How To Deal With A Negative Review Online

November 26, 2014

The mission of this blog and my podcast is to answer questions about online marketing from small business owners and marketing professionals. It’s tough running a small business and owners wear many hats including sales and marketing manager. My goal is to help educate them by answering their tough questions.

Today’s question is from a business who asked to remain anonymous. This owner asked how he should handle a negative review published to a directory website like

Here are 6 things you can do to fix it now.

1: Know that you got a bad review in the first place

This business owner was aware he got a bad review but many business owners don’t. An easy and effective way to monitor your online brand is with Google Alerts.

When new results about you appear on Google you will receive a notification via email. Think of all the keyword combinations you want such as your name and your business name and add them as an alert.

For myself, I want to know if I am being talked about online for my name and my business name. So I set alerts for:

  • Mike Brooks
  • Michael Brooks
  • Nuclear Chowder

I add quotes to make it an exact match. So it appears as “Nuclear Chowder”. The double quotes mean I will only see an email when both words appear in order. Without the quotes I could see something with just the word Nuclear or just the word Chowder.

The best way is to experiment with this using Google regular search. Try searching your name with double quotes and without.

You can also specify a website. For example I could set an alert as: “nuclear chowder”

To learn more about alerts and to set up your own, go here:

2: Quickly and professionally answer them

There are two really bad things you can do when someone talks about your business online. They are:

  • Ignore it or
  • Get defensive

Ignoring it is really not an option. It’s out there and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

You must address it. But here’s how to do that the right way:

  • Create a professional account on that platform. This means you claim your listing as the owner. Don’t create a fake account and pretend you’re a customer.
  • Apologize. This does not mean you claim guilt. You simply say something like: “We sincerely apologize that you have had a negative experience. Nothing is more important to us than our customers having a great experience.” Keep it short and sweet.
  • Respond to their ‘legitimate’ issue. I say legitimate because sometimes people are just ridiculous. Lets face it. This one will depend upon the nature of the issue. You can’t please everyone. If someone ate at your Thai restaurant and had a reaction due to a nut allergy, you may want to politely say something like: “If you have an allergy or would like your food prepared a specific way, please ask. We do our best to accommodate customers and will let you know if a particular dish can be modified.” Do not get defensive. Just stick to the facts.
  • Tell them how you have addressed it. If you make a change due to their complaint, let them know. In the above example you may want to tell them you now have a big sign on the door that says if you have nut allergies please let your server know as most everything here is cooked with some kind of peanuts. Again, be very respectful, avoid humor or any kind of finger pointing.
  • Offer them something. You don’t need to do this. But if you want to go above and beyond, give them a discount, special offer, or something to make up for their experience. In our above example, perhaps you offer to mail them a $ 10 gift card for a restaurant down the road that doesn’t cook with peanuts.
  • Ask them to get in touch. Let them know their opinion matters to you and ask them to contact you so you can understand their issue better.
  • Thank them for taking the time to let you know about their concern.

These steps have to be executed professionally. Don’t point the finger back at them.

Most times a calm, cool and collected response where you show you truly want to correct the issue will defuse the review. Many times it may even make the reviewer look silly and petty.

But don’t try to do that. Let it happen all by itself. Resist the urge to be funny, defensive, angry or any other emotion. Don’t write a dissertation. Keep it short, to the point and positive.

Write it out in advance and let a few people read it before you send it. But make sure those people understand how customer service works. Don’t let your crazy cousin who thinks he was abducted by aliens proof it.

And lastly, don’t ask the author to remove the review. That’s usually just going to add fuel to their fire and make it worse.

Many times, businesses are afraid to respond. I am here to tell you not only do you have no choice, but it really will make a difference. It will potentially fix a broken relationship and it will demonstrate to the world that you care and take customer service seriously. Respond and respond quickly.

3: Get more positive reviews

Nothing will make the bad ones disappear faster than fistfuls of shining reviews. Don’t incentivize people to do it. Just make it easier for people already happy with you to do so.

When someone praises the job you’ve done simply ask if they would leave you a review on Google. Tell them where to go and what to do so you make something they already want to do easier.

You can have them go to the review site itself. However some review sites play a little game with reviews to pull money out of you.

Not mentioning any names, but one in particular can make your good reviews disappear if you don’t give them money. They may have been recently sued for that. They also won the court case and do have the legal right to make your good reviews disappear unless you pay them (believe it or not).

No matter what the review site extortionists say, the place people usually go first to find you is on Google itself. So having people leave you reviews on Google is going to help you the most.

4: Ask your top customers to respond

Let’s face it, when we get bad reviews we take it personally. It hurts our feelings. We’re only human.

I talked a lot in step 2 about being professional and resisting being defensive. Many times we may want to point the finger right back at the reviewer.

In the example I used it would be easy to say that if you’re allergic to peanuts you might not want to eat at a place that has peanuts flying around the kitchen. There might be an overwhelming urge to point out the obvious.

That’s better left to the professionals: your customers who really love you. Your top fans will take it personally when someone else insults you and will be happy to come to your defense.

I would recommend asking them to temper their response. You don’t want to create a situation where the reviewer now feels like their back is against the wall and make them even more defensive. But a few top customers can really help by sharing how their experience is nothing like the reviewers.

5: Be active online

Start a blog, put out videos, post regularly on social media. Offer places other than review sites for people to talk to you. Places like your Facebook page where you can control it.

I am not saying invite people to leave you a bad review. But wouldn’t it be much nicer if someone put their bad experience on Facebook where you can hide it from everyone except them than on Yelp where your hands are tied?

6: Take customer service seriously

There really is nothing more important than your customer. They are the ones who pay the bills.

Make sure your website has a customer support hotline. Give easy ways for people to contact you via email and phone for any issue they may have.

Talk to them, listen, learn and fix problems. Quickly address complaints.

It may sting to get that bad review online. But it really does give you the opportunity to shine.

When you address the issue, own up to mistakes and fix things in public, the benefit is that everyone sees it. We all make mistakes. Showing what you do when it happens simply reveals your and your business’ character.

Anything to add?

Do you have a tactic or technique for dealing with negative reviews online that I didn’t mention? Add it in the comments below.

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