When To Respond To Negative Reviews (and not)

We talk a lot about taking the time to manage customer reviews and it makes sense to do so. Online reviews grow legs: The search engines are aggregating them, Google’s putting them on Google Place pages and many users are even starting searches on review sites. You want to make sure that you’re encouraging your customers to leave reviews, that you know what’s being said about you and that you’re active about managing them. That said, not all reviews are created equal. And not every bad review warrants a response or even an acknowledgment. How do you know the difference?

Here’s a quick list of the types of negative reviews worth responding to. And then some that aren’t.

When To Respond

You really did screw up: Ideally, you’d like to be able to identify and make amends with angry customers before they leave your store/office, however, that doesn’t always happen. If someone leaves a review with a legitimate gripe or complaint, you should absolutely take steps to respond and try to correct the situation. Apologize for the misstep, explain why it won’t happen again and then offer an incentive to get them to give you a second go. You’ll not only mend the fence with that particular customer, but you’ll get the added benefit of allowing future customers to see how you address situations and how confident you are in your product.

Someone is misstating the facts: If someone is on your business page leaving a nasty review about a doctor that doesn’t work in your clinic or about an offer they didn’t receive because it never actually existed, you should politely step in to correct them. They probably don’t realize they’ve made an error and correcting the bad information will help to add context to new visitors who stumble across the page.

The review/reviewer is getting louder: There are Bad Reviews and then there are Bad Reviews With Legs because they were left by people with a large social network. If a person with considerable “social wealth” says something bad about you and it begins to gain traction, you need to step in and do what you can to remedy the situation fast. Even if you think the complaint is petty or you wouldn’t respond to it if it was left by an “average person”. Minor issues become reputation disasters when they’re poked by the right person. Learn to identify them.

When you can salvage it: Whether you goofed or the customer made an error, if you think that you can salvage the bad experience or convince the customer to give you another shot, you should respond and make a good attempt to right the perceived wrong. It probably won’t take too much of your time and effort to reach out to that person and the benefit it could have will be considerable. You’ll not only win back that customer but you show everyone else who stumbles across that review that you care about your customers. Remember, reviews are no longer tied to the sites they came from.

When Not To Respond

When the person is mad at the world, not you: Some users are known for leaving irate reviews about every establishment they visit. If you go through someone’s profile and see that bad reviews are ALL that’s there, don’t waste your time trying to change that person’s opinion. You may step in if they’re providing completely nonfactual information about what you offer/charge/etc, however, this isn’t a fight you’re going to win. Invest your time in something you can. Or go encourage someone to leave a positive review to help balance this one out.

When it will do more harm than good: My mom always told me not to engage crazy people and there’s no place this statement is truer than on the Internet. If you have a feeling that calmly addressing an angry review may give them more fire to throw at you or a reason to keep the nastiness going, it may be best just to let the review sit. Hopefully there are lots of other positive reviews that will balance it out.

When your hands are still shaking: If you just read something about your business that has your hands absolutely shaking in anger and you just HAVE to correct that angry know-it-all don’t. Either let another member of your staff handle it or let the review sit altogether. It’s far better to have one negative review on your profile than to have a permanent reminder of that one time you went off the handle. Have you read about the SMB owner who was booked for battery and had to undergo a mental health evaluation? Yeah. It happened.

The best way to combat negative reviews is to be proactive about encouraging users to leave reviews in the first place. The only way a bad review can really hurt you is if it’s the only review on the page. The same way you work to get testimonials for your business, you should be working to encourage users to leave reviews. Sometimes the best offense is a great defense.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

32 Reactions
  1. Great guidelines — especially for small business PR!

    The Architect
    Fame Foundry

  2. Many times an irate customer will be satiated by knowing that someone heard their complaint and steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again. If you are also able to rectify the error, you might even be able to make some lemonade from that lemon.

  3. You make some great points about when NOT to respond but frankly I have yet to see a case study that said – “we totally ignored this guy saying bad things about us socially and it worked out swimmingly for us!”

    Social media is just that – social – so by definition you want to acknowledge the person (like Robert says) so they know that they have been heard

  4. I like the last point of when to respond: When you can salvage it.
    Sometimes there is legitimacy to negative reviews and owning up to them and addressing them is a timely fashion is often the best way to go.

  5. NEVER NEVER respond immediately when you read it. Always sleep a night on it to figure out what the best move is you can make.

    There are some realy good tips in this article!

    Regards Rob

  6. This is excellent advice on how to respond to negative reviews. I like your “how not to respond” section, especially the not responding to people mad at the world, it will only fuel their fire.

  7. I am going to pass this article around to people in my office. These are some simple guidelines to follow.

  8. Some interesting points here, but how do you handle a response to a negative review, with you know, with all your heart, that you provided a good service on the day. After being presented with a bottle of wine and thanked for a fantastic day, three months later one of the group posted a negative review. How does one handle that?

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You