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Face Saving Tips for Turning Negative Venue Reviews Into Box Office Sales

Whether a harsh one-star rating or a mildly dissatisfied three-star experience, a negative review lying atop your Google or Yelp page can often dissuade potential new patrons from visiting your venue, but only if you don’t respond with tact, patience, and a little bit of charm. Sourced from two venues who’ve bounced back from negative reviews time and time again, here are some tips to address negative reviews of your venue and ensure future visits from not just new consumers, but possibly the initial negative reviewer.

Kindly acknowledge the reviewer’s concerns

When you address negative reviews of your venue, kindly acknowledge the reviewer’s concerns no matter how they’re presented. Write a considerate response that in no way doubts the reviewer’s experience.

It may also prove helpful to explain the situation from your perspective. “In most cases, we’ll write a response, like, ‘Hey, sorry you had that experience, here’s a little bit more inside information about it,’” says Glenn Boothe, talent buyer at Durham venue Motorco. Occasionally, if Boothe has decided that the venue is indeed at fault, then he’ll give the reviewer guest list spots to a future show or gift certificates for food at the venue’s restaurant. And if the reviewer’s criticism is constructive, Boothe says that Motorco will sometimes try the suggested changes and inform the reviewer. “If they take the time to write it, we should take the time to read it,” he says. “You can learn from these things.”

Just as Motorco prioritizes addressing negative reviews instead of dismissing them, so too does the team at Nashville venue Exit/In. “We’re always reaching to make sure that the person feels validated and that it’s not going unseen,” says Tori Bishop, Exit/In’s marketing manager. Bishop tends to take an approach that might seem bold but usually pays off: not just apologizing to negative reviewers, but saying, “We hope that you can come back, find a show, and give it another try.” This tactic might seem unusual, but Bishop insists it works like a charm: “Normally, those people come back and they end up updating their review,” she says, and as any venue worker knows, there’s no better possible outcome.

Share the review internally 

You might feel tempted to hide a negative review from your colleagues. Instead, take negative reviews as a chance to learn how your venue can improve—after all, part of handling negative reviews is minimizing the number of future ones. When you and your colleagues know what complaints you’re getting, you can all work together to remedy the issue for future visitors.

“I like to [go through negative reviews] with everyone in the room,” Bishop says. “If a lot of people have brought up this consistent issue, then that’s something I’ll say. It doesn’t help the process if the marketing person is the only one reading these reviews.” 

At Motorco, Boothe employs a similar process through which he’ll share negative reviews with his team and ask for feedback, and there, sharing reviews internally ensures they get addressed in the first place. Boothe says that Motorco has a policy of “If you see something, address it” when it comes to reviews, and anyone who spots a negative review can forward it to the social media team to handle. Once the review is in the right hands, says Boothe, it’s important to respond quickly so “even if you don’t resolve the conflict, you at least acknowledge that you were listening to this person and their opinion matters.” 

Don’t get personally offended (or go on the offense)

Chances are that you absolutely love your venue and couldn’t possibly understand how somebody had a bad time there. While this passion is respectable, you should be certain to not let it manifest as angrily clapping back at negative reviews or in any way dismissing the reviewer’s negative experience. If you respond to a negative review with vitriol, you’ll only reignite the reviewer’s rage.

“If I came out of a venue and just had this awful experience and felt personally attacked by the venue after that, I would never go back,” Bishop says. “You have to know that however that person is feeling, they’re valid in how they’re feeling, even if you don’t believe that that’s how it went.”

Boothe agrees with this assessment. “The hardest part is not taking it personally,” he says, and to prevent that initial sense of hurt from informing your response, he suggests that anyone responding to a review “try to be clear” and “explain the actual situation without pointing the finger at anyone else. Make sure you have all the facts.”

No matter how personally offended you feel in the face of a harsh one-star rating, keep in mind that almost always, the reviewer’s anger will have subsided by the time you respond to their review. “Typically, once you respond, they’ve had time to cool down,” says Bishop, and after that, “everything’s all good.”

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