How to Respond to Negative Reviews

Negative reviews can be crippling to a small business, especially if you're in the beginning stages of business. However, they can actually be a great public relations opportunity if handled right. By responding correctly, you can turn the situation around, win back your customer, and simultaneously win over future potential customers. Dealing with bad reviews doesn't have to be hard, and if you follow these guidelines – you'll find it quite simple.

Why Respond to Negative Reviews?

Every single review should be replied to, whether it's positive or negative. It turns out that taking the high road and simply ignoring the haters is not the best path to take if you get a negative review. If not addressed, these issues can fester and turn more customers against you.

If a customer complained in person, you wouldn't just ignore them. We'd be willing to bet you'd probably do whatever you could to repair the relationship. Replying also shows that you're not shady or neglectful and that you genuinely care about your customers' experience. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Here's how to reply, mollify the customer, and simultaneously score branding brownie points with your potential future customers.



How to Respond to Bad Reviews

Negative reviews have a process unto themselves. They are the most important and often are the most valuable in terms of building customer loyalty. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but people know that businesses sometimes make mistakes. The hurt caused by mistakes doesn't come from the error itself; it comes from how the company handles that customer and the mistake. The speed, action, and manner we approach the situation with is what matters the most. And remember, there is so much more at stake in terms of future revenue than whatever that one transaction is worth.

Although you're responding to the original author of the bad review, you're also writing for a future audience. The long-term value of a review is in what future readers see in your response. That is almost always worth countless times whatever the single transaction in question is. So before responding, think about how you want future customers to perceive this situation. Your number one goal is to show others how your business treats customers when the situation is less than perfect.

Step 1: Immediately do your research to understand the entire situation. It's essential to determine the facts and know both sides of the story. So, start by talking to any employees who dealt with this customer. Once you've gleaned all the information you can from your end, you can craft a thoughtful response.

Step 2: Apologize and empathize. Acknowledge the customer's concerns. Even if the issue is unfounded, show empathy that they had a bad experience. "We're sorry to hear about your bad experience."

Step 3: Insert very subtle marketing into your response. "We're normally known for our exceptional attention to detail, and it pains us to hear that we missed the mark!"

Step 4: Move to continue the conversation on a less public platform. Provide contact info for someone at the business (if it's possible and/or the issue is serious enough, give them contact info for the business owner) So they can discuss the problem in person. "My name is ____, and I am the Owner/Manager. We'd like to discuss this further and straighten out the problem, as your experience means a lot to us. Please contact me at (insert phone #/email).

Step 5: Keep your response short and sweet. Don't go into a lot of detail or ask a ton of questions. This will prevent saying something that might cause the upset customer to give more negative feedback by replying to the review. If you keep it short and to the point, their next step will be to call you, rather than respond with more anger and justification of their anger. Try to stick to three or four sentences as a rule of thumb.


Flagging False or Misleading Reviews

If a review is false, misleading, or inflammatory, you can flag it. Sometimes it's necessary to defend your business against untrue accusations or misunderstandings, but make sure you avoid any confrontational language and are as polite as possible.
Review sites are community-driven, which means that a lot of these sites will let bad reviews stay as long as they are true representations of the business. However, these sites have flagging processes that protect you from reviews that violate their guidelines. A few common things that indicate a review is flaggable include:

  • Hate speech
  • Private information about staff members
  • Solicited reviews
  • Spam

Case Studies

Sometimes, the reason behind a terrible review is that the person is not your ideal customer. For example, someone who expects low prices and fast food when they eat at a restaurant will probably be offended by a $50 plate and food that tastes amazing but takes longer to cook. Here are a couple of examples of how to handle these kinds of reviews.

Backstory: A problematic customer had left a terrible review for a service-based business. Once we confirmed that the shop had gone above and beyond for this problem customer and the fault was not on the shop's end, we then started crafting our response. Here is an example of a reply that's likely to further aggravate the issue, and then an example of an excellent way to respond to her bad review.

Customer Review: Poor customer service! They are not honesty! I will never go there again! Over priced!

Incorrect response: [Customer Name], we are sorry you feel this way. We did exactly that which we mutually agreed to do (& what you approved us to do). We use standard industry practices for billing.

Correct response: [Customer Name], we are sorry you feel this way. As a professional shop, we must adhere to the strictest levels of quality and standards. Our customers have come to rely on this standard of excellence provided at rates that adhere to industry best practices. We recognize that there are many alternatives out there for the service we offer, and we appreciate that you gave us a shot!



Remember, never say "we did" or "you did" or "you agreed". It's combative and gives the reader an instant reason to be defensive. We never want to talk in a way that we could do so while pointing a finger. If a sentence ever feels accusatory in the slightest bit, it's a hint that you need to rephrase it.

The simple reason is that we are speaking to future readers through this customer. We don't want them to rise to the disgruntled customer's defense. Besides, this stuff happens because the customer shouldn't have been our customer in the first place. She should have gone to a back-alley shop with rates 50% cheaper. So how did this happen? Misunderstanding. We didn't communicate to her enough that we are not her shop.

If we look at her complaint and frame it in the way of friendly misunderstanding, we can answer in a way that's about us. We can explain that we failed to properly communicate to her that our shop is not for her. So, your answer should be about that instead.

Here's an example of a restaurant where the customer and business were simply a mismatch.

Review: "The food was good, but this restaurant was too expensive and slowwwwww service."

Good Response: "Thank you for mentioning this. As a coveted dinner-only restaurant, our patrons come to us for more than just our award-winning menu and 5-star food. They come to us for an enjoyable evening where they know their every dining whim will be attended to. They come to us so they can laugh and reminisce over dinner, then reflect and relax over dessert and coffee. From the moment they walk in the door to the second they leave, their evening becomes all about existing in the moment and reveling in care-free culinary indulgence.

We realize that our experience isn't for every diner, every night of the week. And if you were expecting a different ambiance and quick-style food, then we were not your cup of tea that evening. But, when you are in the mood for a relaxing, enjoyable experience; we'd love to have you back. We will send you a code you can use for two free desserts the next time you would like to visit."

Do you see how this response would turn that negative review around, and how it would also turn away people who aren't their ideal customer? It's a win-win!


Now you've got some great resources to help you craft the perfect response to a negative review. Good luck with your negative review replies, and remember to respond to every single review, including the positive ones!

2 thoughts on “How to Respond to Negative Reviews

  • Love this! It’s hard to know how to respond to negative reviews, especially when the customer misunderstood something, etc. The part about taking it offline and thinking about your future customers is good advice.

    • So true Mari! It’s way too easy to get defensive and try to reason with a disgruntled customer. But if you keep future customers in mind, it makes the solution clear. Glad you enjoyed this article!

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