How to Respond to Negative Reviews & Feedback

Eric Welke Best Practices, Guides, How to & Tutorials, Online Reviews, Small Business 2 Comments

Receiving a negative review online can be humbling for your business and even you. Negative reviews can come in all shapes and sizes…from constructive criticism to an angry customer who doesn’t necessarily seem angry with you but rather they seem upset with life and are taking it out on you.

Unfortunately, this is all apart of life and owning a small business. Don’t brush off the reviews and hope there will be no impact based upon one person’s opinion; instead, respond to each review written about your business.

Don’t just respond to the negative, but the positive reviews as well. A simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘We are thrilled you are enjoying our services’ can make the reviewer and other readers’ respect that you are concerned with customer satisfaction and not just focused on challenging the negative aspects of your reputation.

While it is important to respond to the positive reviews, it is perhaps more important to respond thoughtfully and empathetically to the negative comments left on review sites. Responding to the negative reviews can change the reviewer’s mind about your business and even impress potential customers.  The one caveat is that you should reply promptly.  Waiting weeks or months to reply mean you’ve missed your chances.  It a good idea to regularly track and monitor reviews so you don’t miss any.

Just by responding properly, your business can grow and you can turn the negative into positive. Do remember we live in a world where it is difficult to please 100% of the population; however, it is important to still aim high and try to please 99.9% of the population.

It is very important for you to respond professionally and sympathetic towards those reviewers who are unhappy with your business. First of all, by responding you are showing you acknowledge their feelings and troubled experience.

You are also showing potential and current customers you will go out of your way to recognize a concern or complaint. This generally earns your business brownie points. There are some tips you will want to follow when responding to a negative review:


The customer is always right

Even when the customer is wrong, he or she is right. Those reading online reviews are looking for what other customers have experienced with your business. They will believe the customer is generally right and their experience reflects on you. Because of this, you must take a cautious approach in responding to reviews. Start with a simple apology and acknowledgment something went wrong on your end…even if it didn’t.  There are industry specifics that may require slight variations on the strategy below.  For example if you are selling cars, you will respond differently that if you are a dentist.

Understand they commented for a reason

In general, customers are not going to go out of their way to make negative comments about your business on a website. Most likely, they have a legitimate reason to be upset or post what they said. Don’t be afraid to realize you or your business probably messed up.

They posted because the public looks at reviews to see what kind of experience others had at your business and if it’s worth their time in pursuing you. Remember, once a comment is made about your business it’s what you do next that will matter most.  This is very important to managing your small business reputation.

Always stay upbeat and optimistic

You want to show customers you are a serious business and are prepared to hear criticism. In your response, be constructive and show you are willing to listen. Always apologize, even if you believe the customer’s experience was not necessarily your business’s fault.

You can simply begin with “we are truly sorry you had a poor experience…” By acknowledging and apologizing for the issue, you have to humble yourself and understand that people are not necessarily looking for perfection.

Rather, they are often times interested in a genuine response and transparency in your business. If this is seen, trust can be built with both the reviewer and the general public reading the reviews and your response.

Do not get defensive

Do not go on the defense, as this will just turn people away from your business. If you feel you may not have the best attitude towards a comment made about your business, take your time in responding and allow time for you to cool down. [But do not take too much time!] No one reading the reviews and comments wants to see a business going on the defense as this just tells the people you are not a friendly place to spend their money. Be sure to be calm and understanding in your response.

Correct facts, not opinions

If a reviewer has given incorrect facts about anything pertaining to your business, gently correct them; however, do not correct opinions. By correcting opinions, you are telling the public their opinions don’t matter to you and you believe they are wrong in their thinking. This will never go over well and you could easily lose business. By focusing on the facts, the reviewer and the readers can learn more about your business and what you stand for.

Be cool and collected

Never reply when a comment makes you feel heated, walk away and find your cool, then reply. The last thing you want your business to represent is your anger or frustration. In the long run, you will regret this kind of response on your end even if it makes you feel better in the moment. Others are watching your response so keep your professionalism with a touch of compassion.

It is understandable that you will feel upset or disgraced by a comment, especially when you poor your life into your business; however, it’s your reaction that is judged. By waiting to respond to a comment that gets you heated, you will have to calm down, think it through and figure out a proper way to respond.

You can thank them for their thoughts, address the issue and your side to the story and of course, add the human touch. People reading reviews don’t expect all satisfied comments, they expect the negative ones too and will be watching your reply. Be impressive and show the public you are worthy of their business.

Turn it around

Someone took the time to review your business, even if it wasn’t in your favor. By responding, you have the ability to turn the review around and highlight your strengths. By bringing attention to your strengths, you are virtually reminding the readers there is much more to your business than one negative comment.

You can also use this opportunity to share your story, like “I’m sorry you had this experience. We have served thousands of customers over the last 10 years and strive to create the best atmosphere for you to feel…”

Own the issue

Because the customer is always right, always let them know you have empathy towards them. Don’t be afraid to say a mistake was made or protocol failed on your end. By stepping up and owning the issue, customers will appreciate this humility and second chances will likely be given.

Do not get personal

Never attack the person or make it seem it is their fault (even if it is). By attacking the person, you are simply pushing away any chance you had at redeeming your company to them and to the readers.

Attacking is behavior for the immature, not a sophisticated business owner. It also shows the people you are not a business for the people; rather, it shows you are not ready to be an owner of a business and their business should go somewhere where respect and professionalism is sought.

If you are attacked in a comment, it may be difficult to not attack the person in return. However, you need to be the bigger person and try your best to not take it personally. Also do not say it is their fault they had a poor experience, stick to an apology and nothing more if you have nothing else to say.

Short and sweet may be your best response

In cases where you have nothing to say or believe a response is not necessary, the best reaction on your end is to simply apologize for their poor experience and wish them a better experience next time. If you feel no response is necessary at all, than don’t respond at all. However, this is not usually recommended as silence speaks louder than words and it does not help improve your online reputation.


Include a specific detail about the review in your response

While a simple apology may be the best response for some situations, it is better to touch on one or more specific details about the user’s review. By doing this, you are acknowledging you have read the comment in detail and take their comments seriously. When a customer feels heard, they are quicker to find satisfaction in your response and more willing to give your business another try.

Change your business for the better

Because criticism coming from customers can actually make you a better business, it is important to listen to the comments and understand where they are coming from. Perhaps they are pointing out problems you may not see.

It is sometimes easier to see issues from the outside instead of from your view, engulfed everyday in the business. Don’t just agree and understand there are things that could change to make your business better, rather take action and don’t be afraid to make the transformations to being a better business.

These changes could be small or large. In fact, it may be in your best interest to have some negative reviews as they can challenge you and make you better in the long run. When you hear what the people want and address it, you are making a giant statement that you are a friendly and community oriented business. With this kind of effort and image, more customers will be willing to walk in your doors.

Share what has been done to avoid future issues

Once you have formatted a plan and are attacking the issue, comment on the review and share that you heard the complaint, agree something needed to be done, and share how you are making changes to avoid future problems.

Once the customer or potential customer reads your comment on the change that took place or is in the process of changing, they will be impressed you listened and they may want to visit you again to see if their experience is better.

Offer to make it right

Find unique and clever ways to make the customer happy. You want to make the situation right. An example: perhaps they didn’t get the sales price, offer for them to come in with the receipt and you will be happy to give them the sales price. They will be more than pleased and want to support you later on.

When you are making the situation right, avoid offering gifts, freebies, discounts or anything that could be seen as bribery. If others see this, it can set precedence for handouts. If a satisfied customer sees someone is getting a handout for complaining, they will most likely find something to complain about as well in hopes of a freebie.

Let them know you are available

Tell the reviewer you would love to communicate directly with them. At the end of your response, leave the best way to contact you. With this personal touch, you are showing the public you care about each customer and their concerns and are willing to go out of your way to please them. You are also opening the door to further dialogue about your business with them.

If they choose to reach out to you, be sure to be grateful they care enough about your business to continue the conversation. With this kind of discussion, you may be able to better understand what the customers are looking for and even build a relationship with another consumer and turn the unhappy into the happy.

Ask customers to edit/update their review

If you are working to resolve an issue or did resolve the problem and the customer is now satisfied, don’t be afraid to ask them to either update or edit their review. With others reading their comments, it is only fair for them to show you are a business willing to work with and for the customer.

Once others see this, they will be more inclined to bring more business in your door. It is important to show you are not afraid to change for the customers’ satisfaction. Be sure to not force them to edit/update their review, simply ask and let it go. Use common sense when addressing them for their edit or update.

Comments 2

  1. Hi
    I read your blog. I understand your general thoughts, but my situation is a bit different. I am a substitute teacher, and the regular teacher made comments that I do not reflect what occurred. She was inaccurate in some comments and chose to believe the kids when she talked with them about me. Can you give me a sentence or two that gives me the opportunity to explain and clarify?

  2. Hi Amy,

    I don’t really know your situation and I may even be late with this reply, but here it goes anyway. I think you should keep your calm and be respectful while talking no matter what others may say. Try to allow the teacher to talk and then ask for some time to reply. Tell her/him what happened without trying to undermine anyone (the kids or the teacher). Just try to be nice about it and keep your head held high at the same time. Remember: you aren’t fighting anyone, you are just defending yourself.

    Hope this helps.

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