Responding to negative online reviews is tough, particularly for shelters and rescues who perform highly emotional work on limited resources and budgets. But responding to negative reviews is necessary: negative reviews are a form of feedback, and because of their public nature, they can also damage reputations when they go unmitigated. Animal welfare organizations need to respond to negative reviews to set the record straight, convey professionalism, and ultimately be helpful to the public they’re trying to serve.
Here are 5 common negative reviews shelters receive and the do's and don'ts of how to respond.
1) “They kill all the animals”
What not to do: Ignore the comment. This is a misconception that needs to be addressed and an educational opportunity that will benefit all shelters.
What to do: Set the record straight and respectfully. Use supporting information/data and its source to demonstrate credibility and transparency. Show respect by acknowledging what is true: in sheltering, we often don't know much about the animals in our care, but that the animals often act differently when they reach a home environment. End by offering help or a next step to resolving the issue.
2) “It’s too expensive!”
What not to do: Cast judgment on someone's ability or willingness to pay.
What to do: Be transparent. This is the perfect opportunity to explain how much it costs to house an animal and justify your pricing. You should also mention promotions you plan for the future. If you receive this feedback more than once, you should consider revising your pricing policy to be more inclusive of your community.
3) “I waited forever”
What not to do: Blame this on being under-staffed (even if it's true).
What to do: Apologize for the wait and, in this case, offer transparency into why other animals were prioritized. Explain how you are planning to solve this issue in the future (ex: implementing a policy for no-shows, or gathering information prior to appointments).
4) “The staff was unfriendly”
What not to do: Dispute the reviewer's experience, which will make them feel unheard.
What to do: set the expectation that the subpar experience isn’t up to shelter standards, and ask to find out more information about the specific time and person. Even if there isn’t much that can be done to change the experience, providing an outlet demonstrates the organization is open to feedback and willing to make changes to support the community.
5) “I have multiple issues.”
What not to do: Write a long response going issue-by-issue. Long responses can look defensive and reflect poorly on your organization.
What to do: Keep the response short and simple, and take the conversation offline by offering a channel (link, phone number, email) where you can address the concerns privately. Offering the next step to resolving the issue shows the reviewer (and review readers) that their problems are valued and will be addressed.