How to respond to a negative review about your business

In business, reputation is valuable currency. A positive reputation generates buzz about your company and brings word-of-mouth recommendations. It also gives you the strongest basis possible from which to tell the world about your business because when customers like what you do and they aren’t afraid to say it, plenty of people are listening.

But just as many people are listening when customers don’t like what you do. And from TripAdvisor to TrustPilot, from Facebook Page reviews to Twitter, there are plenty of places for people to shout about the company, product or specific experience they don’t like.

We’ve all seen what happens when it gets out of hand. You know, those viral threads where someone spilled about what they didn’t like, then the business in question responds and before you know it, there’s full-scale warfare happening.

As innocent bystanders, it might make us laugh. But being in the middle of a scenario like that is no laughing matter.

I hope you never ever get a bad review, and there’s a good chance you won’t if you keep on doing a great job and delighting your customers. But you can’t please all the people all the time, so here’s my 5-step guide to dealing with a bad customer review (which I hope you’ll never have to use):

1.     Take stock

Appraise situation and understand what the person is really trying to say. What, exactly, are they complaining about? Is it an issue you’re already aware of? Do you need to investigate further? If you provide a service, do you recall things happening differently to the way the reviewer describes it? Get clear about what the complaint actually is before you do anything else and figure out the appropriate level of response / putting things right that’s needed. A negative review that really boils down to a minor complaint might only need a “Sorry to hear that. We’ve noted what you’ve told us and we’re working on it right now to make it right.”

2.     Don’t take it personally

The brilliant writer, coach and teacher Jen Pastiloff talks a lot about the ‘one in one hundred’. You’re in a room of 100 people and one of them doesn’t like you. Who do you focus on? Pastiloff’s point is that we obsess about the one who doesn’t like us, often to the point of forgetting just how many people do like you. So while it’s gut-wrenching to know that someone is unhappy with their experience of your business, don’t get this out of proportion. It’s one person. Take a deep breath. And another. It’s one person.

3.     Have a holding pattern ready

If the review needs a more detailed response, it helps to have a stock reply ready as a holding pattern on the public review platform. This says something along the lines of ‘Hi X, thanks for sharing your concerns. We take customer satisfaction very seriously and we want to get it right. Clearly this time we didn’t and we’re sorry. We’d really appreciate the opportunity to find out more about what went wrong from your perspective and to do what we can to put it right.’ This places you publically in a positive, problem-solving role and moves the conversation into a more pro-active phase.

4.     Get the conversation offline if you can

Once you’ve established a holding pattern, invite a conversation in a non-public forum. The best way is often to ask if you can call the person and have a quick chat. Sound as unappealing as a rail replacement bus service on a rainy Sunday? I know it does. But this shows you’re up for a grown-up conversation and in some cases, this might be the end of the story. Anyone who just wanted to vent, rather than follow up on a legitimate concern, will probably back off at this stage.

5.     Be prepared to listen, be magnanimous and learn

But if they are open to a chat, be prepared to listen and be open to the possibility that this could actually be a golden opportunity to do things better. Offer a solution if there is one and/or a goodwill gesture if you feel that’s right. So many negative reviewers will become your greatest fan if they feel they have been heard and treated fairly—and they’ll tell people about it.

A negative review might suck, but if you can show that you want to put things right, that you’re actively taking note of someone’s concerns and using it as an opportunity to improve what you do or how you do it, that makes you nothing less than a winner.


Kate Foster