“Dump”, “rip-off”: How to best respond to bad reviews

Published: February 12, 2021 | Last updated: April 5, 2023
A negative review means the end of your good reputation? Not by a long shot, quite the opposite: It offers more opportunities than you might initially suspect. Our examples reveal how you can turn critics into fans with the right reaction and targeted response.

The fear of negative online reviews

"This dump...", "Such a rip-off, thanks, but never again!". Such negative feedback on review platforms or on social media is like a punch in the gut, it hits all self-employed people unexpectedly and hard. But a negative review is not a verdict set in stone. Your reputation is measured by how you respond to criticism. A confident response is an important tool in attracting new customers, because most buyers and users nowadays base their decisions on ratings and reviews from other customers before making a purchase. Being afraid of negative reviews is not necessary. Most users tend to doubt the credibility of exclusively positive reviews. True to the motto: "All that glitters is not gold!", users trust companies with a 3.5 to 4.5 star rating more than companies with exclusively 5 star reviews.

Customers understand that not everything can always run smoothly. What you will be judged on as a company is how you handle criticism. See negative reviews as an opportunity for you and your company. Show face and actively work on your reputation. Really try to find out what went wrong, ask the relevant departments if necessary and take responsibility, this way you regain power over the situation.

What does reputation actually mean?


1. Take your customers and their feedback seriously

Take your customers seriously - this is especially true in the case of bad reviews. Empathic reactions increase your credibility and the chance to improve products or services in the long term. Despite all openness to critical feedback, it is important to remain objective and calm. Never go on the offensive across the board, but show understanding and convince with facts and transparency. After all, it's all about an honest discussion at eye level - with an appreciative approach.

Situation: Someone criticizes the quality of your service. You take responsibility and show that you take the criticism seriously and will review your own standards again.

Example: "We regret your disappointment, which we are happy to take as an opportunity to once again intensively review our already very high quality standards."

2. Try to solve problems proactively

Customers don't expect long texts with dramatic apologies, but a functioning product or a reliable service. So take responsibility and offer a concrete solution to the problem - that's how you maintain a positive image of your brand - even if not everything went satisfactorily. However, if the fault is not yours, you don't have to apologize for it. Clarify the matter or assure the customer that you will make every effort to do so. Be sympathetic to the customer's situation and acknowledge regret, but at the same time protect your own reputation and the quality of your products or services.

Situation: When ordering a mobile device, the charging cable was accidentally not included. The customer complains online in the form of a comment or on a rating platform. You are not directly to blame for the error, as the product was originally packaged, but you should take responsibility and try to resolve the issue quickly.

Example: "Thank you for your order! Please write us your order details via email to [address] and we will promptly replace the missing charger free of charge."

3. De-escalation needed? Offer compensation or indemnification

How can you improve the bad mood of frustrated customers? With a sincere, empathetic and at the same time specific apology. Compensation can additionally help to calm upset tempers. If you're petty about it, you're saving at the wrong end: Always anticipate that other customers will know what was offered as compensation for a mistake or similar. If you invest here, you massively increase your reputation and the trust of customers in the brand and the company. Compensation that gives the critical customer a real benefit is advisable, for example discounts, vouchers or free accessories. Temporary free upgrades are also a good "peace offering" for users.

Situation: One customer had a not ideal experience with a product. Shortly after delivery, one of the basic functions was no longer working. They made a critical comment online or contacted customer service directly and complained and did not forget to mention that they were otherwise satisfied with the way the product worked. Take this as an opportunity to thank them in advance for their praise. Apologize and take responsibility by communicating the further internal steps.

Example: "Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback and share your experience with other users. We are happy to learn that you are satisfied with the product. However, I can understand how frustrating the malfunction must be for you. We would like to make up for your unpleasant experience with our product by exchanging the product free of charge. We will pass on your criticism to the colleagues responsible and take it as an opportunity to do better. We hope that you will remain with us as a customer and look forward to further exchanges with you."

4. Move critical discussions to a private chat

The right medium is important for a sober, constructive exchange of customer criticism. Even if you offer your customers customer service via Twitter and Facebook, for example, it is advisable not to exchange all short messages publicly. Switching to a more suitable medium shows the critic as well as the observers: Here, even critical voices are taken seriously and clarified in detail in the appropriate place. At the same time, it becomes visible that the complaint is given an official character, since the specialized department is now dealing with it. The customer also has the private space to describe his concern in full, stating all data and facts.

Situation: A customer has a technical problem and reports it to customer service or online via social channels. You respond with understanding and thank them for their feedback. Offer an opportunity to clarify the issue with an expert or a specialist department.

Example: "We would very much like to clarify your concern immediately. We have forwarded your feedback to our technical support team. If you do not receive a call back within the next 24 hours, please contact [phone number] or [email address] directly." To prevent further criticism, make sure that the 24 hours can be met on your part.

5. Stay calm, cool and objective at all times in the dialogue

Bad reviews don't get better by lashing out in a rhetorical counterattack to verbally slam your supposed opponent. Such a strategy can create a media disaster beyond all expectations, which in extreme cases can mean the end of your good reputation. So: Keep a cool head and remain objective. If critics are verbally escalating, a friendly reminder of netiquette is recommended in order to solve the problem together in a matter-of-fact manner in the further course. Small tip: Before responding to an escalated comment, take a deep breath, calm down, don't respond in resentment, and sort out what you want to respond to and how specifically. Read the review carefully, sometimes people overlook positive remarks in the negative review. But referring to it can make it easier to get started in the answer. There is not a word of praise in the review? Then you are welcome to resort to a bit of self-praise.

Situation: A user complains about a service they have used. You respond with understanding and empathy.

Example: "We are known for our excellent, accommodating service, so we were surprised to read that you had such a negative experience. We would like to take your criticism as an opportunity to apologize for any inconvenience caused and to review and optimize our service in area XY. We will be happy to describe the concrete further steps to you via email and also answer your queries in this way."

Reacting to critical voices online? These are the no-go's!

  • Ignoring critical voices: Negative feedback often hits you hard, not infrequently you feel unjustly criticized and the thought arises to simply ignore the critical customer. But your customers and users measure you by how you respond to that very critical feedback. Show moderate empathy for the critic, take responsibility and offer solutions.

  • Silencing critics with harsh or snappy answers: A bit of irony here and a bit of sarcasm there and critics will fall silent? The opposite can be the case and your snappy response quickly calls more critics to the scene. Virtually, you forfeit facial expressions and gestures, and even emojis don't always help you strike the right tone. Stay professional, calm, factual and understanding, so you avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

  • Hide or even delete criticism: This strategy is not completely absurd, because there are exceptional cases in which you should make use of it. If you find racist, sexist or offensive and obscene messages, comments or reviews on your profiles, you should delete and hide them. Not all users adhere to the applicable netiquette on the net. But deleting or hiding negative or critical voices may catch your users' attention and result in a wave of criticism. Therefore, only make use of these functions in extreme emergencies. React to the criticism and if it does get a bit more outlandish, you can always remind people of the applicable netiquette.

  • Fighting fire with fire - countering in an abusive manner: Take a deep breath before writing a reply. Have arguments ready and don't start replying until you no longer feel resentment. Remember, a negative voice is not a judgment set in stone. Every criticism can also hide an opportunity for you.

  • Immediately threaten legal action: In anger, people quickly get carried away and subjective criticism quickly turns into an opinion that seems unshakable. It is not uncommon for criticism to contain assumptions and assertions disguised as facts. Clear things up not only the disgruntled customer, but also all interested parties who read this review. Eliminate inconsistencies and take the opportunity to set the record straight. Don't threaten legal action unless it's absolutely necessary. Respond objectively and calmly and clarify everything else outside the review or comment column.

  • Switch off the comment function altogether: Your ability to take criticism is a decisive factor in how you and your company are perceived by customers, users and partners. If it feels like all you get is criticism, you quickly feel driven to turn off the comment function altogether. But all that glitters is not gold, as your customers know. Face up to your critics, take repeated criticism as an opportunity to think about processes or products and initiate improvements.

  • Use standard replies: When criticism is repetitive, people are inclined to resort to standard responses. It saves time and once you've found the perfect answer, you'll want to use it again and again. But especially with negative reviews, you should respond individually. Read the feedback in detail and address it in detail in your response. The critic feels heard and understood and the impression of having been dispatched does not arise in the first place. Your customers want to be taken seriously. Customers take the time to contact the company and provide feedback, so take the time to respond appropriately.

What are the four dimensions of reputation?

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