How to Reply to Bad Reviews: 10 Tips

Published: April 1, 2022 | Last updated: November 23, 2022
These 10 Tips are a part of our Guide on How to Fix Bad Reviews. Want more? Download the 60+ page guide on how to fix bad reviews here.
The first thing to do if your business receives a negative review is to take a deep breath and don’t panic; negative reviews are inevitable, no matter how well-run your company is and no matter how hard you try to satisfy your customers.

Even businesses with the highest customer satisfaction ratings get negative reviews from time to time. While some firms might think it wise to try and eliminate these bad reviews one way or another, recent incidents show this is a bad idea, and it can backfire spectacularly in the form of financial consequences and poor public relations.


The question is not which illicit scheme can you use to eliminate bad reviews, but how and why you should instead respond to them in a methodical, correct and prescribed manner. By responding properly, you have the chance to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one and improve your company’s standing.

Summary of Tips

  1. Do Not Simply Ignore Reviews
  2. Timing is Everything
  3. Show that you understand the customers view point
  4. Maintain a professional manner
  5. Highlight the Positives
  6. Apologize When It's Appropriate
  7. Offer to talk things over
  8. Take action
  9. Consider to Engage Privately
  10. Keep Responses Brief

Tip 1: Do Not Simply Ignore Negative Reviews

Like an ongoing water leak, negative reviews may not cause problems overnight, but over time, they can wear away at your company’s image and reputation and cause deep and lasting damage. By some estimates, a single negative review can have as much impact on your business as 40 positive experiences. Therefore, it’s important to not simply leave negative reviews alone, but to take action and respond to them in a timely, appropriate and professional manner.

Negative reviews that have no response can also work against you in terms of search-engine results, third-party links and online discussions. Even if a person doesn’t specifically set out to pore through reviews, search-engine results and third-party links have the potential to show them to people who weren’t originally seeking them (which is why how you respond to them is just as important as responding in the first place).

Sincere and empathic reactions increase your credibility and the chance to improve products or services in the long term. It’s important to remain objective and calm - even if the bad comments feel personal, it’s just a part of running a small business. 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.

Take a step back, and avoid using any aggression or defensive language. Show that you understand the customer’s frustrations and provide factual and transparent statements. Consider your reply as an honest discussion at eye level - with an appreciative approach.

Tip 2: Timing Is Everything

In responding to negative or critical reviews, it’s important to have the right timing; if you reply too quickly, you run the risk of incorporating too much emotion or passion from “the heat of the moment,” whereas if you wait too long, the damage alluded to above with the water leak idea can set in.

A day or two is usually enough time to survey the situation with a “cool head” and an objective, balanced perspective; waiting longer than a week is not advised. A reasonable approach is to write a draft response without submitting it, then come back to it a day later and see if you think it still reads sensibly and appropriately.

Here is a well-known example of a restaurant responding to negative reviews too quickly and being much too emotional (as well as highly unprofessional):

restaurant review image 

After being called out for its highly charged and subjective response, the business amusingly tried to claim its Facebook, Yelp and website accounts had been “hacked,” and that someone else had posted the unprofessional messages, which in itself was equally irrational and inappropriate (as well as being unbelievable). This update only worsened the situation and further destroyed the business’s credibility, as one can see from the comments below:

restaurant review angry

By contrast, here’s an example of a business that waited too long to address a reviewer’s issue (and responded late to their review), likely not alleviating the ill-will that had built up between the customer and the company:

Tip 3: Show That You Understand Your Customer’s Viewpoint

Having the ability to empathize — to identify with and understand the feelings of the offended person — is key to winning their trust, or at least a feeling that you may be able to remedy the situation. In any responses, you should address the customer personally, and thank them for their feedback (even if it’s negative).

Try not to use generic “feel-good” phrases such as “we’re sorry for the inconvenience” or “we’ll try not to let it happen again”; instead, mention their specific issues and try to explain why they may have occurred.

If a customer feels that you don’t, can’t or won’t take the time to understand them or empathize with them, their feelings of hurt and victimization will continue, and they may come to see you and your firm as an enemy. By putting yourself “in your customer’s shoes,” you can win them over to your side and get them to feel that even if their pain points are your company’s fault, by responding with empathy, you’re showing that you want to turn the situation around and make things right.

Here’s one example of a business showing it understands and empathizes with a customer’s issue by taking the time to describe what happened, apologizing and explaining that this was a rare event:

image of a review from company

Here’s another example of a business communicating empathy to a customer who expressed dissatisfaction. The business owner then thanks the reviewer for their feedback and offers to do better the next time:

dissapointed review text

Tip 4: Maintain a Professional Manner

In all interactions with a customer, it is essential to maintain a calm, composed and professional manner. While an angry customer may take pleasure in “setting off” or riling up a business’s representative, lashing out or attacking a customer in writing is extremely unprofessional and will make you and your company look bad, both in the near term and in the future. In many instances, this type of behavior can be used by the customer, advocacy groups or the media to shame the company that practices it.

Here’s one example where a company owner was highly unprofessional in their replies (even if the reviewer in this example was not a customer but was merely a prospect). This type of response doesn’t resolve the complaint and only proves the reviewer’s point, producing a further negative impression that could remain on the web for as long as the business is operational (or longer):

not a good reply to customer complaint review

Here’s an example of a company showing just the opposite behavior — dignified professionalism. Note the manager who responds does so in a timely manner, addresses the reviewer personally, thanks them, comments on the specific issue, details the actions that are being taken to address it and invites the reviewer to contact him personally to have a further conversation. Long after the review has been posted, this case of “taking the high road” will be looked at favorably by observers:

good reply to a very bad angry review from customer

Tip 5: Highlight the Positives

Many bad reviews aren’t all negative; some contain positive details. If and when they do, be sure to reiterate these and highlight them; this helps to balance out the negatives in a bad review.

In this example, the review has both positive and negative points. The response highlights the positive points and apologizes for the negative ones (and notes at least one of them has been resolved). This is an exemplary response:

great reply of a business to a review from customer

If there are no positive points, it may be possible to add them yourself in your response. This can be done by saying things like,

“Since we are known for our ______, it’s surprising that you had a bad experience with ______” or “We pride ourselves on our _______, so it’s disappointing you had a negative experience with ______.”

In this example, the reviewer pointed out a single negative issue, but the responder makes light of it and highlights that the guest had a positive experience (adding that it was a pleasure to host them):

lovely thank you to a review

Tip 6: Apologize When It’s Appropriate

Part of approaching an incident from an honest, mature, respectful angle is apologizing when something is your company’s fault.

In this example, the responder apologizes, explains what happened, and reiterates the apology:

received as sell feedback review

But be careful not to take responsibility for things that are not your (or your company’s) problem; this can put you or your firm at a disadvantage and can be used against you by the customer in question (or by others). At the same time, try not to point fingers at others (i.e., “passing the buck”) or attack the reviewer (this will only make the situation worse).

In this example, note how the business does not apologize for why the customer could not make the third-party delivery website Postmates work properly but instead explains the reason for the problem and makes a general apology that the customer could not get what they want. In this case, taking the time to explain the “why” behind the issue may alleviate the customer’s dissatisfaction. As a bonus, the establishment offers to assist the customer personally with their next order:

what to do with upset review from customer restaurant

Tip 7: Offer to Talk Things Over

Part of resolving complaints by customers is defusing a situation by talking things over — including in person or over the phone. By having a calm, rational, one-on-one discussion, you’ll have the opportunity to soothe a customer’s anger and increase perceptions of your empathy:

review from hotel bad negative customer

Here, it’s clear that the customer had a bad experience, but the responder not only nicely asks them to make the staff aware of it next time, but she provides an email and invites further discussion:

review of tourist trap location with bad lobster raviolli

Tip 8: Take Action

Of course, only talking about incidents without actually resolving problems or addressing real issues that have been raised is simply superficial. Very often, what will actually make a customer feel better is if they see that genuine action is being taken to address what they brought up in their negative review:

reply to bad review

Not only will this make a customer feel better, but you’ll likely be able to rest easier knowing that, in the future, fewer customers will have the same complaint:

sincere apology from a business regarding bad review

Customers don't want perfectly curated press releases or public statements when they leave a bad review. Don’t draft out War and Peace when a simple and tangible response can do the trick. Take responsibility, and offer a concrete solution to the problem. Not only are you validating the reviewer's experience and resolving the issue, but you’re also maintaining a positive brand image - even if the original experience didn’t quite go to plan.

If the fault is not yours, you don't have to apologize for it overly. Clarify the matter or assure the customer that you will make every effort to avoid the same mistake repeating. Be sympathetic to the customer's situation and acknowledge regret, but at the same time protect your reputation and the quality of your products or services.

Take the following as an example: The charging cable was accidentally not included when ordering a mobile device. 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.

Your reply should ideally be proactive -  "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." This will drive the quickest resolution that reflects your customers needs.

Tip 9: Consider to Engage Privately

Remember that, in responding publicly to a bad review, you’re not just communicating to one person; you’re communicating to everyone who could look at that web page (or find it with a search engine). When there’s a clear benefit to doing so, you should keep your communication public — especially when you’re trying to create a positive impression for large numbers of people.

But in many cases, it can better serve your interests to make messaging private, for several reasons. One of those reasons is that you only control one side of the conversation; it’s impossible to predict what the other person is going to say, so if you think there’s even a small risk of them saying something negative or something that would produce a bad impression, it’s best to try and make the communication private sooner, rather than later. You can do this by giving the customer an email or a phone number and telling them you’ll respond to it right away if they contact you there. (If they do, make sure that you verify that it’s them when they do, so you don’t end up negotiating with someone trying to pull a scam.) Note that phone conversations are always better than emails because there’s no written record of what gets said. Even a private email conversation can be screen-captured, copied and pasted and/or publicly posted later.

Another reason to keep things private is that what constitutes acceptable arguments or reasonable actions changes over time. A decade ago, it might have been acceptable in some cases to have made certain statements or to have kept people waiting for a product or service due to a lack of data, web connections or the availability of an app, for instance. But 10 years later, these may not be looked at as acceptable excuses, even if the reviews and responses are marked with clear dates. While a decade may seem like an eternity in the Internet age, there are a healthy number of websites that still host 10-year-old reviews (and older!).

Use your initial response to try and move the conversation away from a public forum. Encourage your customers to contact you with further information and their order numbers directly via email or direct messaging. This doesn’t just protect your business reputation - it also protects their personal data too

Even if you offer your customer service via Twitter and Facebook, it is advisable not to publicly exchange all short messages. Switching to a more suitable medium shows the critic as well as the observers that 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.

Tip 10: Keep Responses Brief

In general, it’s not a bad idea to make any back-and-forth conversations private as soon as possible; an initial response to a negative review can make you look good, but each further reply or answer to a query brings diminishing returns (in fact, it’s generally good advice to keep the number of replies to a minimum). By offering a personal email or phone number immediately, you make yourself look better in that you have no qualms about providing personalized service right away.

In this example, the merchant simply provides a phone number for a direct conversation. While not providing an apology or addressing the consumer’s complaint, the offer to immediately engage privately by phone (and not email) dangles a carrot to the consumer and is good for public relations:

For this negative review, the responding establishment doesn’t address the reviewer personally, but it does invite him to reach out privately to discuss the issues he had. However, it doesn’t indicate which channels to use or leave contact information, both of which would be helpful:

husband complains for wife about hyatt hotel experience

 

Tip 11: Offer Compensation

Compensation can include discount codes for future visits or purchases, vouchers, or even free accessories and swag.

If the bad experience was something that was beyond your control, you can explain that! You can still apologize that the customer’s experience wasn’t what they expected but explain factually that this was outside of your control and that you’ll make every effort in the future to avoid this situation from arising again. Be sympathetic, and acknowledge that it isn’t the customer experience you wanted to provide, but be firm that this was a matter beyond your control.

Compensation can additionally help to calm upset tempers. Always anticipate that other customers will know what should be offered as compensation for a mistake or similar. If you invest here, you massively increase your reputation and customers' trust in the brand and the companyCompensation 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.

 Tip 12: Review your internal processes & commit to following through

Sometimes a bad comment will require further investigation. Whether within your own company or investigating the exterior source of the issue, customers expect businesses to take ownership to find a resolution when they’ve not received the standard of quality they expect. Proactively taking ownership of the situation means you can get to the bottom of the cause and offer a satisfying outcome to the customer.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer than feeling like their grievances aren’t being heard. If someone has taken the time to leave some honest, albeit bad, feedback about your business and you promise to look into it and then don’t - you’re just proving to the customer that they were right!

If you promise to look into something, send a replacement, or review a complaint - follow through. You don’t have to give in-depth updates to the reviewer, but always provide a timeframe for your expected actions and follow up with them directly to close the case.

According to prnewswire.com, 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue. Addressing customer frustrations in bad reviews can highlight places where your business can improve and give you pointers on how to run a better business for your customers.

If a customer offers genuine feedback on something that they think could use improvement, listen and try to implement some changes. It might just save you further complaints further down the line!

 Tip 13: Only respond when you're cool, calm & collected

It’s hard when you’re running an independent business not to take bad reviews personally. While it’s important to respond to bad reviews promptly, that doesn’t mean you should respond in the heat of the moment! Step away from your desk, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if your angry feelings are a professional or personal response.

Keep a calm, professional tone, and always try to de-escalate any aggression or anger that is directed at you by the reviewer.

Tip 14: Learn more about online reputation management

There are so many resources out there for small and independent businesses to help them to navigate the world of online review management. Check out what your competitors are up to, keep up to date with blogs and newsletters from trusted sites, and listen to podcasts. Here are just a few that we’d recommend:
Bad Reputation by Todd Collins
The Reputation Management Podcast by Reputation Ace
Reputation Matters by Chelsea Craig

SUMMARY

Your business’s online reputation will be measured by how you respond to criticism. By mastering your responses to bad comments or negative reviews, you’re showing that your business…

  • Cares about its customers and their experiences
  • Is always striving to provide an outstanding experience for new and old customers
  • Understand the value that their customers bring to their business 
  • Is willing to accept when they’ve made a mistake and want to make it right.

Want to learn more ways to respond to customer reviews? We regularly update our blogs with new tips, tricks, and tools for small and independent businesses. Have you set up your free profile yet? To find out more about how a ProvenExpert profile can benefit your business, visit provenexpert.com blog.

Want to learn more tips? Get the Free Guide here and fix your bad reviews today.

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