So You’ve Got Negative Reviews, Now What?

The World Doesn’t End With Bad Reviews

First and foremost, if you’re a business owner reading this, it’s probably because you’ve either had a negative review (or several), or you’re about to start something, and you’re afraid of negative fallout. And it’s completely understandable.

We’ve all heard stories about how negative reviews about a product or service can kill a business, and this can happen. But, usually, the negative online reviews aren’t actually what kills the business.

So if you are experiencing this issue, or you’re afraid of what to do should customer reviews go negative, let’s get into the important stuff that will make a difference. First, we will go over how to handle them properly, then we will go into how to prevent the issue from happening in the first place.

Do Not React Immediately

It’s important to be quick in how you handle a review about someone’s negative experience. Remember that most people see themselves as the “good guy” in their own personal story.

Likely, they believe what they’re saying. They believe they have had a bad experience. And because experience is subjective, there’s probably a reason. Unfortunately, sometimes that reason has more to do with their own lives than to do with their experience of your service.

So just keep this in mind and walk away from your computer or device. Just walk away. You will likely feel the urge to respond with a lot of negativity. Do not do this.

Again, just walk away.

Negative Reviews Are About Your Audience

This is the most important piece of information you can have about dealing with negative reviews — it has nothing to do with the reviewer, nor with you. It has to do with everyone who reads the review.

When you’re at a restaurant and someone has a complaint that they want to tell the manager, handling it becomes theater. If they are good at their job, they are performing for the tables around them as much as they are trying to satisfy an unhappy customer.

This is because all of the tables within earshot of the problem are going to hear the details of the issue, but more importantly, this is where the manager advertises to those around how they treat their customers.

So do not approach responding to negative reviews from the perspective of two people having a disagreement. Instead, approach it from the perspective of a prospective new customer who is interested in your product or service — because those are the people reading the reviews.

When you shift this focus, you become less focused on this one little piece of the puzzle, and you are able to craft responses that don’t just deal with the negative review, but also tell the world that, regardless of this one person’s response, you care.

The 3 Ingredients to Your Response

Ultimately, your response needs to have three components:

  1. Let the initial poster know that they have been heard.
  2. Apologize that they have had a negative experience (this is not admitting fault or that they’re correct).
  3. Provide them a means of customer service contact that they can use to get their issue rectified, preferably a specific person.

Those three ingredients are going to make even your negative reviews help your business. This is because of what it advertises to those who will come after, just like the manager in the restaurant.

Do you want the people around the problem table to tell their friends about the issue they experienced, or do you want them to tell their friends about the level-headed manager who heard the concerns and cared enough to try to make it right to them?

There are some people in the world who will not be satisfied by pretty much anything. We have all met them, and even likely have some of them in our families. This is nothing new. This is where the dangerous desire to be “right” comes into play.

Being “right” is about your ego. Check your ego at the door. We’re talking about helping your business.

What This Looks Like in Practice

Let’s take a contractor who renovates kitchens, we’ll call them Company X. John hired Company X to renovate his countertops.

If the review afterward said something like “Company X was always late, the work was left unfinished, and the quality was poor,” how should you respond to this initially? These sound like very serious concerns, and ones that could very well stop someone from selecting Company X for work.

The best way to handle this is, first, to hear them out.

“Hi John,

I’m so sorry that you had a negative experience with us. I can promise you that we take issues like these very seriously. At the end of the day, our goal is to treat every customer like family, and I’m sorry you didn’t get this treatment.

Please reach out to me at and I will personally make sure that this issue is settled to your satisfaction. Have a great day!


Notice that there isn’t an admission of wrongdoing or poor work, merely an acknowledgement that you are disturbed by their bad experience. This is critical because it conveys that you are making a personal connection and view customers as more than just a dollar sign.

Then, you explain your values within the apology. Tell them, even if you don’t feel this way towards the person, how your company values its customers.

Finally, you’ve got a person who is responding, as opposed to a faceless “customer service” person. Even if it doesn’t make the poster feel special, it will absolutely give the impression to those who come after that you do — and will treat them with respect, even if they are upset.

This is the magic formula for turning negative online reviews into a positive marketing opportunity for your business.

How Do I Prevent Them From Happening at All?

Ultimately, you can’t. But, you can absolutely put steps in place to get their concerns addressed. Start with a customer survey that is sent to every customer when they receive the product or service.

It doesn’t have to be long. In fact, it could purely be a star ration. The shorter the survey is, the more likely they are to respond to it.

This way, you can mitigate problems before you’re rated on Google, Yelp!, Facebook, or any other review platform. If the star rating they give is a four or higher, encourage them to post a review to these platforms.

However, if their star rating is a three or below, reach out to them immediately. This will help you to ensure that any issues your customers have are nipped in the bud before they start reviewing you in public.

Furthermore, make sure you check your reviews periodically to ensure you haven’t missed any negative reviews.

If Your Business Has Issues, This Won’t Help

All of the above advice is predicated on negative reviews being an occasional issue you run into. If you have a lot of negative reviews, it might be time to get more involved in your business.

No amount of responding well to negative reviews will overcome an ocean of them. So, if you have more than 25-30% of your feedback under three stars, you likely have a systemic problem in your business.

But, this just means it’s an opportunity to learn and improve. Still send the feedback mentioned above, and if they reach out to you, listen to what they’re telling you.

If you would like to know more about handling negative reviews, or would like some help in managing your company’s online reputation, please contact us today!

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