How To Respond To Negative Reviews The Right Way

Learning how to respond to negative reviews is crucial for one simple reason:

If you build a brand online, negative reviews will come.

In a famous quote from Elbert Hubbard, the author suggests, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” This anti-advice is heartening to anyone dealing with a lot of hate in the comments section.

Insults are hurled freely and publicly without the threat of any real consequences. This just comes with the territory of building a strong presence online.

However, that doesn’t make criticism (directed at you or your business) any less painful or embarrassing. And most importantly, negative reviews can actually hurt your bottom line when it comes to your business.

As of 2012, nearly half (42%) of the online U.S. adults that looked somebody up in a search engine, did so before deciding to do business with them [Source: 2012 BrandYourself/Harris Interactive study ]. This merely highlights the importance of maintaining a positive brand identity online for you or your company.

The interesting thing is that by practicing how to respond to negative reviews, you can enhance your actual business and win over new customers. This is online reputation management at it’s finest.

Below we outline different types of unfavorable comments we see online all the time, followed by our suggestions for responding.

Constructive Criticism

Customer Support, ORM, BrandYourself, Negative Review

Dealing with an angry tweet:

It’s always tough to hear customers say that your product or service didn’t work, and it’s even worse when this happens publicly. But, when a customer complains about your products or service, take this as an opportunity for a win-back. If you want to learn how to respond to negative reviews, consider the following steps:

  1. Respond quickly. Customers want to know that you are available and responsive when it comes to their feedback.
  2. Apologize publicly. A failure on the part of your product or service is not what your company is about and you are truly sorry that this happened.
  3. Ask the customer to contact you personally, or direct them to the correct contact to right this wrong immediately.
  4. Follow up! Replace the product, offer them a refund. If you are not directly handling this, make sure that the situation is dealt with immediately.

Even if this customer or client was initially disappointed, impress them with your response time and follow through. This is a great tip to remember when practicing how to respond to negative reviews.

We can help you fix negative reviews
Talk with a Reputation Advisor to learn how we can help you clean up and improve your bad reviews.

Responding to negative comments about your personnel:

An example of a negative Facebook comment

When someone complains about the personnel in your business, the response should be fairly similar to the steps above – with a few tweaks:

In this case, “following up” means finding out if the complaints are actually rooted in truth. Most business owners find this the trickiest step when learning how to respond to negative reviews online. You should investigate whether or not your employee was acting in a way that was appropriate, if there were extenuating circumstances, or if the person complaining has something else going on.

In the example above, it sounds like there were not enough people working on the floor and a single employee was responsible for covering the phones, the floor and the cash register. Maybe that means you need more employees, or should plan to talk with the manager about employee schedules and break times.

Have other customers complained about this same employee before? Or is this customer just extremely impatient? The point is, you can use this as a chance to examine and review your employee training (or business in general) if it seems like a legitimate complaint.

How To Respond To Negative Reviews When The Criticism Is Not So Constructive

While it’s worthwhile to investigate complaints or criticisms that can help you improve your business, there are a whole lot of reviews that are just plain mean.

From personal insults to made-up or unfounded attacks, you’ll encounter all kinds of negativity online. So what is the best course of action?

While every case is different, there are a few important things to keep in mind before responding to these kinds of comments. When we advise clients on how to respond to negative reviews, we give them this information first.

  1. Try to take your emotion out of it. Before you tell somebody off online, take a breath and think about what you want to get out of the exchange. Voicing your outrage at the garbage someone tweeted at you probably isn’t going to make you look great. Even if your anger is completely warranted, it may encourage others to criticize you too just to see what else you’ll say. Don’t sink to that level, especially since your tweet can (and probably will) be taken out of context later on.
  2. Think of your brand. You can’t control anyone else’s actions, but you can control your own. If preserving your brand is the objective, then respond in a way that accomplishes this and leaves a good impression (if you choose to respond at all).
  3. Mine it for truth. After taking a deep breath and/or screaming into a pillow, mine this criticism for truth. Maybe this customer experience will provide insight into something that needs fixing. But, if someone is making fun of your haircut or wonky eyebrow, the only truth is that this person is trolling you.

In terms of actually responding to negative reviews like this, you have a few options. Usually, the best option is to simply ignore these comments. If they are truly inappropriate, delete the comment, block the user, or flag the comment and report it on the platform. These comments aren’t adding any value for other users, nor do they have any connection to your brand or business.

If you do choose to respond to the attacker, really take some time to consider what you want to say and how you want to say it. Do you want this to be a public battle? Or is this a chance to address something relevant that they said? Are there any facts that you have at your disposal to dispute this person’s claims?

Also, take a step back and look at your decided course of action from a skeptical viewpoint. Ask yourself, “Is this really how to respond to negative reviews?” This is a good way to catch yourself from doing something ill-advised.

Lashing out at your attacker is not likely to lead you anywhere good, but finding a way to take those kinds of comments and make something positive out of them can. The right move can vary.

If you do choose to address this type of comment, having a sense of humor about it can go a long way. Just make sure your brand voice and sense of humor is going to translate here. A well executed joke can end the attacks, or at least win more customers. But, a bad joke can just encourage more criticism and blow up in your face.

We can help you fix negative reviews
Talk with a Reputation Advisor to learn how we can help you clean up and improve your bad reviews.

Strengthen Your Personal Brand

While learning how to respond to negative reviews in an appropriate way can seem like an exhaustive ongoing process on its own, let’s not forget the importance of building a strong personal brand online as a key defense strategy. By actively creating and controlling your brand with a strong foundation, you increase the likelihood that the information people see about you online is positive.

Let’s use a review platform like TripAdvisor for example. If your company’s page looks like a ghost town, then one bad review will make a mark.

Instead, imagine that the TripAdvisor page for your business has 30 reviews and a ton of useful content, information, and images. If someone leaves a one star review just to be mean, it won’t affect the overall star rating much, and will eventually be buried as more quality reviews come in.

This example applies to all review platforms, and should be a big incentive for you to strengthen your personal brand on the sites that matter most to you.

At BrandYourself, we provide tools and services that help people look better online. Our DIY product (we offer a free and premium version) shows you how to create profiles and engage on social media platforms in a way that is most beneficial to your search results. We also walk you through the process of creating a search engine friendly website.

By creating social media profiles and websites that you control, you have the opportunity to optimize them for search engines and significantly increase the chances that people searching for you will come across these results before seeing less favorable ones.

This process of getting the sites that you control to outrank sites that say untrue or harmful things about you is known as “suppression”. You can use this to help promote review sites you prefer over ones you don’t.

How To Respond To Negative Reviews: The Takeaway

We hope that this guide has given you some helpful guidelines on how to respond to negative reviews about your brand or business.

One of the most beautiful things about the internet is the ability to learn more about the world around us while connecting with all sorts of people. An internet connection lets just about anyone engage with products, businesses, organizations and institutions that used to be inaccessible.

The downside is the lack of accountability when it comes to people lying or intentionally saying awful things just to rile up others.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”

While constructive criticism can help you improve your business, don’t worry about the fools.

Try to respond to negative reviews with kindness, respect and honesty to showcase the best of your brand.