How to Handle Negative Reviews

June 28, 2016

Social media can be a powerful tool for promoting your business. But as wonderful as it can be to see positive comments coming in, the opposite can be crushing. You know reviews matter to your business. As an entrepreneur, you didn’t get to where you are by sitting around and waiting for things to happen. You want to take action. But what should you do? What can you do that won’t make things worse?

Here are six steps to handling a bad review of your business:


Talk to your staff—calmly—and find out if they remember this customer and the problems they’re describing. Keep in mind that there are two sides to every story, and the customer is entitled to their side. This customer may be a huge jerk. But while that might make the review unfair, it doesn’t necessarily make it inaccurate. Focus on the facts.

If the customer’s statements are factually incorrect or defamatory, you may be able to get the review taken down if it’s posted on Yelp or somewhere else with a policy that allows business owners to dispute negative reviews. But don’t hold out too much hope on this—social media sites are built to encourage people to speak their minds.


Let’s assume the review is nasty, but it’s not technically inaccurate. The worst thing you can do is get angry or defensive. Going online and ranting about how rude and entitled the customer is may be satisfying in the moment, but you’re probably just going to end up making yourself look like the jerk.


What would you do if a customer came to you with a complaint in person? You’d probably apologize and ask them what you could do to make things right. You’d comp their purchases, offer them a discount or a coupon for a future visit, give them dessert on the house, or whatever it took to get back in their good graces.

That’s exactly what you should do here. Comment publicly on the review with a polite apology and then follow up in private to apologize again and offer restitution. Research shows that about a third of customers who get a reply to a negative review will delete their original negative review, and about a third will post a new, positive review. You still have a chance to turn this person into a happy, loyal customer. Take it.


Evaluate the situation calmly, after you’ve had a chance to cool off. Was this person just having a bad day, or is there a real problem here that needs to be addressed? Maybe you’ve got someone on staff who’s rude or unhelpful. Maybe you’re understaffed on Saturday nights. Maybe your back-end systems are overly complicated and slowing your staff down. Now is the time to fix any problems, so you don’t get another bad review tomorrow.


Speaking of preventing future problems, if you don’t already have a plan for how your staff should handle difficult customer interactions, now’s the time to make one. Is your staff empowered to offer creative solutions to customer problems? Should they call a manager as soon as a customer looks unhappy? Make sure the entire staff knows what to do if things start to head south.

Think about setting up a way for customers to complain in a private forum before they escalate to a public review. Set out feedback cards, or let customers know how they can contact you directly. The Clover Rewards app includes a private feedback feature. If customers know they have a way to let you know how they feel, they may not feel the need to air their grievances publicly.


The best way to combat a negative review is to drown it out with a chorus of positive comments. Make sure your satisfied customers know that you’d love for them to review you online. You can post signs or notices encouraging customers to review you on Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and wherever else you’re building a presence. If you’re doing a good job with your customer service, most of these reviews will be positive.

With your most loyal customers, you can be even more direct. Let them know that positive reviews help your business and ask them if they’ll take a few minutes to support you by posting a review online. Under no circumstances should you post reviews yourself, or get friends to post reviews under fake names—it’ll be obvious, and you’ll look like an idiot—but a genuine review from a real customer who wants to see you succeed will go a long way towards changing the conversation online.

[image: Frustrated by Kay Kim on Flickr]

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