How to deal with negative online reviews (A step by step process)


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December 15, 2017

Dealing with negative online reviews has become part and parcel of everyday life for most organisations. In fact, managing their online reputation is now a major part of the marketing strategy for any savvy business. But, while some have enjoyed great success with online review websites, others have found it hard to adapt.


You could argue, this is no fault of their own. After all, business owners go into their industry because that’s where their passion and expertise lie. They know the day-to-day running of their business like the back of their hand. They want to make sure they provide a fantastic experience for their customers and keep up high standards. And they don’t want to get bogged down in dealing with unhappy customers.


Sound familiar?


Unfortunately, negative online reviews are inevitable. They happen to every business at some point. And they’re something business owners need to learn to deal with.


Most haven’t, but a select few have. What’s more, business owners who have mastered this skill can turn negative feedback into a positive feeling. That helps them win back unhappy customers and display their excellent ability to handle customer issues.


It can be jarring to see an unfavourable review but it’s important to deal with the situation quickly. After all, online reviews impact 67.7% of people’s purchasing decisions. In fact, most people trust online reviews as if they came from a personal recommendation from a friend or family member.


84% of people trust reviews as much as a personal recommendation


Reviews are also becoming an increasingly important part of online search results. You can see this in a quick search for Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill Restaurant. Not only are 4 out of the 9 results review sites, but the Google Local box on the side also prominently features reviews. It even pulls in reviews from around the web.


So, now we’ve shown the importance of online reviews to a business, how do you deal with a bad one? It’s actually easier than you may think. Here are some actionable steps for you to follow, to help you deal with a negative online review.

Step 1: Claim your business listing on review sites and Google

Many online review websites give you the ability to claim or verify your business listing. Claiming your listing will give you access to helpful features, such as being able to edit the listing, receive alerts, and give additional insights into your listing. Most importantly, it will give you the ability to respond to both positive and negative online reviews.


Step 2: Take this as a chance to show your great customer service 


The most important thing to do is make sure you respond, and do it quickly. But remember… a bad response is worse than no response at all!


Yes, it can be frustrating when you receive a bad review. Especially if you believe that the reviewer is wrong or being unnecessarily harsh. Many people’s initial reaction is to fire off a lengthy response debating the merits of the reviewer’s accusations. This always devolves into a back and forth exchange about where the fault lies, so resist the urge to do this.


Everyone has had a negative experience with a business at some point, so others reading the review are likely to side with the reviewer – right or wrong.


Another thing you simply must avoid is bringing up the record of the person’s reviews of other businesses. Even if every other review is a negative one, it will only reflect badly on your business. People can easily see a record of a person’s reviews and bringing it up only appears as if you’re trying to shift the blame.


So how do you avoid giving a bad response and inadvertently making the matter worse? Simply follow these guidelines to make sure your responses are top notch:

Never respond when you’re angry

If you feel a review is harsh or unfair, always give yourself a chance to cool off before you craft a response. Anything you write will come across as defensive or insulting to your customer. And that won’t convince potential new customers (yes, they DO read your responses), to give you a chance.


This is your chance to shine and turn the situation around, not make excuses or try to pass the blame. So take the opportunity to transform a bad situation into a good one. Demonstrate your superior customer service. Go the extra mile to make your customer happy. Although it may seem unlikely, if you manage customer complaints in the right way, it can help build customer loyalty. Those unhappy customers could actually become your biggest fans.


Start with an apology

Always apologise for the situation, regardless of whether you think the customer is wrong or being unreasonable. Remember, you win no points by engaging in an argument. It will come across as if you don’t value your customers or their business.


Approach it like you’re dealing with an unhappy customer in person

One of the best ways to deal with an unhappy customer is reflective listening. Reflective listening is a communication strategy that involves clarifying and restating what the other person is saying. How do you listen to an online review? By reading the review carefully to make sure you completely understand the issues.


Many times, there are details in the review that provide more insight into the situation. For example: the review may have mentioned an employee name or given specifics surrounding the issue. This can help you investigate what happened before replying. By attentively reading their review, you can respond with empathy and understanding of the situation.


Offer to resolve it and deal with the customer complaint offline

It goes without saying, but if you can resolve their problem, be sure to do so. Of course, this will often depend on the situation and what exactly the reviewer is upset about.


You can resolve their problem in many ways – by offering a discount, a replacement product, or a free extra the next time they buy from you. In addition, tell them how you are addressing the problem in the future and assure them it won’t happen again.


If the issue is sensitive, or you need to get more information, it’s best to move the discussion away from a public forum. Invite them to get in contact with you through your preferred channel to discuss the issue further.

Step 3: Ask customers to remove or revise their negative online reviews

If you resolve the issue, and the customer seems happy with the solution, ask them to consider removing or updating the review. Many people will not have an issue with this, and often just want their initial problem solved. This also shows people that you will go above and beyond to make your customers happy and resolve their issues.


What to do if you’ve tried everything and the customer is still unhappy

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a bad review. Occasionally, after apologising and trying your best to correct a problem, you will have customers that still aren’t happy. Unfortunately, you can’t always please everyone. Luckily, there are still things you can do to try and soften the damage.


How to remove negative online reviews

You should only ever try to get a review removed if you suspect the review is fake. This could be from a competitor, a disgruntled employee or just an online troll who has never used your business before.


First of all, you need to check if the review has violated the Terms of Service of the Online Review Website. That means that before you try to get a review removed, you MUST read the Terms of Service. Just to be sure.


Typically, negative online reviews with hate speech, illegal content, links to other websites or with obscene or offensive language can be flagged for removal. If possible, explain why you believe the post violates the Terms of Service. This will give you the best possible chance of getting the review removed. Remember, most reviews (even if the facts are in dispute) won’t be removed, so don’t focus your time on this unless you’re sure it’s violating guidelines.


Be proactive about encouraging good customer reviews

7 in 10 people will leave a review for a business if you ask for one. So make it easy for customers to leave a review by placing links to the online review websites in emails or in noticeable locations on your website. Brick and mortar businesses can even give out reminder cards before a customer leaves.


A word of caution: Never incentivise customers to leave a review unless they are disclosing it in the review. Asking is okay, incentivisation isn’t. This includes giving them a discount or holding contests where the customer could win products or services. In 2015, the FTC punished AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker, for not disclosing that reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.


Our advice? Never incentivise your customers. You won’t need to if you make your customers happy. It’s also against the Terms of Service of most online review websites. You don’t want to end up with a consumer alert warning placed prominently on your profile.


Try to prevent negative online reviews in the first place

It’s often said that prevention is better than cure, and that couldn’t be truer than for online reviews. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help prevent bad reviews in the first place.


First, make sure that you have options for customers to give feedback other than online review websites. Why not try: customer surveys, following up through phone or email, or even social media polls. This can help you catch issues that could lead to a bad review and take action before they actually happen.


Many customers will try to reach out before writing bad reviews, but if you don’t respond, their next step will be to leave a review. Make sure that you ARE responsive and follow up to EVERYONE in a timely manner.


How to deal with negative online reviews: the takeaway


By following these steps, you’ll get fewer negative online reviews, and when you do get one, you’ll be able to deal with it.



– Always stay calm- Potential customers see your responses- Bad reviews are inevitable- One review doesn’t define your business- Deal with issues swiftly to win customers back- Remind your customers to leave you reviews

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