Negative online review? Here’s what to do

Funny fact about customers—they’re human. That means they’re subject to emotions, and apt to react unexpectedly if they are unhappy with services or goods they’ve purchased.

One might rage-type an angry missive about the business that provided those services or goods, then post it online. Another might think things through and consider their words more carefully, but still post them online.

No matter its style, a negative review is still negative—and that’s not good for business. So, what, if anything, should you and your business do about it?

How much do reviews matter?

Should you be concerned about one bad review? In a word, yes. One unhappy customer can lead to a loss of potential business from new customers. As puts it, “Reviews are table stakes in winning today’s consumers.”

Consider these statistics, also from

  • 88% of consumers are influenced by reviews when looking for a local business.
  • 41% of consumers consider reviews to be an important characteristic when choosing a local business.
  • Reviews are twice as likely as loyalty to be important in choosing a local business.
  • 85% of consumers have read an online review within the past month.
  • 46% of consumers have read an online review within the past three days.
  • About half of consumers are willing to travel further and pay more for a business with better reviews.
  • 28% of consumers say they have researched reviews while directly outside a business before deciding whether to go in.
  • 56% of consumers say they have changed their perspective on a business based on how that business responded to a review.

This is why it’s important to strive for positive reviews, and to respond appropriately to negative ones. Of course, the former is key to protecting your business—avoid negative reviews in the first place. Still, not everyone is going to be happy with every transaction, and some negative reviews are inevitable.

What causes negative reviews?

Perhaps a customer didn’t like the price of the product or service. Or maybe they were unhappy with what they purchased. It could be someone felt they received poor customer service (it happens to the best of us). A customer might be unhappy with a business’ policy. In some cases, a customer wants to cause intentional harm to the business. Many customers want to prevent others from having similar experiences and are therefore motivated to leave a bad review.

Regardless of why a customer left a negative review, the important issue is how you respond to it. First, don’t panic. If a bad review is accurate, it can actually give your business some credence—potential customers who see a negative review are apt to trust that the positive ones aren’t fake. And if you handle a negative review the correct way, it will help you in the long run.

What follows are some practical tips on what to do, as well as what not to do, in the wake of a bad review.

Steps you should take

1. Be timely.

Customers are looking for a prompt response. They don’t know how many other deadlines you have, and they probably wouldn’t care. Make your response a priority, or an angry customer will only become angrier. Get back to them within a day. Even if you can’t resolve the issue right away, respond quickly to let them know you have seen their review and you are working to resolve it.

2. Be thorough, too.

While it’s important to get back to the unhappy customer in a timely manner, it’s equally important to understand the issue thoroughly. Investigate and research it promptly, so that you can understand what the customer experienced and what might have gone wrong. The customer will notice that you understand their perspective, which will go a long way toward improving your relationship with them.

3. Thank them for their feedback.

This goes for negative and positive reviews. Thank the customer for taking the time to let you know how they feel. They have made an effort to give you feedback; even if you don’t like what it says, you should thank them for it straightaway.

4. Customize your response.

Use the customer’s name. Recap their experience to show you understand it. When possible, upload a relevant image. Consider posting a video response to show your sincerity and that you are taking their complaint seriously.

5. Keep it professional and courteous.

A hard-hitting review can feel like a personal attack, which can trigger a reflex to push back. Avoid this at all costs. Put your personal feelings aside and keep your emotions in check, even in the case of a review with dishonest claims on the customer’s part. If you lash out, it’s only going to make matters worse; remember other consumers will see your response and probably take their business elsewhere. Stay calm and avoid being argumentative or defensive.

6. Apologize when it’s appropriate.

Nothing disarms an angry person so much as a sincere apology for the thing that made them angry. Sometimes, an apology is the only thing a customer wants; if you give it to them, you’ll resolve the matter. If the situation was the fault of you or your company, take responsibility and apologize for it. Show compassion. Avoid making excuses; that will only negate the apology. Taking ownership of a perceived problem is key to building customer trust.

7. Be transparent and authentic.

Customers will see through a disingenuous reply; be honest. Transparency is especially important if the complaint has to do with company policy. Explain why the policy exists. Use authentic examples. Keep your words warm and sincere. Sign off with your name; show them a real person is listening and taking the matter seriously. (On the subject of business policies, it’s a good idea to review yours every 2-3 years to ensure they still make sense.)

8. Offer to connect outside of the review/response.

Invite the customer to email or call you directly, for additional discussion. Make it clear that you are trying to understand the matter better in order to sort it out. Follow up with the customer for further resolution.

9. Consider a refund.

According to research by Corra, nearly half of complaining customers expect to receive a refund. A little more than a quarter of them expect to receive a gift card or credit. Obviously, it’s not feasible to offer money to every customer who complains, but there will be times when a refund is due. If a product is faulty or damaged, you should reimburse the customer with no questions asked. This will show your commitment to customer satisfaction and back up your guarantees. If, however, the customer doesn’t mention a refund, avoid offering one as a matter of course.

10. Show what you’ve done.

Avoid boasting, but spell out the solution and show the customer the steps you took to resolve the situation. Include this in your online response, so other customers will see what you did. Take steps to build a positive reputation.

11. Display empathy.

This step is present in all of the others, but it bears repeating. Show that you care about your customers, in your words and your actions.

What to do afterward

Once you’ve resolved a negative review, step back from the situation and really analyze it. Review what you learned from the customer’s feedback. Determine whether you can take steps to avoid similar situations in the future. Share this information with your team. Learn from the experience.

Lastly, remember to respond to positive reviews in addition negative ones (but prioritize the negative). This will go a long way toward cementing your reputation as being customer service-oriented.

How does your business handle online reviews? What do you think of our suggestions?

Use the comment section below to tell us!


  • My business must respond to online reviews in a timely manner. This shows my customers that I am attentive and care about their opinion. Additionally, if one of my customers has had a negative experience, I use their review as an opportunity to make improvements and demonstrate an active effort to do so. I work very, very closely with my customers and contact them when I feel that they just need a Hello.

    In addition, I have found that offering free lessons or discounts to customers who post positive reviews is a great way to encourage more people to leave feedback. In my opinion, this has helped to increase my online presence positively, drawing more attention to my business and helping my business stand out from the competition. The above suggestions have worked for me in the past. Thank you for the post. This was very helpful.