How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

For any business, whether a long-established enterprise or a fledgling start-up, negative online reviews can pose a serious threat — and over time can even sink an operation. Consider this: According to statistics, 95% of online consumers read reviews before making a purchase decision, and nearly 70% are hesitant to trust a high product or service rating unless it is achieved via a high number of reviews.

Another unfortunate reality is that, especially in the digital age, bad reviews come with the territory. No matter how hard a business tries to please each and every one of its customers, there will always be some who are left dissatisfied. And in the 21st century business world, when the internet and social media have given everyone a microphone, the occasional negative review is largely unavoidable. Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if your business will get a negative review — it’s when.

Fortunately, though, the occasional bad review doesn’t have to spell doom for any brand or business. If handled properly, a negative review can even offer the opportunity for a business to demonstrate its commitment to customer satisfaction. Read on for some seasoned guidance from the marketing experts at Brandon on how your business can deal with bad reviews in an effective manner.

Responding the right way

When it comes to how to handle negative online reviews, there are definitely right and wrong ways to proceed once a bad review has been discovered. The wrong ways to respond — which for many might fall squarely into the “knee-jerk reaction” category — include simply ignoring the review, responding in an angry or defensive manner, and (perhaps the worst outcome of all) getting dragged into an online war of words.

Fortunately, though, most consumers understand that some people just can’t be pleased, and that as a result, even the most stellar of businesses will sometimes get hit with a bad review. Further, when bad reviews do strike, there’s a right way to respond to them — both professionally and courteously — that can minimize the damage and keep your business’s reputation intact.

The next time your business discovers an unflattering review online, consider these eight tips on how to handle negative reviews:

1. Respond quickly, and thank the reviewer

Once you’ve discovered a negative review, it’s important to respond quickly. Today’s consumers expect quick resolutions to online complaints, and you’ll also want other consumers who might see the review to know that your business cares enough to swiftly address any and all customer complaints. And to set the right tone right away, start your response by thanking the consumer for visiting your business and taking the time to provide feedback.

Pro tip: Google Alerts offers a great way for your business to keep a constant eye out for online mentions of your brand. If you’d like to monitor exclusively for reviews of your business, enter “[your business’s name] + intitle:review” when setting up your alert search terms.

2. Empathize and apologize

As in the real world, many consumers who voice complaints on the internet simply want to be heard and acknowledged. Before digging into the issue — whether there really is an issue or not — apologize for the situation. When doing so, try to show empathy for the consumer, along with regret that he or she was not completely satisfied with his or her experience with your business. Emphasize that, whatever the consumer’s complaint may be, your business always aims to please its customers.

3. Maintain a polite and professional image

No matter how nasty the reviewer may have been in his or her comments, a business should never stoop to such low levels — especially not in a conversation that’s on display for the world to see. In responding to the review, ensure that you always remain polite and maintain a high level of professionalism, just as you’d want an employee to do if responding to customer complaints in person. Your business has nothing to gain by being unprofessional or leaving a customer dissatisfied, so your goal is to rectify any problems and please the customer.

4. Address the specific complaint with a personalized response

Consumers can sniff out a canned response, so avoid responding to every negative review with the same exact language. Also be sure that, each time you respond to a negative review, you mention the reviewer’s name and address any specific issue(s) he or she mentioned in the comments. Be sincere and authentic in your responses, briefly explaining any reasons behind any shortfalls the customer may have experienced with your business — and outlining how you’ll remedy any such issues moving forward. And, for an even more personable touch, it may be a good idea for whoever replies to negative reviews to share who they are, what their role is at the company, and how they can be reached directly to discuss the customer’s issue(s).

5. Be sure to provide proper context

If there were extenuating circumstances that led to the customer’s complaint, such as a power outage that caused problems or unanticipated equipment failures that led to service limitations, explain them in your response. Especially if the situation isn’t clearly expressed for any outsiders who may happen upon the negative review, you’ll want to make sure that the context behind any shortfalls on your business’s part is there for other consumers on the internet to read.

6. Take the discussion offline

If the online exchange is likely to be a complicated or lengthy one, follow your sincere, well-thought-out initial public comment with an offer to resolve the issue offline via an email or a phone call. In addition to preventing the public airing of a back-and-forth troubleshooting process that will almost certainly bore and/or exhaust you, the customer and all readers, moving the conversation to a phone call or email will also likely lead to a much quicker issue resolution.

7. Show that you’ve resolved the issue

Especially if the issue is ultimately resolved offline (and out of public sight), don’t hesitate to follow up with the customer on the social media or review platform where the negative review was originally posted to “update the public record.” This can be done with a simple check-in to ask if the customer is now satisfied after the offline resolution — and it is likely to make a good impression on both the customer and any other consumers who might read the online review.

8. Learn from the experience

Once you’ve appropriately resolved the consumer’s issue, try to treat the entire episode as a learning experience. Especially if your business receives the same type of criticism over and over again, it’s likely a sign that you have a real problem that needs to be addressed to keep it from recurring moving forward. Seize the opportunity to make any needed changes, and consider the negative reviews to be free-of-charge market research.

New to handling negative online reviews? Or would you simply prefer to put your brand’s reputation-management duties in the hands of a team of experienced marketing and communications professionals? At Brandon, our social media team is well-versed in responding to negative reviews professionally and with courtesy — and we’re eager to jump in so that your brand can focus on what it does best. Contact us today to discuss how we can help your business grow and flourish.


Nick McNeill

Interactive Director

Nick uses his talents in computer science and graphic design to grow the online presence of brands such as Santee Cooper, Southern Tide, frogg toggs, Farmers Telephone Cooperative and Blue Force Gear. A serial marathon runner, his steely determination shines through every brand he grows. As lead user interface designer of the GuestDesk software suite for online hotel reservations, he watched it explode from $1 million in reservations to over $400 million annually.

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