The Best (And Worst) Ways to Respond to a Negative Review



I penned my angriest Yelp review on a rainy Saturday, parked in my car on a Grand Rapids, Michigan side street while I ate my sandwich in a quiet rage. My husband and I had just arrived in the city for the first time for an unplanned vacation, which sounds fun in theory but is awful for travelers who love mapping out every detail of a trip. We waited to eat lunch until we arrived, and by 3:00 p.m. I was admittedly very hangry.
We stopped at a quirky vegetarian restaurant for a quick bite to hold us over until dinner. The first thing I noticed upon entering was that the flow was strange; there were people everywhere – at tables in a separate room, a picnic table outside, and small tables inside the deli area where people ordered. I noticed people placing orders at the register and then going into the main room to sit down, so I assumed that was the proper flow.
As you can probably guess, that was not the case. Long story short, we had placed our order at the to-go counter because there was no signage indicating how to order, and were told we could eat outside at the picnic table in the rain (where another family was sitting). And that’s when I took my sandwich to my car and my experience to Yelp.
The review was unnecessarily scathing because I was extra irritated that a place that had made me so angry had also made me an exceptional sandwich, and this was making it difficult for me to be mad at them.  About two minutes after pressing the submit button, I deleted my harsh words – partially at the prompting of rational husband, and mostly because I knew deep down this was a “me” issue and not a vegetarian sandwich shop issue.
Unfortunately, most reviewers don’t usually have a moment of clarity and logical partner to make them reconsider their actions. I’ve seen negative reviews stay up for years unaddressed on many credit union online platforms, which is particularly problematic as marketers invest more marketing dollars into digital and social media advertisements… talk about making a first impression! Even worse, many credit unions still steer clear of social media platforms altogether because of the risk, despite that it’s an impactful, affordable channel.
You’ll never hear from most of your members on social media, but when you do, it’s either because their service experience mirrored the brand you promote, or it fell short of expectations. Here are the best ways to respond to a negative review and turn a hater back into a brand champion:

  • Practice empathy before responding. People can sniff out a disingenuous apology in a second. Take a moment before crafting your response to practice empathy; for instance, maybe someone is complaining that they came by to deposit a check at 5:00 and the doors were locked. Your gut reaction may be, “Of course the doors were locked! Are you incapable of checking the hours before you go someplace?”  Your response will likely reflect that attitude. Perhaps the member is working multiple jobs and is currently past due on their auto loan payment. It’s difficult for them to make it to the branch and they’re feeling a lot of shame about their current financial situation. What would you want to hear if you were in that member’s shoes? Taking a beat to truly understand their situation will come across in your response and show you’re committed to resolving the issue. Ensure they feel heard. Nothing makes people angrier than invalidating their feelings. Even if they are being irrational, it is important to use great communication skills to make sure they feel heard in order to keep it escalating further.
  • Make it unique. Members want to know you’ve heard their issue and are committed to taking action. Robo-responses posted verbatim on each negative review show you’re not actually listening to concerns and are likely to make the complainer even angrier; you’re kind of proving their point!
  • Keep it short. While we often default to apologizing profusely, responses shouldn’t be paragraphs long or divulge too much information about either the credit union’s operations or the member’s situation. Keep it sincere, concise, and helpful.
  • When possible, use as a marketing opportunity. If you can do so in a way that feels natural, remind the member of the reason they (usually) love their credit union relationship. Add in a sentence like, “While we’re committed to giving our members a positive and memorable service experience… “ to reinforce your dedication to the credit union’s brand promise.
  • Encourage the member to private message your page. Don’t assume that because the member posted his or her issue publicly that they want the world knowing their entire financial history. For privacy reasons, offer to take the conversation offline to a message where you can get more information.

 And what is the worst possible way to respond to online negativity? Radio silence. There is more said in silence than what any “so-so” response could ever communicate. Ignoring the problem tells your audience you don’t value feedback and are unwilling to admit when your credit union makes a mistake. Even a simple response goes a long way in humanizing banking – which is something the financial industry definitely needs.