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How to handle negative reviews

Online reviews are important for any business with a search presence, so it's important to get your response right for any negative comments.

negative reviews

  •     Research has shown that many consumers trust online reviews making them a key consideration in the purchase process.
  •     They also have reputation management repercussions
  •     Are thought to influence Google search engine visibility and
  •     Can be an effective means of generating traffic
  •     A complaint well handled can also prove to be a something of a publicity coup

A good review is a validation of a job well done. Consequently, a negative review can feel, as Yelp puts it,

“…like a punch in the gut…it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

While it might feel like a body blow, there are things that you can do to lessen the impact of a poor online review or even come out on top after a poor review. It all comes down to how the review, and the customer doing the complaining, is dealt with. Remember, online review sites are popular with consumers and rank well on Google so it’s worth formulating a plan of action for handling negative reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp.

1. Create a documented strategy

While it’s true that how you approach each negative review will be determined by the review itself, it’s hard to overstate the importance of having a set procedure in place to act as a framework for responses.

Lay out what is and isn’t acceptable when dealing with a negative review. Note down an acceptable timeframe for a response and when you might need to request further information from the reviewer. You’ll also want to include practical steps such as when a poor review should be escalated, who it should be escalated to and what your internal investigation processes are.

For example, if you run a hotel and a guest has left a negative comment on TripAdvisor complaining about a rude member of staff, you may require the person responding to the review to also inform the front desk manager within 24 hours. A meeting may also need to be called with the offending staff member within two days.

2. Respond promptly to negative reviews

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We all like to feel that our opinions and custom are valued. That makes it crucial to respond quickly to negative reviews. It might be an unpleasant task but a speedy response shows the unhappy customer that their issues are being taken seriously. In the example above, the guest complaining about bed bugs during their stay had to wait almost two weeks for a response. The Director of Operations posted a good response but, the 12 day timeframe does not paint the hotel in the best light.

It may be that you can’t solve the problem that led to the review being posted. You can however quickly acknowledge any shortcomings and apologise for the inconvenience or disappointment.

If the negative review is not quite so straightforward or there is some uncertainty as to how valid the feedback is, Darius Fisher, President and CEO of reputation management experts, Status Labs cautions against a knee jerk response. He says,

When it comes to negative reviews business owners feel are inaccurate, it’s best to spend some time on a thoughtful response rather than posting something immediately that will most likely turn out emotionally charged or combative.”

3. Send a private message if possible

If the negative review is serious enough to warrant a personal outreach, send a private message to the reviewer. There are a few things that you’ll want to get across:

  •     That you appreciate their custom
  •     That you are thankful for their feedback
  •     That you are genuinely sorry they have been left disappointed by their experience
  •     The steps you are taking or have taken to address their complaint

You might want to request further information from the client to better help you deal with their review. For example, if they didn’t mention which of your locations caused their complaint. Gathering this information not only shows you’re taking the poor experience seriously, it also helps you to determine whether there is a wider issue to be addressed.

Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may also want to invite the customer back to see you at your best. A diner complaining about having to wait too long to be served in your restaurant may respond well to an offer of a free cocktail next time for example.

4. Post a public acknowledgement

If you have reached out privately, you’ll also want to follow up a private message with a public response to the complaint. Even if no private message was sent a public response should still be made:

  • Thank the customer for their business
  • Acknowledge their feedback and apologize for the disappointing experience
  • Outline what action has been taken as a result of the review

If you have already sent a private message, this public acknowledgement shows potential customers reading your reviews that you are pro-actively addressing the issue.

5. Take it offline

If further follow up or discussion is needed following your private and or public response, it’s advisable to take the conversation offline or into a more private forum such as email.