how to handle a bad online review

How to Handle a Bad Online Review (the Right Way)

Something you have long dreaded has happened: You received a bad review online. Whether it’s your Yelp page, Facebook Business page or Google business reviews page, the damage is done and it’s now public record. Worst of all, the review only tells one side of the story, leaving you, the (hopefully) innocent business owner, to clean up the mess. Wondering how to handle a bad online review? Read on.

Don’t despair; these things happen. As long as you’re aware that a review took place and you’re proactive in responding, you can still maintain your reputation.

When you get that notification that a not-so-flattering review came through, take a deep breath and remember that bad online reviews happen. It’s not the end of the world and there are plenty of things you can do about it. While you can always let a negative review be (and that’s sometimes the best course of action), you can also reach out to the reviewer, establish a genuine relationship and work to change their perspective.

Remember, the goal of reaching out to a negative reviewer is to show other readers that you’re a concerned business owner who listens to customers. If you get them to remove or change it, that’s icing on the cake. Now let’s get started on how to handle a bad online review the right way.

Step 1: Determine if the Review Needs a Response

Sometimes reviews aren’t all that bad, and other times they’re outright vicious. Reviews that are factual but negative and include minor complaints can be ignored. If you feel you must post something, keep it short, thank them for their feedback and leave it at that.

But sometimes you’ll get that person who really seems to go out of their way to make your day miserable. You know the type. They typically write in all caps, haven’t bothered to put a real name (or face picture), have tons of typos and then copy and paste the same slanderous statement on every review site out there. Gee, thanks.

For all-out rants like these, you’ll have to use your best judgment.

  • If what they’re saying is completely false, there’s not much that can be done to fix the situation.
  • If what they’ve posted is mostly true and there is some wrongdoing on your part, this might be one to reply to; careful not to get into a he said/she said scenario.
  • If what was posted is true and it’s something that’s a genuine concern, respond!

Just remember that reviews are more than likely going to stay online. You can try disputing the review, but this rarely changes anything. You need to have significant evidence that the reviewer is 100 percent in the wrong for a takedown to occur.

Step 2: Gather the Facts and Collect Your Thoughts

You’ve read the review, determined that it needs a response, and now it’s time to reply. Wait! Don’t reply in the moment; take a second to cool down, collect information about their complaint and get your thoughts together. Being level-headed is necessary when you’re figuring out how to handle a bad online review.

Take some time to recall the situation or get input from others involved. Jot down notes about conversations you’ve had with them, their frustrations, dates and times you worked with them, and make sure that you’ve got the story straight on your end.

When crafting your reply, make sure to thank them for bringing something to your attention, address legitimate concerns brought up in the review, and work to constructively resolve the issue. Stay incredibly neutral, and don’t forget to give them a name to put behind the reply, as well as a phone number or email address so they can get in touch if necessary.

Ultimately this step will accomplish two things. First of all, if everything goes as intended, you can reach a resolution and get the review changed, updated or removed. Second, and most importantly, showing that you’ve replied to a review lets other readers know that you do care about delivering customer satisfaction, even when things aren’t so positive.

Step 3: Reply Privately

With all the facts gathered and a cool, calm and collected mindset, you are now ready to enact your plan on how to handle a bad online review.

One way of doing this is to reply privately.

Sometimes a minor issue can be resolved with a quick phone call or email. If you have the ability to do this and you feel that reaching out to this person directly will be the best approach, go for it. It all depends on how comfortable you are with this approach, how well you can take a tongue lashing without getting angry, and how good of a rapport you have with the reviewer.

Sites like Yelp provide a way for business owners to reply directly to reviewers. Use this method for minor issues and thank that person for the input. Be genuine.

When replying privately, use your best judgment, but if a resolution has been reached, feel free to mention to the person that you’d appreciate it if they would update their review to reflect things accordingly.

Don’t ask them to take it down; that might seem too pushy and come off as sweeping things under the rug. Having them update their review lets other readers know how dedicated you are to your customers by letting them see a conflict resolution play out in full.

Step 4: Reply Publicly

Sometimes you might not have the luxury of being able to reply offline and when that happens, your reply will be public. This is both good and bad.

Public replies can be bad because they can easily trigger the reviewer to continue to reply in an even worse manner. Some people don’t want a resolution and you can’t fix that. That’s why it’s important to decide if the reviewer is just letting off steam or if there’s a valid complaint that needs addressing.

On the other hand, public replies provide an opportunity to show others reading the reviews that you care enough to try and remedy the situation.

With public replies, winning an argument with a frustrated customer is difficult, and it’s not the goal you should be working toward. Instead, aim for a resolution that satisfies the complaint, remedies your online reputation and doesn’t lash out at the reviewer. In your reply, remember to:

  • Be nice and keep things professional.
  • Don’t get personal.
  • Address legitimate concerns.
  • Keep it short and sweet.

As before, it’s important for you to provide some way for the reviewer to get in touch with you to discuss an issue further or to help provide a resolution. A name and either a phone number or email address work well.

Best Practices

While each review site is different in subtle ways, there are some best practices, regardless of where, on how to handle a bad online review:

  • Even with the worst of the worst, thank the reviewer for reaching out to you.
  • Don’t lash out. Even if you’re right, it won’t end in your favor.
  • Use the same logic you would apply to a face-to-face interaction.
  • Work to find a resolve offline. A problem is more likely to escalate online and become more permanent.
  • Don’t respond while you’re angry. It won’t end well.
  • Present your case. If there are elements of a negative review that the reviewer isn’t mentioning that help your case, consider including them in your reply. Maybe you attempted to remedy the situation already and this person is here to rant. Defend yourself, but only if you can do so without being aggressive.
  • Address legitimate concerns only. You can waste a lot of time on people who will never be happy. Issues that are within your control and are negative reflections on your business are worth addressing.

Parting Thoughts

At the end of the day, people can be plain mean, even if you have the best intentions and the right circumstances to proactively address an issue. Not every angry person will have a change of heart and your best efforts still might make the situation worse.

And don’t ask people to take a review down. This could make things worse for you, especially if you haven’t resolved anything for that person.

Before responding, make sure that you get all the facts straight. Know the situation inside and out, and be prepared to offer up ideas to remedy a problem. Sometimes people need to vent and let off steam, and you’re better off just taking it. Other times, there’s a problem with your business worth taking to heart and you should thank the customer for bringing it to your attention.

Lastly, after you’ve addressed a problem and the individual is once again satisfied, you can ask for an update to the review to reflect your efforts. They might update it or they might take it down. Leave it up to them. If they do, wonderful! If not, at least your business is on record as having replied to the reviewer.

Travis Balinas

Travis is the former Product Marketing Manager at OutboundEngine. He now works in Product Marketing at BigCommerce.