How to Handle Negative Reviews Online [21-Point Checklist]

How to Handle Negative Reviews Online [21-Point Checklist]

It’s well known how powerful online customer feedback can be for businesses.

Customer feedback doesn’t only help to build the customer relationship, but it also helps the customer journey run more smoothly.

That customer feedback and online review have a boosting effect on search engine optimisation (SEO) means not only can they increase website traffic, but online reviews can also serve to convert that cold traffic into paying customers.

But what do you do when you get negative reviews?

This article talks about why you shouldn’t be concerned when your business gets negative reviews, and how you can handle negative reviews professionally.

Let’s get started.

1. Understand & Accept That You Will Get Negative Reviews

Like taxes, negative reviews are a certainty in business. Even the best companies in the world have all experienced negative reviews from time to time.

For the 13th year in a row, Apple has been ranked as the world’s most admired company. However, despite them now preventing people from leaving reviews, Apple still used to get negative reviews.

Apple negative reviews
Apple negative reviews additional

As such, businesses should accept that they would also get negative reviews at some point or other. They may not be justified negative reviews, but it will happen.

Negative reviews are a part of running a business. You can't avoid them so you may as well embrace them. Click To Tweet

Rather than trying to develop strategies and waste time on preventing negative reviews, businesses ought to adopt a stance that is fully accepting of negative reviews. In fact, there is a sentiment to suggest that negative reviews can actually be good for your business.

Once you accept the fact that your business will get negative reviews, you can better address them in order to grow your business even stronger.

2. Tackle Negative Reviews Head On

Too many businesses take the stance of ignoring negative reviews or any complaints about their business, and this is one of the worst things you can do.

Not only does this make the problem worse but also it starts a process of eroding your brand reputation.

Ignoring reviews can lead to conversions of website visitors to customers goes down, and this has a cyclical effect of reduced website visitors. Your site becomes less relevant for the keyword people searched for in the first instance, or intent they had visited you for.

Conversely, if you get into the habit and practice of responding to reviews, it can have a positive effect on your SEO and search engine results.

Ensure you have a system set up, perhaps with a person or team responsible, to respond to customer feedback.

3. Respond to Negative Reviews Quickly

Without a doubt the best thing a business can do after having received a negative review is to respond quickly. This is customer service 101.

There is a direct relationship with a customer’s view of a problem with a brand, and the speed with which it is addressed.

Responding quickly shows customers that you care. It shows them that you acknowledge something went wrong, and as a brand, consider it important to make things right.

Give a quick response to all reviews, but to negative reviews in particular. It shows you care. Click To Tweet

See the example below of how Starbucks picked up this one customer complaint across all its operations globally and responded on the same day.

Respond to negative reviews quickly

But responding quickly is not in itself enough – you need to ensure the content of your response is on point.

4. Respond to Negative Reviews Courteously

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes will enlighten you on how to respond.

Irrespective of if their complaint is valid or not, the onus is on the business to respond courteously, as you would do in person.

The response from the business owner below is a perfect example of a courteous response that will likely have the effect of disarming and placating any customer reading it, given how sincere it comes across.

Courteous response to negative reviews

The customer may be upset, frustrated, and aggrieved and therefore emotional, but as you represent the business, your job is to begin the conversation with courtesy and maintain that temperament throughout the whole dialogue.

5. Respond to Negative Reviews Thoughtfully

Standard responses to negative feedback can seem patronising and thoughtless. After all, a copy and paste standard message doesn’t go any way to showing that you care.

This is why businesses should respond thoughtfully.

Every customer is different and it could be that their complaint is something that they consider to be an extremely important point, irrespective of how it comes across to you.

Take a moment to think through your response to every negative review to ensure you are being sincere. Click To Tweet

As such, taking the time to think through your response can make all the difference.

6. 'Listen' Carefully

In order to properly solve a customer’s problem, you need to understand what the actual or underlying issue is. In order to understand, it is important that you ‘listen’, or read the review properly in the first instance.

Most negative reviews may be quite clear about the issue, but for others, you may need to read between the lines.

Paying attention to the negative feedback and why a customer may have gone to the trouble to write it is something that cannot be stressed enough.

Taking this time and attention again shows customers that the business cares and that you are interested in trying to solve the issue.

7. Apologise

Apologising is considered a weakness in most environments. But in business it can be extremely powerful.

If your business has let a customer down, or even if it hasn’t, you lose nothing by apologising at the earliest opportunity and without being asked to.

Check out the apology below from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The issue was a publisher who didn’t have the rights to books, added them as offerings to Amazon Kindle. Amazon removed the unauthorized books from customers’ Kindle accounts without any notice of why they were being removed, and without offering any refunds for money paid for the e-books.

Amazon apology

By not apologising you possibly show contrition and arrogance and a desire to prove to the customer that you are right and they are wrong. This kind of point-scoring is unlikely to resolve the issue or retain the customer.

Clearly there will be instances when an apology may be appropriate and when it may not, but an apology can help to convert other visitors to your website.

An unsolicited apology is a very strong sign that this is the kind of company that is keen to get things right.

8. Be Honest

It goes without saying that businesses should be honest.

However, when dealing with customer complaints and negative feedback online, it is even more important to exhibit honesty.

Over-promising an annoyed customer in the hope of appeasing them in the short-term builds zero credibility if you cannot deliver what you say.

Be honest and transparent in how you can help the customer and by when. Over-promising and under-delivering can erode trust further. Click To Tweet

If resolving their complaint will take longer than a customer expects then it is much better to be upfront about this to set expectations and to start the process of rebuilding trust.

That will go a much longer way than letting the customer down again because you were (intentionally or unintentionally) dishonest about what you could deliver.

9. Don't Take it Personally

Negative customer feedback is not a direct attack on an individual. It is a more broad attack on the business and few customers take personal shots at individuals within the business, or mean to do so.

But when you read a negative review, it’s easy to lose your cool and to take negative feedback personally.

Take the case in point below.

How not to respond to negative reviews

The danger with this is that it fosters an ineffective response that can make the situation worse as people get defensive.

By not taking negative feedback personally, and acknowledging that it is as much a part of business as anything else, you can deal with negative reviews more effectively without them affecting your state of mind.

10. Don't be Emotional

An emotional expression by an individual typically leads to an emotional response from the other party.

It’s natural to feel emotional in a tense exchange or when you feel you, or your company is being challenged.

Normal to be emotional with negative reviews


But with negative online feedback, emotions are not helpful. The business is already on the back foot given they are the ones being criticised. The focus, always, needs to remain on how to move things forward and you can only do this if you try to manage your emotions.

Have a look at the dialogue below between Amazon and a customer to see how well Amazon retained their cool.

Amazon remaining cool to negative reviews

By eliminating emotions from the conversation, a business can better address the issue and come to a resolution quickly and move on.

11. Show Empathy

Being empathetic means understanding the other party’s points of view. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with the other view, but acknowledging how the other person feels can be important for building trust.

Putting yourself in your customer's shoes can help you understand where they are coming from, and can help you deal with negative reviews more effectively. Click To Tweet

In responding to negative reviews, it is necessary to get the customer onside so you can get to a resolution that would otherwise be elusive.

Empathy can help demonstrate to a customer that you acknowledge their views and are keen to help, and it is important to see how you can develop your empathy skills further.

Showing empathy alone can go a long way to placating upset customers so you can carve out the right way forward.

12. Aim to Resolve the Issue

Clearly front of mind for a customer is to get their issue resolved. Only if a business can solve the issue can there be a chance of the relationship being repaired, and maybe even strengthened.

As such, the action customers need to see is that the company is being proactive in solving the issue.

This could mean directing the customer to the right person in the company who can help or by directly addressing product quality, delivery, or any other concerns.

Resolving an issue


Whatever form the resolution takes, it needs to be agreed quickly and proactively by the company so it seems to the customer that this is a priority for the business to correct this.

13. Go Above & Beyond

Sometimes it may not be possible to easily address a customer’s negative feedback.

A resolution may require extra time, extra effort, and thinking out of the box in order to make a customer happy.

Review the dialogue below to see what you think of how the JetBlue team addressed this customer concern that their inflight TV screen was not working.

JetBlue addressing negative reviews 1
JetBlue addressing negative reviews 2

Is it worth the time and effort to go the extra mile?


Resolving an issue that requires going above and beyond is a great marketing opportunity for any business. If you can get his right you will end up with a loyal customer who will tell many other people about their experience. This will inevitably result in a much stronger reputation for your business.

14. Take it Offline

It is not wise to try to address a negative review totally online. In instances in particular where the issue is complex and the customer is very upset, it is even more important that the issue is taken offline.

The advantage of this is it changes the forum for the dialogue and makes the conversation private.

Just going offline (via a phone call or private email) may already change the tone from the customer, as review systems are impersonal in nature.

Addressing a negative reviews offline

Going offline also affords you the opportunity to respond more quickly and directly to that customer’s problem, leading to a quicker resolution overall.

15. Encourage Customers to Leave Reviews

One way to address negative reviews is by encouraging more people to leave reviews.

Ask people to leave customer feedback


Unless the majority of the reviews for your business are negative (which suggests other more fundamental issues), negative reviews are typically a minority of the reviews for any business.

If you can collect more reviews overall, and work hard to excel with customers, you can eliminate any detrimental effect of negative reviews. Click To Tweet

Consequently, encouraging more customers to leave reviews has the ambassadorial effect of highlighting what your business is doing right, as opposed to giving undue attention to the minority of negative reviews.

16. Encourage Customers to Update Their Negative Reviews

We’re big believers that customer feedback should be authentic and genuine. But customer service can be a moving beast and things can change.

As such, if you have addressed the points above in your responses to negative feedback, isn’t it right that you give the customer another chance to review you? After all, how you deal with negative feedback and how you address customer concerns is also important (and helpful) to other visitors to your site.

Consequently, once you have resolved a customer issue, it is fair to ask the customer to provide you with an updated review based on their experience of how you addressed their concern.

Updating negative reviews

In instances where there may have been a customer misunderstanding, this approach works extremely well to deal with the issues openly.

17. Offer Compensation if Appropriate

Sometimes it may be necessary to offer compensation to a customer for the inconvenience caused and as a sign of goodwill.

Though many companies may initially refrain from offering any compensation, in the right cases, this can be very beneficial.

In some cases, it may be the right course of action to take to compensate customers financially. If you think this is the case, make the compensation meaningful and proportionate to the issue. Click To Tweet

As business owners, it is important to understand that it is much cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. In fact, it can cost five times as much to attract a new customer, than to keep an existing one.

Customer retention also has a marked impact on profit.

Customer retention impact on profit


A token compensatory reward (either as a gift card to spend with you or some financial recompense) is an inexpensive way to keep a customer you think may be about to leave and also works well to improve customer perception about your business.

18. Deal with Fake or Misleading Reviews

Many review platforms have been identified as being susceptible to fake and misleading reviews.

In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority have held a number of investigations into fake reviews with Facebook, eBay and others.

It’s unfortunate but it is inevitable that some people will abuse the system for their own gain and try to malign brands or individuals. Also, it can be hard to identify fake reviews, and other times it is blatantly obvious.

Fake reviews

Source: Amazon reviews via

In the following example, you can see that there may be some misunderstanding and confusion, which has impacted a business. Even so, it is important these issues are addressed so as not to impair the view of new visitors to your site.

Confused reviews

If you suspect a fake or misleading review (and there is software available that can help), raise the issue with your review provider if you are able to, and see if you can have it addressed.

An easier way to prevent fake or misleading reviews is by partnering up with a closed, third party review platform. Platforms like this (that include Syntellio) focus on authentic reviews that only show reviews of customers verified by the business.

19. Monitor your Online Reputation

It is important to consistently review and monitor online chatter to ensure you can have a chance to manage your online reputation.

Social media is now a place where many people go direct to talk about their consumer experiences and as such, it is important you keep tabs on your social media handles.

Check out how Nike responds to multiple customers directly and specifically on Twitter about their concerns.

Nike responds on social media

As mentioned above, some review platforms are open and can allow anyone to go there to post something about your business.

Beyond this, it is wise to review popular forums in your niche to see what is being said about you so that you can address any issues that emerge.

20. Tackle Recurring Issues Strategically

You may find over time that there are recurring issues that keep coming up with customers.

Maybe it’s a product quality issue or a service issue, or the delivery process. Whatever it is, this is important feedback to allow you to understand what’s working and what is not working in your business.

Check out how Domino’s Pizza responded to feedback about its pizzas.

From an internal decision-making perspective, this can help inform strategy and priorities to address these issues, and to make your business a stronger business as a result.

21. Learn from Negative Reviews

The whole process of collecting and analysing reviews is a learning process and should be thought of as such.

In addition to understanding recurring issues in the business, negative reviews, and how you handle them, can let you know how to build a better business.

Negative reviews are an opportunity to learn what's working and what's not working in your business. They can be like gold dust to help with strategic decision-making. Ensure you learn from negative reviews. Click To Tweet

The process of handling negative reviews in itself is a key business skill and even some of the biggest companies get it wrong on occasion.

However, if you pay attention and see what works from your communication with upset customers, it can help you grow your business immensely into a much more powerful brand.


All businesses get negative reviews and feedback at some point or another. They are an inevitability.

Its how you deal with them, which is what counts.

Acting quickly and being open and transparent is a good starting point to help rebuild trust with customers who have had a poor experience.

From there, it is important you learn what went wrong and what went right with how you deal with negative reviews.

This learning is the key that customer feedback allows for, that can help you build a great, sustainable business.

How do you deal with negative reviews in your business? Let us know in the comments.

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