handling negative online reviews

How To Handle Bad Online Reviews

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Reputation Management For Negative Online Reviews

    Bad reviews happen. You can’t please everyone all of the time. Sometimes this leads to negative word of mouth, which spreads like wildfire unknown to you. Once that happens there is nothing you can do about it. Having a crisis management strategy in play for handling bad online reviews can save your reputation and your bottom line. Having a great customer service plan in place is very important to maintain your brand identity.


    72% of consumers surveyed said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

    Source: Local Consumer Review Survey


    We live in the digital world. The intimidation of the many outlets for disenchanted customers to air their grievances for all the world to see sometimes leads businesses to think, let me avoid it, and stay off digital altogether. This is a bad move because while having profiles on the many review pages like Google My Business and Yelp gives an easy outlet for both positive and negative reviews, it also puts you in a position to handle these reviews and exert some control over them. Which is much better than not having this control. These platforms allow us to monitor how we are seen. It gives us valuable insights into the problems and frustrations of our clients. It also lets us see what we are doing right, what makes them happy. This lets us lean into what works and quickly remedy what doesn’t.


    95% of unhappy customers will return to your business if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.

    Source: Social Media Today


    Step 1: Monitoring

    Many times when I’m running my initial research on a client I see the rogue negative reviews on a page. Most times this gripe goes unanswered for a year or more and often it is a surprise to the client when I mention it. Don’t fall into this trap. First thing, set up a Google Alert for your business name. This will let you know when your brand is mentioned online. When an alert happens check it out. Make sure you check the emails that are tied to your Facebook business page, your Google My Business account, Yelp, and any other profiles you have.

    You want to get into the habit of checking your pages often for any new reviews. Google yourself once or twice a month and see what comes up. When someone posts something about you, you want to know as soon as possible. The sooner the better. Both to help remedy the situation, and to show potential customers that come across these reviews that you are prompt and on the ball.


    Step 2: The Game Plan

    You may think, well if I ignore it it will go away. It will not go away. Ignoring it is the #1 worst thing you can do. Ignoring it implies guilt, at least to the potential customer that comes across it. It reflects poorly on your business, and even worse on how much you value customer service. I personally don’t mind seeing a bad review, or even several for a business I am looking into. What makes me, and many others, look elsewhere are reviews that go unanswered, or worse, reviews where the business owner gets defensive or nasty. How you handle them, and how quickly, makes a huge difference.


    Step 3: Take A Deep Breath

    While you want to reply quickly, you do not want to be hasty. Take your pride out of the equation and be sure to remain level-headed. The #2 worst thing you can do is get snarky, defensive, and argumentative. I see this often. The brand gets defensive and argues the validity of the complaint with the poster. For the potential customer that reads the reviews and your response, this shows poor brand personality and customer relations. It illustrates that you are not open to admitting your mistakes, that you do not value your customers, and that if they had a problem with you the issue would be met with attitude. This will lose you business.


    Step 4: The Reply

    In drafting your reply be as kind as possible and try to deescalate the situation. “I am very sorry you had an unpleasant experience” works well. Do not make excuses, but if perchance this was one of those will never be happy customers griping and you had tried hard to remedy it before it got to that stage explain that, nicely. Don’t think in terms of changing their mind, at that point as much is about showing your mediation skills and customer service ethics to the potential customers that may see the review. We know some people like making a big deal. Some people are unreasonable, to begin with, and use social media as a place to bully and attack. But you know what? Most potential customers can see that, so then it comes to how you handle it rather than the review that is the key focus.


    Step 5: Mistaken Identify or Competition Trolls

    Sometimes a poor review is not even meant for your business, a case of mistaken identity. In this case, again, apologize for the bad experience but also patiently express that they have the wrong brand or location in mind. A good reply to this would be something along the lines of: “I am sorry you had an unsatisfactory experience, we do not provide the service you mentioned I believe you may have had … company in mind.” We know this one sucks. And there is only so much you can do to try and get it removed. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often. But when it does know that potential customers will understand if you phrase the reply nicely.


    Sometimes, in highly competitive industries, or just due to shady business practice, a competitor will post, or have others post negative reviews about your brand. While these are frustrating and may make you angry they should be handled with the same tact as a typical bad review. If you are absolutely certain this person never hired your brand or visited your establishment feel free to reach out to the platform, GMB, Yelp, etc., and ask them to remove the review stating that it is fake. Unfortunately, all too often the reviews do not get removed. Replying to the review with an “I’m sorry to hear about your experience, but we believe you have the wrong business as we have no record of you having been a customer”, then contacting the platform to request a review removal is the best option.


    Remember, you may not always be able to salvage the customer that is posting but try. At the very least you can preserve your brand integrity and reputation to all that see the review and your reply. How have you handled a negative customer experience?

    Posted in

    Gabriel Bertolo

    Gabriel Bertolo is a 3rd generation entrepreneur that founded Radiant Elephant 10 years ago after working for various ad and marketing agencies. He is also an award-winning Jazz/Funk drummer and composer as well as a visual artist. He has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Shopify, and MECLABS for his insights into marketing and SEO.