6 Steps to Handle Negative Customer Reviews Successfully

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Have you ever visited your Google My Business listing or social media profile, only to be greeted with an unhappy customer spreading their negative experience for the world (and your future customers) to see?

It’s shocking - and pretty disheartening.

But as much as we’d love to have 100% of our reviews come from happy customers, that probably won’t happen.

That’s not always a bad reflection on your brand, though. There could be multiple reasons out of your control, like manufacturing problems or wrong expectations.

However, one thing still stands. Reviews are essential for any kind of business.

That’s because almost all (97%) of consumers look for online reviews before purchasing, and 66% will form an opinion about a local business after reading just 1-6 reviews.

Related: How to Get More 5-Star Online Reviews for Your Business

Plus, people tend to trust reviews from other customers as much as personal recommendations - meaning it’s important to keep a close eye on what previous customers say about you on review sites, social media, or directory listings.

Customer Reviews

When you do spot a negative comment, don’t ignore it. Instead, use these five tips to handle negative customer reviews so they’ll have little damaging impact on your business. After reading this, you might even be able to turn them into positive experiences!

1. Respond to negative reviews quickly.

Nothing looks worse than a negative review that hasn’t been acknowledged by the company - especially if the problem being expressed is something that could be resolved.


Because it looks like the company is shying away and not taking responsibility. It looks like they don’t care about the customer.

Think about it - let’s say you’re looking for a new marketing agency. You found one that looks okay, but then you look at their reviews. You see a past customer complaining about the agency’s extortionate prices without an explanation from the agency. What are you going to do?

You’ll probably steer clear of them, right?

Word of Mouth vs Advertising

But if that agency had responded with an explanation - like “Our prices are high to cover our rent (which is expensive in NYC), and because of the deep experience our team has” - it’s bound to put you more at ease.

The same applies to negative reviews for things that are out of your control.

If a customer complains about how slow their shipping was, for example, you could respond with an explanation of how your shipping supplier took a strike, and assure them you’ve put plans in place to prevent this from affecting your customers, should it happen again.

Just take a look at this response to a negative review left on TripAdvisor.

Trip Advisor Response to Negative Customer Review

Notice how the tour agency clearly explained the key issues the unhappy customer complained about?

That helps resolve the problem and create peace of mind. It also proves to future customers that you’re willing to handle negative reviews and provide excellent customer service - even after their experience has technically finished.

2. Sincerely apologize and express empathy.

Ever heard the phrase “the customer is always right"?

Before you write a word, swallow your pride and start your response with a sincere apology - even if the thing they’re complaining about was through no fault of your own (or even if it's the customer’s fault).

Unhappy customers might double-down on their anger if you refuse to apologize or admit your company is to blame.

Starbucks uses this approach to negative reviews on Twitter.

Starbucks Response to Negative Tweet

When you apologize, don’t cut it short with just a “sorry about this” message. Express empathy to prove that what they’re saying is taken seriously.

For example, add a line to your response that says “I know it’s frustrating to expect one thing and receive another. We apologize for that. Here’s what we’re going to do to fix it”.

This way, your apology seems more sincere. You’re proving that you understand the severity of their complaint, rather than brushing it off as a minor issue.

3. Offer some form of compensation.

All businesses, no matter what they’re selling, should value repeat customers.

I say this for many reasons - mainly because return customers will spend 3 times more than one-time shoppers, and will help increase your business’ profits by 25% to 95%.

Want in on that action?

You can start to encourage unhappy customers to purchase from you again - even if they’ve left a negative review!

It’s pretty simple to do, too. Just offer them some form of compensation, such as:

  • Coupon codes
  • Free products or services
  • Discounted shipping
  • Even a chance to speak to management about how to make the company better

A small Italian restaurant in California swears by this tactic. In fact, they’ve got a reputation for customers leaving negative reviews just so they’ll get 50% off their bill. They’ve turned it into a viable marketing strategy that brings more business through their doors.

Handling Negative Yelp Review

While you don’t need to go to that extreme, giving customers a reason to shop with you again gives you another chance to wow them.

You never know. Their second experience might be excellent, and you might get them to swap their negative review for a glowing one!

4. Take the claim further.

You need to respond to reviews publicly whenever possible. If you don’t, potential customers will think you’re shying away from responsibility, or trying to ignore the claim completely.

That’s never going to give a great impression, and it will turn potential customers away.

But some claims, problems, or dilemmas can’t be solved publicly - at least not without risking your customer’s personal information.

What should you do then?

Do this. Respond to the review publicly, and ask the customer to privately send you the information you need (order number, credit card number, address, etc.) so you can investigate.

This shows that you’re addressing the issue, and doing all you can to resolve it. It also shows that you’re taking steps to protect their personal data.

Samsung uses this principle on their Facebook Page.

How Samsung Handles Negative Facebook Reviews

See how much better that sounds? It feels much more helpful and genuine than a generic “call our support line for assistance” message.

Remember, your aim here is to convince customers who’ve left negative reviews to give your brand another chance. To do that, you have to meet them where they are, and do something wonderful for them.

No one’s going to win if you just direct them through a complex customer service system with no end in sight. Think about what you can do to help them personally, then do it.

5. Ask reviewers to reconsider their negative review.

You might think that escalating your customer’s claim and doing all you can to resolve it is enough. It’s not.

That negative review is still visible, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be there if you’ve already solved the issue. That’s why you should ask customers to reconsider their negative review.

Let’s say a customer complained about a product. To solve the problem, you sent them a free alternative plus a discount code. They might actually be happy (and a repeat customer).

Their negative review might not be accurate anymore, and it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask them to update it. There’s a high chance they will, too, which means you’ll be replacing a negative review with a positive review.

That’s the dream, right?

That's the dream

6. Encourage more and positive reviews.

Some review-based websites (like Yelp or TripAdvisor) have star-based ratings.

It goes without saying that you want 5-star reviews, right?

But if you do get a handful of 1-star negative customer reviews on a platform like this, you’ll need to collect some 4- and 5-star ratings to bring up your overall score.

Enter: Incentives.

Frankly, people rarely do something kind for a business if they aren’t getting anything in return. That’s why it’s important to provide your customers with incentives, like:

  • Gift cards
  • Free products
  • Discount codes
  • Exclusive offers for a partner company
  • Featuring them on your website

These give customers a good reason to leave a review, leading to more happy customers and more 5-star reviews.

G2 Crowd is the perfect example. They offer a Starbucks gift card to anyone who leaves a review on their site:

G2 Crowd Review Incentives

Don’t think you have the resources to dish-out freebies?

You’ll earn that money back simply from how many more people will decide to work with you because of your great customer reviews. Remember, people look at reviews before deciding whether to work with you!

At the very least, you should be paying attention to customers who have positive experiences with your company or brand. Reach out to them to share their good experiences online (and to make up for any low-star reviews).

It’s not all bad news.

If you think responding to negative reviews is like fighting a losing battle, keep your head up.

30% of consumers assume businesses are fake if there are no negative reviews, anyway. And 52% of online buyers say a few negative reviews of a product actually makes them trust a product more. No one can be all good, right?

You just need to follow the steps in this guide to handle negative customer reviews successfully.

Related: How to Use Customer Reviews to Hack Content Marketing