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How to handle a bad review

It shouldn't be a surprise by this point that online reviews can have a massive impact on a business. Whenever somebody is in the market for a product or service, they will typically do their research online first. The search result that shows the best combination of high ratings with quantity of ratings is most likely who a prospective customer will give their business to. So, even if you have a perfect 5-star rating but only have three reviews, the person who has a 4.8 rating, but has 200 reviews is still probably going to be the likely victor. Online reviews and ratings not only affect who actually decides to patronize your business. They also can affect your SEO rankings. Therefore, it should be no surprise that there is now a massive surge for businesses to secure as many positive reviews as they can.

You yourself may have started trying to procure more online reviews. (If you haven't - you need to start, today). Everything seems to be going well, and suddenly you see the email come in. "So and so left you a 1-star review".

Immediately, you start rehashing the transaction, and trying to figure out how you left such a bad transaction slip through the cracks. Your kneejerk reaction might be to retaliate, or justify yourself in the form of a reply. But, not so fast! Let's talk about this for a bit.

Before we get into talking about what to do when a bad review comes in, let's pause for a second and talk about what happens before that.

It is always, 100% of the time, better to capture negative reactions before they ever reach Google, Yelp, or Facebook reviews. One of the best ways to do this is to have a NPS (net promoter score) system in place. This does require some effort up front on your part. You want to capture the email addresses of as many customers as you can, so whenever they patronize your business, you can send them an email asking how you did. A good NPS system will ask them about their experience. If it was positive, then it encourages them to leave an online review. If it was negative however, it gives them a chance to vent through that platform, rather than venting through an online review. This also gives you the opportunity to fix the situation before it negatively affects your online reputation.

Even if you don't have a customer feedback system in place, it is always a good idea to ask customers about their satisfaction before they leave so you can address their concerns immediately. You might be amazed at how many potentially negative reviews can be curtailed simply by showing clients that you care about their satisfaction. Because at that point, it's on THEM for not speaking up when you gave them the opportunity to.

Now, with that said, let's talk about what to do when a negative review does come in. I'll start by saying this: there is very little you can do to remove a a negative review, once it comes in. And I know that sucks. Especially if it is bitter competitors who create fake accounts just to leave negative feedback. Take heart in the fact that many online review systems are cracking down on that type of behavior, and you can usually report suspicious reviews.

When a negative review comes in, it is completely natural to feel hurt, and to go on the defensive. There are a million ways that things can go wrong without you even realizing it. Communication barriers, shipping issues that are out of your control, bad employees... there are so many variables, it's almost impossible to be on top of every single situation that could occur. It's also important to realize that people tend to be a lot less confrontational in person than they are behind the safety of a computer screen. They may have seemed perfectly happy while in your facility, only to be harboring anger and dissatisfaction on the inside.

Before responding to a negative review though, it is important (imperative actually) for you to spend some time thinking about your response. For starters, ask yourself if their complaint or dissatisfaction has merit. If so, don't see the negative review as a bad thing. You just gained some valuable insight on how to make your business better. Learn from that. Do not however, under any circumstance, respond with bitterness, accusations, or defensiveness. Even if you are completely in the right, and they are completely in the wrong, there is no scenario when you come out looking like the better person if you try to diminish the customers disgruntled feelings. When you do that, you are ultimately trying to tell anybody who might read that review, that your disgruntled customer is actually NOT upset, and did not actually mean to leave that terrible review. That is a war you cannot win.

I do however encourage you to respond. Acknowledge the customers dissatisfaction, and offer to set things right. And be genuine about it. Do not, under any circumstance, copy & paste the same response for multiple negative reviews. That is not genuine. It merely shows laziness, and like you can't even take the time to address each persons individual concern. You, yourself, don't like talking to automated machines. You don't like receiving canned, automatic responses. So don't give your customers that kind of treatment. People can detect a canned, inauthentic response from a mile away.

Even if you genuinely don't believe that you are at fault - responding in a kind, apologetic way is partly to console the customer, but also to show other potential customers what they can expect if they would have a problem with the service or product they received from you. Issuing a response is also important to show that you care about each and every customers experience with your business. You might be tempted to ignore it, and just let it be. This is a mistake, because once again, it tells other potential customers that if they were to have a negative experience with your business, that you really don't care.

You also might be tempted to try to "counteract" the negative review by having a bunch of friends and family to give you really good reviews. As tempting as this can be, it is a mistake. For one, you could get yourself flagged for trying to dishonestly boost your ratings. If it's been a while since you've gotten any reviews, and they see a pattern of one bad review, immediately followed by a bunch of good reviews, it will draw the wrong kind of attention to your account. So tread carefully in that situation.

At this point, you might be wondering, "What would a good response look like?" Once again, this is not meant to be a template for you to copy and paste (see above), but, in my eyes, a good response to a negative review would look something like this:

"Hi ______. We're so sorry that you had a negative experience with us. We would love to invite you back so that we can set things right. Stop by any time, and we'll make sure you get taken care of. We absolutely value your feedback, and want the opportunity fix things for you, and future customers who might have a similar experience."

This response does a couple of things.

1.) It is personalized by using their name
2.) It acknowledges the customers feeling, without necessarily accepting blame or placing blame.
3.) It extends an offer to help set things right
4.) It shows that their satisfaction is a priority for you
5.) It shows that you care about fixing the issue, so it doesn't happen again

And just to be thorough, here is what a bad response might look like:

"We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced with our product or service. We look forward to serving you again in the future, and thank you for your business."

This response is not personalized. By using phrasing such as "you may have experienced", you are essentially saying "your alleged problem". This response does nothing to indicate that you're willing to right the wrong, and it arrogantly assumes that they're going to keep shopping at your business, despite the bad experience they just had.

At the end of the day, it's important to not obsess over bad reviews. They happen to the very best of businesses. In a lot of cases, when properly handled, bad reviews can often lead to good opportunities. Opportunities to make your business better. Opportunities to go above and beyond for an individual customer. Opportunities to show any future customers that you care about them and their experience with your business. Do this well, and your online reputation will take care of itself.


  • DO give customers the opportunity to express disappointment or dissatisfaction before they leave your facility
  • DO email customers after they leave, and give them the opportunity to leave negative feedback before they go to online reviews
  • DO NOT respond to negative reviews with anger, bitterness, or accusations
  • DO NOT imply that the customer is wrong for feeling the way they do
  • DO acknowledge their feelings
  • DO offer to right the wrong
  • DO be absolutely authentic and genuine in your apology
  • DO NOT try to counteract the bad review by having your friends and family give you good reviews
  • DO NOT ignore it, and hope nobody notices
  • DO let people see that you care about each and every customers' satisfaction