If you've never been criticized, you probably haven't done very much. That goes doubly for businesses.
Being told that something you created isn't good enough is a hard pill to swallow, but responding to it gracefully is even harder. Most have the initial instinct to either lash out, or not respond at all; while the latter is often the best option, it isn't always. This is especially true for consumer-facing companies, especially when that service takes place in person, such as restaurants, bars, repair services, installation crews, performers and housekeepers.
Whether it's a rant on a popular social media site such as Yelp or Facebook, or a scathing review from a professional critic, in order to survive as a company, you and your team must learn the art of response. The best way to learn? Observe others who have dealt with the same.
In the case of Founding Farmers, a Washington D.C. restaurant group that prides itself in being farmer owned and sustainable, they were dealt a considerable blow by the well-respected Washington Post, whose food critic, Tom Sietsema, awarded the busy restaurant a zero star.
However, owner Dan Simons handled it beautifully - and you can learn from his tactics and apply them to your own business.
Don't Respond to Your Critic, Respond to Your Customers
The first move Simons made was to choose to respond to his customers - he never responded to Sietsema directly.
While the initial urge when faced with harsh criticism - and Sietsema pulled no punches - is to fight back against your attacker. However, business is not a war. It wouldn't matter if he had been able to put the reviewer "in his place," lower his credibility, or even beg forgiveness and invite him back.
The real goal of the response is to assure your customers that the negative review in questions is simply one opinion of many, and that your business will continue to offer the utmost in quality and service, as it always has.
Focus On Your Core Message
Simons' post focused on reiterating their core differentiator - being farmer owned - as well as what that means; namely, that they aren't 100% farm-to-table, and that's okay. The post is coupled with a great video of Simons explaining the business in a personable, genuine presentation.
By tying the restaurant to a larger, noble goal above simply providing an enjoyable dining experience, Simons ties his company back into the community. This shifts the narrative from "a reviewer attacked a restaurant" to "a reviewer attacked part of our community."
Acknowledge The Valid Points In The Criticism
At the end of the post, Simons did not neglect to respond to the valid points of criticism in the Washington Post piece, doing so indirectly and gracefully:
"We're transparent about who we are and what we do. When we make a mistake, I want to know about it, take responsibility for it, and correct it. I acknowledge that with the wide range of difficult things our team tries to accomplish every day, and in our refusal to use chain-restaurant methodology to simplify and dumb things down, that we'll fall short sometimes. I'm proud of our people who do the detailed, complex work that it takes to serve our guests every day."
The statement serves as yet another rally point - essentially saying that everyone makes mistakes, and that they're working to fix the problems that were highlighted.
It's Okay to Say It Hurt, If You Include How It's Being Remedied
In an interview with Washington Business Journal, Simons was upfront about how the review was handled within the restaurant group itself, including that while staff felt insulted, they responded by working even harder to make the dining experience and food even more enjoyable.
By responding directly to the review only when questioned by a reporter, and never insulting the reviewer or dismissing his experience, Simons bolstered the dignity of his company. By going on to explain the secure state of company leadership and morale, but also the grim mood that followed the review, Simons was successfully able to inject humanity into the experience - instead of appearing as a single entity to customers, he prompted readers to empathize with his and his team's struggle to better themselves.
Essentially, when confronted with a negative review, it's important to conduct your company as you would if someone had personally insulted you in a professional space. The golden rule? Always take the high road.