How to Handle Negative Reviews

Don’t let a criticism bring you down — or kill your business

Back Web Only Jan 6, 2017 By Kelly Azevedo

What is it about New Year’s and resolutions? They go together like peanut butter and jelly, but while it may be easy to make resolutions galore, keeping even one is much harder. Entrepreneurs setting 2017 goals will likely think about better marketing campaigns, adding more loyal customers, providing excellent service to clients and keeping a great reputation in the market.

All of those goals can be dashed with the single push of the “send” button on a negative review.

As restaurateurs, store owners, service providers and artists all know, there’s nothing more valuable to your business than its public reputation. With websites like Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List and Google Reviews giving everyone the option to respond to and rate your work, dealing with negative opinions is more important now than ever. While you may have great reviews on one site, customers check many different sites.

We’ll assume you already have social media profiles set up (and updated) and you’re consistently reminding customers and clients to add their opinions online. But getting a negative review is inevitable, and how you interact with that customer will speak volumes to the community who may be reading these months weeks or even months later.

First: Do Not Delete

While you might wish you could hide all negativity from the world, deleting comments that lean negative does not help your reputation. By all means, remove those that incite violence, promote racism or sexism, or any other statements that might be unacceptable for a business page, but never delete those that express disappointment or unhappiness. Hiding bad reviews signals that you have something to hide and those voices aren’t silenced, they’re simply driven to other review sites and forums, often with more vitriol than before.

Related: Don’t Let Your Web Presence be an Afterthought

It’s always better to face these reviews head on and reply quickly, on behalf of the company.

Second: Get in the Right Frame of Mind

It’s never a good idea to respond out of anger, frustration or tiredness. There may be times when you need to step away from customer support entirely. As the owner, you’re intrinsically tied to what your company produces and a less-than-favorable opinion can feel like a punch in the gut. Whoever holds the post of frontline customer support should be empathetic, willing to listen, able to stand firm, understand company policies and a great communicator.

Third: Reply to Each Review

Don’t just focus on negative reviews. Reply to those with positive feedback and experiences with your genuine thanks. A negative experience is an opportunity for you and your business to grow so take it as solicited feedback and learn from the comments, while a positive comment gives you the chance to build community and loyalty.

As you respond, be careful not to place blame back on the customer — simply apologize for the mistake or miscommunication, explain your policy and make it right.

Here are a couple examples:

Actual review: “They need to put attention to special orders because they hardly happen right. And music from the kitchen is too loud and is pretty rude for the customers.”

Suggested response: “I’m sorry to hear that your special order was not accurate and up to your expectations. While we love to listen to music as we cook for you, I will let our kitchen staff know to lower the volume. We’d love a chance to make it up to you soon, next time you’re in the area just ask for (manager’s name).”

Actual review: “Made an appointment for 7 p.m., didn’t have someone start working until after 7:30 and didn’t leave the shop until 8:45! During my manicure, the manicurist’s 2-year-old daughter started climbing all over her and became a huge distraction.”

Related: Don’t Wait to Create Social Media Guidelines

Suggested response: “Hi (name), thank you for providing your feedback. In most cases we do recommend setting an appointment if you need to get in and out quickly and we do try to estimate the wait time during busy times. Manicurist’s daughter should not have been in the shop and I will speak to her since we want all our employees to focus 100 percent on creating a great experience for our guests.”

Online reviews are a double-edged sword as they can give you a great reputation or take it away. Mitigate the damage of unhappy customers by replying to them directly with empathy, a sincere apology and an offer to make things right. Done well, handling your negative reviews show online shoppers that you listen to criticism and want to improve.

Take the time to create guidelines for responding to reviews on social media sites so you’re not caught off-guard.


Tony Tyson (not verified)March 5, 2017 - 12:42am

This is an excellent article. I agree 100% with Kelly's advice. It doesn't, however, address the most frustrating aspect of public review sites like Yelp. The blatantly falsified review is the most difficult type to respond to professionally. Our agency handles dozens of clients' social media sites on an outsourced basis and sees this all the time. My advice is to trust your customers' ability to recognize a crackpot reviewer at face value and ignore it. Despite the overwhelming temptation to engage, you are far better served by concentrating on generating enough positive reviews to bury the ridiculous ones further down the list.

Carmela Cruz (not verified)June 28, 2017 - 8:00pm

Take negative review seriously. Also, according to one of the reputable SEO firms in Arizona, OptimizeX (optimizex.com) businesses should not neglect negative reviews for these can also help the company to improve. Aside from that, it will be good to share these problems with the employees because from there, suggestions on how to fix the problems may arise. Anyway, no matter how negative reviews may be, the business owners should always be open and welcoming to them if only to help their business improve and prosper.