across different industries to optimize their online reviews. One of the questions we receive most often from our clients is, “When should I respond to reviews?”

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Replying to a nasty review can often feel like a futile exercise. But your response to a review is not just for that one past customer. Your response also influences the opinion of all the prospective customers who are researching your company to help guide their purchasing decision. Readers want to see that a company cares enough to own up to their mistakes and take the good feedback with the bad. Studies also show that businesses replying to reviews generally see an uptick in their overall rating. 

But, not all reviews require a response. We’re here to help you determine when to post a reply and when not to based on our experience resolving customer complaints and encouraging a review rating change.

How To Respond To Online Customer Reviews

Reviews That Need a Response

Positive Reviews – That’s right, even positive reviews should warrant a response. This one is easy – thank the reviewer (by name if possible) for taking the time to leave a review. Personalize your reply even further by commenting on something specific that the reviewer really liked. 

Neutral Reviews – Most reviewers feel compelled to leave a review after an extremely noteworthy customer event, either good or bad. So, even though they’re rare, neutral reviews require a response. If the review mentions both something positive and a minor complaint, make sure you note your appreciation for their feedback and work to address the complaint.

Negative Reviews (Most of the time)

Every business receives at least some negative feedback. While it can be tough to not get emotional, keeping your cool is essential when it comes to crafting your response. Unless the customer requires an immediate response (such as a shipment being late), we recommend responding 24-48 hours after the review is posted. This waiting period will help you overcome your initial knee-jerk reaction, and it will give you time to pull any details needed to address specifics from the reviews. 

We recommend the following 5-step process to all of our clients when they are going to respond to a negative review. 

  1.     Address the reviewer personally, by name or username.
  2.     Thank the reviewer for leaving their feedback.
  3.     Empathize and apologize for the specific issue(s) called out in the review.
  4.     Restate that this issue conflicts with your business’ best practices and apologize.
  5.     Take the conversation offline by including a contact name, email address, and phone number.


Reviews That DO NOT Need a Response

If there is something for you or your business to act on in a negative review, it’s best to assure the reviewer and your potential customers that the issue is being addressed. However, not all negative reviews are so cut and dry. Sometimes, the best response is no response.

Flaggable Reviews

Reviews that are profane, impersonal, displaying a conflict of interest, or just a case of an unhappy individual having a venting moment, your business does not need to waste time developing a reply. Sometimes, no amount of apologizing or taking ownership will resolve the issue, and it’s best to make that judgment on a case-by-case basis.  In some instances, you can appeal to the review site’s Review Guidelines to see if the review is in violation of any rules that would warrant removal.

Filtered Reviews

Many review sites have a moderation period in between when a review is submitted and when the review is published. For example, Glassdoor checks for language violations or attempts at review gaming before approving reviews. Yelp, which is a thorn in the sides of many small businesses, throws what they believe to be illegitimate or untrustworthy reviews into a Not Recommended filter, hidden from the public page.

If a negative review falls into Yelp’s Not Recommended category (usually within a few days of being submitted), we do not recommend responding. A back and forth conversation with the reviewer might signal to Yelp that the review is more legitimate than the reviewer’s profile would indicate and pull the review out of the filter.

If the review is positive, however, we do recommend responding, and marking the review as Useful, Funny, or Cool to get it out of the Not Recommended category. Sometimes those small steps can be enough to get that review back on the page!


Having a well-developed review response strategy has become an essential part of managing any type of business. As you come across different types of reviews, work with your communications or social media teams to find out where the line is between those reviews that require a response and those that do not. Then, develop a rough script (with room for customization and personalization) that a designated point of contact can use on new reviews. Don’t feel compelled to respond to a negative review right away unless the review dictates it and remember the above tips in your reply.

Following these recommendations, you can develop a consistent voice that will lead to an improved brand reputation, and maybe even help convert some reviews from negative to positive. 

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