How to Handle a Negative Review Online

In the age of the internet sometimes it seems mistakes are permanent – etched into the virtual wall of sites such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Trip Advisor. We’d all like our business to have perfect service, but occasionally we slip up and mistakes happen.  A single mistake can lead to poor customer experience, manifesting as a negative review online for all to see.

What’s the deal with online reviews?

The effects are significant. According to a consumer survey report by BrightLocal, 97% of consumers have looked a business up online, and 85% trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. According to, 94% of people have avoided a business after seeing a negative review online. Meaning, a single negative review online has the potential to have devastating effects on your business, if not properly addressed.

So how can you deal with negative reviews online?

You first have to reflect if the customer’s review is a regular critique of your business. One negative review saying your “famous” recipe is terrible can potentially be an outlier. But multiple similar reviews may force you to acknowledge the truth and make adjustments. Second, you have to publicly respond to it. Based on the ReviewTracker’s report, 35% of consumers said they can look past a bad review if the establishment has responded in the correct manner.

Here are three simple steps to take when you receive a negative review online:

1 – Apologize directly to the negative reviewer – All humans make mistakes. And you’re human. So It’s okay, take a deep breath and get rid of any initial frustration. Lashing out at the customer is bad for your business’ reputation. Instead, try reaching out to the customer outside of the review platform. If you can’t find them outside of the platform, respond directly to their negative review and tell them that you’re sorry they had a bad experience. Then mention your business’ values and let them know that you’re determined to fix the issue quickly.

You can also send them a gift card with an apology note. To let customers know that you’re not a faceless company, send the gift card in a physical package.

2 – Take steps to fix the issue – An apology is not enough. You should keep true to your words and actually fix the issue that made your customer unhappy. When you put action behind your words, it only proves to your customers that you’re a reliable business. They will see transparency in your business solutions, which will build up your reputation even more. Even if the mistake was not completely your fault but a glitch in the system, your customers will trust you if you fix the problem as soon as possible. They will know that no matter what goes wrong, they can rely on you to solve it. Building up that trust dissuades them from writing further negative reviews because they know if they contact you directly their issue will be fixed.

3 – Follow up with the customer and ask to remove the negative review – Once you have apologized and fixed the issue, reach out to the customer and ask to remove the negative review. In most cases, they do it on their own accord. This tactic will make them feel cared for, in which they will either remove or change the review to something positive.

Final thoughts

Responding to a negative review requires a high sense of maturity and authenticity. Publicly denying accusations will only make your business look worse, but generic apologies that are copied and pasted on every negative review look unauthentic. It’s important to apologize, address the specific customer’s concern and provide a warm incentive for the customer to return. On the flip side, you should encourage real positive reviews as much as possible. So ask customers for feedback whenever possible. Gentle reminders to leave a review online after a good experience will raise your company’s online rating, and potentially dilute any negative reviews that appear.

One bad review online isn’t the end of the world. But today it is more important than ever to monitor your brand image online and ensure you are being presented in a positive light. It is key to address all complaints with maturity, warmth, and authenticity to recapture the respect of the public.