Dealing With Negative Online Reviews

When running any company, positive online reviews by customers can be an important source of new business.  Conversely, negative online reviews can make potential customers wary to spend their money with you.  Managing your company’s online reputation should be a regular part of the day for any business owner, because that reputation can help drive people to, or away from, your door.  Some suggestions on how to avoid the results of an unhappy customer:

  1. Monitoring.  The first step to managing your online reputation is to be aware whenever someone is talking about you or your business online.  You should consider “claiming” your business listing for major listing services like Google Places, Yellow Pages, Yelp, or Angie’s List.  In addition, you should set up a Google Update with the names and addresses of your business and the names of your key employees.  This way, you’ll be notified whenever a review (positive or negative) is posted online. 
  2. Prevention.  Often a customer will write a negative online review only after they’ve contacted the company and felt their issue was not addressed effectively.  This first point of contact is crucial: you should train all of your staff to deal with negative feedback in a constructive manner, to quickly pass complaints to their supervisor, and for your supervisors to address those complaints in a way that keeps the customer engaged and accommodated.  Make sure you have a way to contact the unhappy customer, and do everything you can to reach a compromise that is satisfactory.  Online reviews live forever, and granting concessions to avoid one will likely prevent losing future sales exceeding the value of the concession. 
  3. Protection.  The best response to a negative online review is a long history of positive reviews and content from customers satisfied with your service or product.  Encourage customers to write positive reviews by offering them a discount coupon or promotion while directing them to a link to a listing website.  When you are notified of a positive review, share it on your website or other listing services if possible.  Start now, and the occasional negative review will be drowned out by the many positive comments potential customers will see.  (Do not write positive reviews yourself, or hire others to do it for you: these can be easily distinguished from actual reviews and just raise more questions about the company.)
  4. Respond, Privately.  As a business owner, it’s natural to take criticism of your service or product personally, and natural that your first instinct will be to respond with a long post explaining why the customer’s review does not have all the facts or is otherwise wrong.  DO NOT DO THIS – responding right away in a defensive and public manner will just lead to a back-and-forth debate, and potential customers are likely to side with the reviewer.  Instead, take some time to cool down, then evaluate the customer’s complaint with a dispassionate eye.  (If you’re having trouble doing this, bring in another person whose judgment you value.)  Then try to contact the customer with a private response that recognizes the complaint and suggests ideas for how the complaint can be addressed.  If you can reach a resolution with the customer, ask if they’ll be willing to retract their negative review, or willing to revise it to not their issue was resolved.
  5. Consider Responding Publicly, But Be Careful.  If you’ve been able to resolve the customer’s complaint, and they’ve refused (or failed) to revise or delete their initial negative review, then you can respond publicly to the review with a note that the company was happy to have addressed the complaint.  If you’ve been unable to resolve the complaint, but believe the negative review is wrong or omits important facts, you can consider adding a short response correcting the mistaken facts and stating that the company did try to address the issue.  If you’ve determined that the customer’s complaints were valid, but were not able to mollify the customer in any way, consider adding a short response offering a sincere apology and a promise that the situation won’t be repeated.

 No matter what, if you respond publicly to a negative online review, your ability to appear apologetic, reasonable, and conciliatory in the face of complaints will go a long way towards assuring potential customers that you will do the same for them.

If you have any questions about your business, or want to discuss other common issues that might arise, contact me at or 413-570-3170.