Before You Respond To A Bad Online Review — Read This

Although we’d like to think that we would see a bad review coming, the truth is that most negative reviews blind side us.

Photo: Eric Welke, President of RenegadeWorks; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Eric Welke, President of RenegadeWorks; Source: Courtesy Photo

You did it. You started your business and you have taken a proactive approach to building your online presence.

And then it happens.

Someone leaves a really bad review on you products and services.

You suddenly feel a range of emotions sweep over you as all of your hard work is being criticized for the world to see. Whether the criticism is right or seemingly unjustified, there are few things that must happen to preserve your online reputation.


  • Read it carefully and do your research

  • Acknowledge the complaint

  • Follow up with changes


1. Don’t just brush off the bad review

It may seem like not responding will make the bad review fade away. The truth is, not responding to an unsatisfied customer can cause a lot of worry for other prospective customers. They see the review and wonder if their future experiences with you might be similar.

Managing your online reputation means responding to all types of online reviews so that customers know you are willing to engage and listen. Good online reviews need a thank you — at least. Providing consistent interaction lets customers know you are interested in engaging (not just mitigating the effects of a negative review).


2. Read the review carefully

It’s easy to get flustered and skim through a negative review. But reviews often hold valuable information that can help rectify the situation.

You can use the information from negative reviews to make valuable changes if the critique is accurate, or to craft a response that acknowledges the customer’s experience and gently corrects the situation. It’s also helpful to include specific details from the negative review in your response. This shows you are paying attention and willing to address what went wrong.

Above all, it’s important that you don’t miss information since this makes it seem like you don’t know or understand the situation.


3. The customer is always right

Even when the customer is wrong about something, other customers looking to understand what kind of experience to expect with your business will generally believe the complaint.

It’s important to understand what causes a customer to complain, and to respond in a way that acknowledges that customer’s experience. Acknowledging his or her experience, and apologizing that something went wrong on your end is essential.

Often a customer has an expectation that doesn’t quite match what your business offers, and that mismatch results in a negative review. Acknowledge the mismatch.


4. Do your research

Although we’d like to think that we would see a bad review coming, the truth is that most negative reviews blind side us. It’s important to throughly research the situation to make sure you understand what happened.

Find out what you can about the writer. Online reviews can bring many different types of customers to the table. Are they local? Were they trying to be funny or helpful? Do they write only negative reviews?

Talk to your people about the situation. You can try to figure out what went wrong, or what caused the customer’s expectations not to match what your company offered. Make sure you know as much as you can about what happened.


5. Correct facts, not opinions

It’s easy to go on the defensive when faced with a negative review, but customers aren’t interested in your defense. They are interested in what this might mean for their own experiences with your business.

Do not correct the writer’s opinion in a negative review. This is unhelpful and shows that you might be a difficult place to interact with. Rather, focus on correcting any misconceptions in the facts about your business.

Within your apology you can direct the review. There’s a big difference between “I’m sorry that something went wrong,” and “I’m sorry you feel like we didn’t address your needs.” It’s important that you focus only on correcting facts, rather than the opinion of the writer. This gives you an opportunity for transparency and reassures other customers that you take negative feedback seriously.

Correcting opinions also tells potential customers that their opinions don’t matter to you, a sure sign that you aren’t the one to do business with.


6. Turn a bad review into an opportunity

All negative reviews, even spurious ones, are a chance for your company to evaluate services and products. A key to innovation is the ability to be flexible and to see opportunities for change even in things that have been long established.

By looking at the negative review as an advantage, you encourage innovative thinking within your company. Even unwarranted or inaccurate complaints can get the ball rolling on positive changes. Ultimately, even if you decide to change nothing, you are training yourself and your team to think in terms of innovation.


7. Share next steps and offer to make it right

There are two follow up steps to responding to a negative review. First, be clear about what you are doing to change the situation and prevent it from happening again in the future. Second, offer to make it right for the customer. You can get creative here, especially if the negative review has nothing to do with actual events that your business got wrong.

It’s important for your customer to understand that not only are you willing to take criticism, but that you have a plan to follow through with any needed reviews and changes to products or services. Making these things clear helps keep your business’s online reputation stellar.


A negative online review isn’t the end. By researching, responding appropriately, and taking the review as an opportunity, you can ace your online reputation management.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Eric Welke is the President of RenegadeWorks, an online reputation management and referral marketing platform. RenegadeWorks helps businesses monitor, manage and generate online reviews and personal referrals from customers. For more, visit RenegadeWorks.com. Connect with @renegadeworks on Twitter.


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