So it's happened — a disgruntled member of your community has gone rogue and posted a negative review on one of your online profiles. Argh! While many businesses make mistakes, often negative reviews online are due to a misunderstanding or an uncontrollable event. They are incredibly frustrating to receive, and notoriously difficult to deal with. 

So how should your school respond when you receive negative feedback in the public square? In this post, we'll take you through our tried and tested formula for replying to a negative review while keeping your reputation intact. But first...

Why bother responding to negative reviews?

Most negative reviews you receive will feel petty, unfair or even fake. They might be written by an unhappy student or someone who you know has never interacted with your school before. So why bother responding?

The unfortunate truth is, negative reviews, even the unfair ones, take a swipe at your online reputation. In order to come off looking like the professional school that you are, your best course of action is to provide a kind, empathetic and factual response — and yes, even to those fake reviewers who are just trying to waste your time.

Not only will this course of action make your school come off as caring and invested, a recent Harvard Business Review study found that responding to online feedback actually deters future reviewers from writing anything too negative about you. Over time, this strategy will result in an increase in your overall rankings! 

Convinced yet? Good! Now let's dive into how you can respond to negative reviews in the best possible manner.

1. Get the facts 

It's tempting to fire off a quick response to a review that feels false or unfair. But the best thing you can do when you first receive a review is to take a step back, breathe, and do a little digging. Does the review mention a staff member or incident by name? Talk to the people involved about what may have happened. Can you figure out who the reviewer is, and their connection to the school? Talk to the staff members who would be interacting with them directly. A little digging can provide you with a lot of context.

2. Acknowledge their perspective

The reality is, most people who write online reviews simply want to be heard. By acknowledging their experience (even if you don't agree with it!), you grant them the understanding that they're looking for. You don't necessarily need to dwell on this point — a simple "I'm sorry you've had this experience" will often suffice — but a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

3. Address their main concern

There's nothing more frustrating than taking the time to write specific feedback to a company, only to receive a copy/paste response. Including some specific details from the reviewer's original post will demonstrate to them that you care enough to write a personal response that addresses their concerns. 

Forbes recommends you also take this opportunity to contrast the reviewer's concern with a school policy or an example of the experience that families normally have when they interact with your school. They write, "Think of it as a way to address the reviewer's concern while delivering a little backhanded compliment"

For example, "I was saddened to read that your child had a bad classroom experience. We pride ourselves on our supportive learning environments, and we're sorry we didn't live up to that in this case."

4. Take the complaint offline

This is the part you really want to nail. There's nothing worse than a public back-and-forth, so moving the dialogue away from Google or Facebook (or wherever you're being reviewed) is key. To do this, provide the reviewer with contact information of the person or role at your school who can address their complaint, rather than simply dropping in a email address and hoping for the best.

5. Give it a good edit before you hit reply

Forbes has another key recommendation here: "When it comes to responding to negative reviews, less is more. Three to four sentences is a good rule of thumb." So give your review a good proofread and remove anything unnecessary or any details that might upset the client further. This includes:

  • excessive detail about their complaint
  • any instances where you sound defensive
  • any character attacks or harsh language.

If you have a trusted colleague, you might want to give the response to them to have a read over before you reply.

Wrapping it up

Reviews are one of the least pleasant parts of working for a successful school. Unfortunately, no matter how engaged and enthusiastic your community is, there will always be a few people who are still unsatisfied with what you have to offer — and that's okay! Just follow the steps above and you'll handle any negative feedback with professionalism and grace.

We'd encourage you to also respond to your positive reviews as well! And not just respond, reach out to your community for more! We've written pretty extensively about this point, so I'd encourage you to check out these resources so that you can include a reviews strategy in your marketing plan. And good luck!

Published 17 August 2020