Negative Online Reviews: When Should You Respond and How?

Since the advent of online review websites, such as or, it has become incredibly easy for any ol’ Internet user to really say what they feel about any given business. Because of the freedom of anonymity, some users can give businesses pretty bad reviews. So, what should you do if your business ends up being the target of a customer’s grumbles? Read below to learn how you should respond to negative online reviews.

According to digital marketing guru Mitch Joel, a negative review won’t kill your business; it’s how you look at feedback and how you respond to it that makes all the difference.

Is the feedback legitimate?

If the customer’s negative review actually does have some merit (e.g. an employee screwed up or something went wrong) you should definitely take notice of the situation. If that feedback is 100% legitimate, then you should respond in some way. A great way to tackle this is to respond to the customer personally rather than on the online site. Make sure to apologize, and don’t use PR speak. You want to be sincere—not defensive. Offer a discount if necessary to have the customer return. Don’t ask the customer to take down his or her review. If you go above and beyond to rectify the situation, they will want to update their review.

Is the customer ranting just to rant?

Sometimes a customer isn’t so much mad at you and your business as they are mad at the world. If you go through someone’s profile and all of their reviews are bad, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to change their opinion.

Is the review factually incorrect?

If the bad reviewer is misstating the facts, you should step in immediately. Maybe they’re stating the wrong prices, hours or even something more major. Whatever the falsehood is, you should post a reply on the website the review is published on, stating the correct facts. Again, make sure to be sincere. You don’t want other customers to see you as defensive. A personal email to the reviewer might also help.

Are you upset?

If you are upset about the bad review, you must calm down first. Anything you put out into the World Wide Web while you’re upset or angry will just come off as petty. Either let another staff politely handle the situation or ignore the review altogether. It’s better to have one negative review than suffer the consequences of acting too brashly.

Can you encourage positive reviews?

It might be best to wait a couple of days before responding to negative criticism because you might be surprised by another customer coming to your defense. If you read Yelp reviews you’ll notice that reviewers don’t always agree. A good customer of yours might feel compelled to set the negative reviewer straight, and this is even better than you coming out an apologizing first because it’s not coming from a paid employee. Although, it still doesn’t hurt to apologize directly.

You could even create a call to action on your website or on your social media sites, asking customers who’ve had a good experience to post a positive review. That way you could be more proactive than waiting around for a client to post something nice.

Just remember that one negative review won’t ruin your business. It’s a matter of responding quickly and appropriately. Try to spot unhappy customers before they even walk out the door, but if you must, apologize with sincerity.

And remember that some people say that negative reviews actually establish authenticity. No product or service is without its faults: Even the top selling product of the decade, the iPod, has its cons, and reviewers point it out. If potential clients see nothing but glowing reviews they might question whether staffers wrote them all. Plus, it’s a great chance for you to learn where you need to improve your business. When life gives you lemons…

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