Dear Joe,

My coffee house has received an incredibly harsh review online. What can I do to limit the damage?



Dear Jen,

This is certainly a sign of the times. I consider negative reviews a trade off for being able to market actively online to current and potential customers. Unfortunately, these sorts of things are  bound to happen, but it is important to excercise a bit of damage control.

Assuming that this review came from a genuinely unhappy customer and not from your competitor across the street or a perpetual malcontent, you should use the review to turn a negative into a positive. Your first reaction might be to publically reach out by posting back. I would advise against this course of action; you might find that publically inviting the customer to come back for a free beverage might cause a slew of negative reviews to come rolling in. Responding in the open forum can allow for the possiblity of escalation, where you can lose your cool if the customer doesn’t fall in line.

Instead I would approach the matter by using the “velvet hammer”. It should be possible to contact the disgruntled customer directly via the website. That’s when you kindly apologize for the negative experience and invite them back in for a complementary beverage of their choice. Make sure you encourage them to visit when you are there, so you can converse with them face-to-face if they choose to return.  Also include in the request that you greatly appreciate the feedback because it helps you learn and improve. I’ve heard from so many of our customers that have turned a perpetual malcontent into the most loyal of customers, just by killing them with a little kindness.

After you’ve dealt with the customer, you’ll want to solicit some damage control from your best customers and friends. Get them to post some rave reviews and drown the bad review in a sea of great ones.

One side note: If the review was actually erroneous and you can prove it, go directly to the webmaster with evidence and ask that the comment be removed.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t fret too much about a negative review. If you are doing things the right way, you’ll be fine. According to Susan S. Solovic, who writes in her blog, Susan Says –The Secrets of Small Business Success, “less than 25% of all shoppers are unlikely to do business with a company because of a negative review.” So, kill ’em with kindness.

Yours in coffee,

Josephius A. Graham
Stockton Graham & Co.