Responding to Negative Online Reviews

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In an ideal world, businesses set clear expectations, outcomes are controllable, and customers are always delighted.

If you do happen to find that world, please let us know. No business wants to see negative reviews, and with the advent of the Internet, unsatisfied or unhappy customers who might have had limited options to make their opinions heard two decades ago now have a plethora of platforms to accomplish that.

Online review platforms abound, and their scope can be as broad as Yelp, Facebook, and Google or as niche as Zillow, AVVO, TripAdvisor, or They can be great avenues for your customers to rave about your services, products, and overall experience. Those great reviews can then help bring in new customers who turn to online reviews before making purchasing decisions.


These platforms, however, are also where some of your customers will choose to share their complaints. You already know that a happy customer may be inclined to leave a positive review online, but you also know that an unhappy customer is even more likely to air their grievances with the rest of the world.

Why It Matters

Customers have more information than ever at their fingertips. With a few taps on their smartphone, they can have a wealth of information about businesses in every industry targeting any audience.

There’s no denying that reviews can have an impact on businesses. Negative reviews can affect your business reputation as well as dampen your and your team’s spirits. So it may be tempting to ignore negative reviews. “Out of sight, out of mind,” right? Unless your business doesn’t want to be found online, negative reviews matter and, in some cases, more so than positive ones. Ignoring negative reviews can send the message that your business doesn’t care or that it’s not credible.

Potential customers reading reviews––the good, the bad, and the ugly––are more likely to respond to companies that are perceived as fair, trustworthy, empathetic, and even human in an otherwise digital world. To communicate those values, it’s important to understand where your reviewers are coming from.

Understanding Reviewers

When it comes to negative reviews for businesses, their authors generally fall into several categories:

  • Customers with a legitimate case:
    Something went wrong somewhere. It could be a combination of the following to varying degrees: poor communication, poor service delivery, or a misalignment of expectations resulting in a negative experience.
  • Former Employees:
    A number of major review sources today take a strong stance against former/current employees leaving reviews regardless of their positive or negative nature. So don’t ask employees for reviews; that’s what Glassdoor and Indeed are for.
  • Competitors:
    Unscrupulous businesses will try to create fictitious online personalities and leave negative reviews for competitors in their market.
  • GUTs (generally unhappy trolls):
    Clicking on a reviewer to see their review history on Google can provide interesting insights into their profile. The generally unhappy troll (GUT) reviewer can be more easily spotted because they usually leave a very long trail of one-star reviews throughout their digital life. These reviewers may not have even used your business or services ever, and yet they may leave you unfavorable reviews without a  comment to substantiate their opinion.
  • Oddballs:
    For instance, the one-off reviewer who left a negative review for the wrong business in their fit of unhappiness.

Handling Negative Reviews

Very often, by the time a negative reviewer finishes posting their complaint on every review site they have access to, it’s already beyond the point where there can be a productive, meaningful interaction to correct the actual (or perceived) wrong.

Ideally, businesses should try to respond to every negative review. It’s great if you can respond to the good ones as well, but replying to negative reviews reinforces the message that you stand behind your company’s failures and that you value your customers. That being said, there are several approaches that you should avoid and some you should incorporate into your operation procedures.

Resist the Urge
As a business owner or marketing manager, your first reaction is to defend your truth, nay, share it in all caps with the world. Show that the reviewer was wrong, you were right, that they are just irrational, and that you took every step to address their complaint. In a word: don’t. Nobody has the time or the desire to actually understand all the minutiae of your response. If you feel that you must acknowledge any particular aspect of the complaint, be simple, never reveal customer information, and do not engage in an all-out battle of righteousness, regardless of how unreasonable the customer is being.

Empathy, Politeness, and Humanity Go a Long Way
Even in the face of overwhelming negativity, demonstrate a customer-care attitude. It’s not important (or even needed) to address the specific scenario but rather show the world that you care.

Consider setting a thoughtful tone for each message:

  • We’re listening: a quick, courteous response shows your customers that you are listening and will do what you can to resolve their issue.
  • Our bad: Acknowledging their dissatisfaction and not making up excuses opens the door to an open, clear communication channel, increasing the odds to keep them as a customer--and a happy one at that!
  • Let’s Talk: keeping your response concise and following up with a call or email to move the conversation out of the review platform allows you to gather more details and provide a personalized solution.

Regardless of the voice that you choose to address negative online reviews, make sure that it’s one that you would like other customers to see.

Reviews are directly related to the success of websites. Our St. Louis web design company specializes in small to medium-sized business solutions!