More threads by Garrett Sussman

Mar 15, 2016
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Which one is worse? Generic vs. Authentic Responses to Negative Reviews


Your service didn?t deliver as promised. You guys let me down. Again.

We?re sorry you had an unpleasant experience. Please send a message to support and we?ll be happy to help.

What?s wrong with this picture?

A customer service rep has offered a canned response to a unique customer problem. His response reads like a form letter. He was polite enough, so why are customers on the receiving end of this so angry?
We?re upset because we know he doesn?t care

Not even a little bit.

As customers, we know these support reps don?t actually care about our problems. They?re not sorry and they don?t empathize with us. It?s not their mistake after all. They?re just on clean-up duty. And let?s be honest, many of these ?support reps? have just one job to do.

Get you off social media and out of the public eye.

Kind of like this:


They don?t want other customers seeing how they handle the problem. They especially don?t want things to spiral out of control if things fall apart.

And you know what? That makes sense.

What doesn?t make sense is the generic/canned response. Does this mean you can?t or shouldn?t use canned responses to speed up support?

Absolutely not.

Customer service reps face a deluge of demands on a daily basis. It?s incredibly difficult to keep up with customer demands, especially during a crisis.

Canned responses aren?t the problem.

The problem is timing ? namely knowing when to use canned responses and when not to.

Here?s the thing.

Your response should always be authentic.

What do I mean by ?Authentic??

Anything your organization communicates to customers ? your origins, beliefs, intentions, devotion, sincerity ? anything, is communicated truthfully.

Receiving a generic response stings a bit

It?s insulting. A generic response says I?m not willing to engage with you on this, much less tell you the truth.

A generic response incites anger, because it?s dismissive and invalidating. It screams I don?t care to customers, while pretending to care.

How do you respond authentically? What makes an authentic response so different? Authentic responses are?

1. Responsible.

Yelp reviewer Anna L. gave the Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco a one star review.

samovar bad review.png

Anna was harsh in her review but she made some valid points. Here?s how Jesse at Samovar responded.

samovar bad review (response).png

Jesse didn?t criticize, stonewall or belittle Anna (though she didn?t extend the same courtesy to Samovar). He didn?t approach her with defensiveness or contempt. He took the time instead to take responsibility for any mistakes and educated her on the reasons behind her complaints.

When customers are misguided or unhappy, when they have a legitimate complaint, authentic responders own their role in the situation. Good support reps own the problem publicly, doing everything they can to find and fix the problem.

2. Validating.

Reviews don?t always come through the usual channels. Sometimes the reviews we receive are unexpected and non-traditional. Just ask Sainsbury?s.

Three year old Lily Robinson wrote a letter to the grocery store chain asking why their bread was called tiger bread when it looked more like a giraffe.

Lilys letter.jpg

She?s got a point.

giraffe bread.jpg

Sainsbury?s could have sent a generic, canned response to their little fan. Chris King, a manager at Sainsbury?s, took the authentic route instead, sending a personalized response (with the appropriate tone) to Lily.

Sainsbury%27s response.jpg

His response was validating to more than 140,000 Sainsbury?s customers, as they petitioned Sainsbury?s to change tiger bread to giraffe bread.

Sainsbury?s gave customers more validation when they listened, changing the name of their tiger bread to giraffe bread.

3. Empathetic.

I?ve used this example before but it?s still worth repeating. One of the hardest things to do with a negative review is respond with empathy. It?s incredibly tough to (a.) stay calm in the face of an attack on your character (b.) provide empathy to customers when they don?t deserve it and (c.) serve the very same customer that attacked you.

Glenn Sojourner These guys lie about their giveaway (1).png

This prospect came out guns blazing. He didn?t respond with a question, he immediately attacked stating publicly that ?These guys lie about their giveaway.?

This is the part where most responders take the bait and fight back, inflaming the situation.

Check out the words Jon used to defuse the situation and win a customer.

  • Good point
  • My apologies if this tactic struck a sour note with you
  • Agreed?
  • Thanks for sticking with us through the frustration
  • Nothing better for me than critical readers who know internet marketing?

This situation could have gotten out of hand quickly. Jon did a masterful job, displaying empathy in a situation where his reputation and honor were immediately under attack.

Compare and contrast his response with this:

Review of The Georgian House (TripAdvisor).png

Read the rest of Andrew's post here. See his 4th component as well as his conclusions on Generic vs Authentic review responses.



samovar bad review.png

samovar bad review (response).png

Lilys letter.jpg

giraffe bread.jpg

Sainsbury%27s response.jpg

Glenn Sojourner These guys lie about their giveaway (1).png

Review of The Georgian House (TripAdvisor).png
Thanks Garrett! A really good topic and a great read!
This is something so many businesses need to pay attention to.

In moving to a new state I've had more reason than ever to look up lots of businesses and to check their reviews. So many times the replies are so boilerplate, that I wonder if it was better not to have answered at all. It's a toss up sometimes.

Great examples and tips!
Just finished reading the whole post and WOW Jon's reply is a perfect example of how to turn things around with a bad review!

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