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How to Handle Negative Reviews and Keep the Online Bullies at Bay

Erin Myers
August 18, 2016

If you own a business, online reviews come with the territory. What’s unfortunate is that no matter how well you handle your business, some of those reviews are going to be negative. And if you thought the bullies were bad back in high school, you haven’t seen anything yet!

Online bullies are the worst, especially when they’re picking on your brand. And if you don’t know how to respond, things can get ugly in a hurry. If you’re not sure how to handle online bullies and respond to negative online reviews, the following tips should help.

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1. Make Sure You’re Paying Attention

In school, you couldn’t miss a bully; intimidation was a face-to-face affair. But online bullies often go completely unnoticed by small business owners who aren’t monitoring their online reviews. If you want to nip negative online reviews in the bud, you have to claim your online profiles, monitor the conversation and respond rationally. That means maintaining a constant presence on Yelp, Google and any industry-specific sites where your business can get reviewed.

2. Determine If a Response Is Required

When you see a negative online review, your first impulse is to let the world know why the reviewer is wrong. But that’s not always the best idea. Responding in the heat of the moment can often lead to bigger headaches down the line. Instead, take a moment to breathe and think it over. Does your critic have a legitimate complaint, or are they just another online bully?

If the client’s concerns are genuine, by all means, respond. Take responsibility for your part in the problem, offer a sincere apology and try to start the healing process. By correcting the situation, you not only earn the respect of the reviewer, but you also show future prospects, who will read the review later, that you care about your customers.

But keep in mind, not every negative online review deserves a response. If you have an anonymous user screaming at you in ALL CAPS and making little to no sense in the process, what are the chances a well-thought-out response is going to make a difference?

Try to make the save if possible, but always use your best judgment. Sometimes it’s better to take these conversations offline. After all, the last thing you want to do is get into a virtual shouting match with an online bully. Rest assured; most consumers can tell the difference between a legitimate reviewer and an online bully trolling for attention.

3. Do Your Homework

Depending on your business and the amount of information provided by the reviewer, you may be able to research the exact transaction before responding. If possible, search your records and speak with your colleagues about what occurred before crafting a response to the online review. This will allow you to address specifics, show that you’re a hands-on business owner and hopefully make it easier to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

4. Decide How to Respond

You really have two options — respond directly to the review online, or try to take a more personal offline approach. Both options have their pros and cons.

Public responses put your customer service skills on display. The idea here isn’t to win an argument but, rather, to rectify a bad situation, change the reviewer’s perception and further build your online reputation. Of course, if you’re dealing with an online bully, a public response can further aggravate the situation, prompting more ranting and raving. If it becomes clear they actually want to be helped, it may be best to let them have the last word and walk away.

Private responses (via direct message on the review site, email or phone call) don’t get the attention of public responses, but they’re more personal and give you a chance to connect with the customer in a way public responses don’t. Of course, with phone calls, you have to be prepared. The angriest reviewer may turn out to be a real sweetheart on the phone or you may get to hear that ALL CAPS rant screamed directly into your ear.

And if you do happen to reach a resolution offline, don’t forget to ask them to update their review to reflect the new status of the situation. That way, future readers will see that the issue was taken care of and the customer is now satisfied.

5. Respond ASAP

Be thoughtful and do your research, but remember: Negative online reviews should be handled quickly. Whether you’re dealing with an online bully or just a disappointed customer who has let his anger get the best of him, you don’t want to leave them to stew. It’s best to confront the issue early, otherwise the ranting and raving may continue or even go viral, which can wreak havoc on your reputation online.

Here are seven best practices for responding to negative online reviews you’ll want to keep in mind:

  1. Never lash out. Never get personal. Always keep it polite and professional, just as you would face to face.
  2. Only address legitimate concerns. Don’t let an online bully draw you into a game of one-upmanship.
  3. Always be direct and straight to the point. Leave no room for misinterpretation.
  4. Thank reviewers for taking the time to bring bad experiences to your attention. Let them know you pride yourself on excellent customer service and appreciate the opportunity to make things right.
  5. Let them know you’re listening and genuinely concerned. A little empathy goes a long way.
  6. Apologize when appropriate, but don’t take responsibility for things that weren’t your fault.
  7. If it becomes apparent that you’re dealing with an online bully whose only agenda is to make you look bad, walk away. There are some battles you just can’t win.


Let’s face it. Some people are just plain mean. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can control how you react. You can also do your best to provide top-notch customer service at every opportunity. Genuine customers and prospects will recognize and appreciate your efforts.

So to recap — claim your online profiles, monitor the conversation, respond to negative reviews quickly but carefully, and show the world how much you care about your customers.

And if you need a little help, don’t be afraid to automate the process. We can help you monitor the conversation around your brand, identify brand advocates and take your online reputation to the next level!


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