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How to Respond to Negative Reviews Online: Our 3-Step Process

So you got a negative online review? ☹️  Deep breaths.

How to respond to negative reviews online

Receiving and then responding to a negative review online is an emotional process.  As a digital marketing consultant, my job sometimes morphs from bringing in online leads to becoming a small business negative review response therapist.

Negative review alert email from Google


Just last month, I got a negative review alert for one of my clients.  I contacted them right away to get some context on the situation, and they were absolutely distraught.  In their view, the customer was completely unfair in her expectations and impossible to please, as hard as they had tried.  We worked together to craft a firm but professional response to the review.

It’s common to get upset when a customer leaves you feedback that you find unfair.  I promise, every hard-working business owner feels this way.

What I want to do is empower you with a response process that helps you feel heard, makes you look professional, and gives you an opportunity to fix the situation.

But should you even respond?  Or should you push it under the rug and hope it goes away?

Why You Need to Respond to Negative Reviews

You absolutely cannot let a negative review sit out on a major review site with no public response.

Almost every review site (Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc) allows the business owner to write a public response to any review.  And I recommend you do so within 1 week, whether the review is positive or negative.

Here’s why you need to respond:

  • If you don’t respond, readers may suspect the review is 100% true and you’re embarrassed by it
  • Readers may think you’re a business that doesn’t care about customers if you don’t even try to help a customer who had a bad experience
  • The reviewer may just be looking for attention and may be willing to take it down if you work to fix the situation

How a Negative Review Lost Me As A Customer

Just recently, I experienced the explosive power of an unacknowledged negative review myself.  I was searching for an interior decorating business I followed on social media.  I wanted to find their website and potentially recommend them to a friend.

When I searched for the business on Google, up near the top of the search results was the business’s Yelp listing.  The rating?  1 star out of 5.  Yikes.

Negative 1-star Yelp rating showing in search engines

When I searched for an interior designer’s website, this Yelp rating showed up in Google (with no response!)

Out of curiosity, I clicked the Yelp page first to read the review.  It was scathing.  The reviewer accused the business of stealing her deposit and never doing the design work.  She said the company was unresponsive and wouldn’t call her back.

…Which was pretty believable, since they also hadn’t bothered to respond to the review.

Yelp review marked Useful

The 1-star Yelp review was marked as “Useful” by 11 users, so you know I wasn’t the only one who saw it.

Do you think I recommended this interior decorating business to my friend?  Definitely not.

Without a doubt, an awful review can deter a lot of readers from becoming your customers.  But I believe that you can win readers back with a well-crafted, professional response.

The Best Way to Respond to Negative Online Reviews: Our 3-Step Process

Ready to write your review response?  I created a simple framework that helps to guide my clients to a short, courteous response.  If you follow this formula, you are sure to come off as professional and thoughtful.

Step 1: Acknowledge the person and situation

Start with their first name and state that you’re thankful or sorry to hear about their situation.

Example:  Michael, thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention.

Step 2: Express that you strive for great service

Let readers know that you have high standards and that this isn’t your typical customer experience.

Example: Customer service is one of our top priorities, and we are disappointed to learn that you had anything less than a stellar experience with us.

Step 3: Take it offline

If you are willing to talk to the reviewer further or try to resolve the issue, invite them to contact you privately.  Provide your company phone number right in the review so they know you’re serious.

Often, people just want to feel heard and are willing to take the review down if you can apologize and work to resolve their frustrations.

Example: Please give us a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you’d like to discuss this matter further. Thank you again for your honest feedback and we look forward to hearing from you.

Examples of Responses to Negative Feedback or Low Ratings

Need some help?  Feel free to copy and paste these responses and tailor for your situation.

Fredrick, we always strive to do 100% for all of our customers so we’re extremely disappointed to hear of your negative experience with us. Please give us a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX and we will do our best to make this better. We hope to hear from you soon.

Suzanne, we are disappointed to learn of this situation you have described. We always want to deliver a five-star experience for our customers. We would like the chance to talk to you further so please do call XXX-XXX-XXXX and ask for Bob at your earliest convenience. We hope to hear from you.

Top Things To Avoid in Your Reply

  • Getting defensive
  • Writing a long, drawn out response (which looks defensive)
  • Providing too many details about the situation
  • Trying to “prove a point” to the reader
  • Inviting any sort of rebuttal from the reviewer (This tends to happen most on Facebook and is not possible on Google)

But What If…

The reviewer was incredibly rude to our staff?

I recently helped a client respond to a very unfortunate negative review.  The reviewer claimed the company refused to listen to her and hung up on her when she called.  Excerpt from the review:

When I called and talked to the office manager, they were unwilling to accept any responsibility for a thing, and ended up hanging up on me.

It turns out that the customer was irate and yelled rude, awful things at their staff for almost 15 minutes.  Here’s how we chose to respond and respectfully touch on that issue:

{Name}, we are so sorry to hear about your negative experience and apologize that we were not able to resolve this despite our repeated efforts.

We value every single patient and always believe we bill fairly for treatment provided. If an issue or question does arise in billing, we are happy to discuss it in a calm and respectful manner. Again, we apologize that we were not able to reach the resolution you were looking for.

My Quick Tips About Negative Review Response

The 24 Hour Rule: Give yourself a cooling off period

If you’re really furious about a negative review, wait 12-24 hours before responding so you can collect yourself.  You don’t want to do more damage.  It’s important to sound cool, calm, and collected when you reply.

Be brief

Long responses that drag on dozens of lines longer than the actual review tend to look defensive and petty.

Try to take the situation offline

You absolutely don’t want to start some sort of online, public conversation about a customer issue.  Finish your review response by inviting them to call or contact you privately if they have further thoughts.

Have a disinterested third party read it

Write your response first in an email and then send it off to a friend for their review.  Ask them if it sounds professional and polite rather than defensive.  No need to give them a ton of backstory and get them worked up too.  Absolutely don’t just have your co-workers read it and give you the head nod, since they’re probably mad about the situation as well.

Bury the negative review in positive ones

When you do get a negative review, it’s important that it doesn’t drag down your overall rating too much.  That means you need lots of positive reviews to balance it out.  Here is my process for how to ask customers for online reviews.

Don’t think it’s the end of the world

Almost every business, no matter how amazing, will get a negative online review every once in a while.  Truly, some customers cannot be pleased, and readers in general know that and can forgive you for an occasional negative review.  Pick yourself up, respond calmly, and work to provide a great experience for your next customer.

PS: Did you know you should respond to positive reviews too?  Here is my advice on that: How To Respond to Positive Online Reviews (with Examples)

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