Believe it or not, it’s important to handle negative reviews with the same level of professionalism, timeliness, gratitude and attention as you would give to a positive review. How you respond to a negative review impacts not only the reviewer, but all the sets of eyes that come afterward. Seeing a business handle a particularly challenging or derisive review online suggests that management is proud of their business, and willing to listen.

Make potential clients see the light with these four steps: apologize, promote, get offline, keep it simple.

How To Respond to a Negative Review

Apologize & Sympathize

The first step towards fixing a problem is acknowledging that one occurred. Regardless of what happened, a simple apology and sympathy for your customer’s experience goes a long way. When thinking about how to respond to negative reviews, it’s important to also think about what factors came together to result in this negative experience. Set your pride aside and listen, while you may not know it at the time, this is likely an opportunity.

Empathy can be hard when we feel attacked. As a business owner especially; you know how important it is to respond to negative reviews in a way that is meaningful and professional – you don’t want to bugger this up. (Likely why you’re here reading this blog right now) What many business owners don’t remember when they ask themselves how do I respond to negative reviews, is that the review is nothing more than a cry for help. It might feel like an attack, and that’s a normal human way to feel, but you can shift this perspective through listening and recognizing the opportunity presented with a negative review. Put yourself in their shoes, listen and seek to understand. Then Acknowledge and validate their voice. Simply let them know that you are listening and they have been heard.


One thing we often tell our clients is that a business without a negative review is often met with innate skepticism. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re only human and if it was easy to be perfect everyone would have a thriving business from day one. Speaking of “only being human”, now is a great chance to show that your business is a person two. Don’t focus on your shortcomings but rather your ability to grow and learn – you know, like people do.

Instead I want you to recognize the opportunity. The theatre is dim, the spotlight is on you and now you have an opportunity to set the stage. Let’s say you’re a salon and a customer recently had a less-than-perfect ombre and left you a negative review. The next part of your response now that you have acknowledged the review,  is by taking the chance to promote the very service that is being slandered.

“This is really a shock to hear, and I’m glad you brought it to my attention. You see, Ombre’s are often one of our most coveted services here at my salon and customers have had nothing but good things to say…”

Hundreds of people are going to see your response, reviews are a natural stepping stone in the customer’s decision to buy and so this is a chance to garner their ear for a moment. Don’t be too over the top – that can come across as condescending, but definitely take a chance to respond to the negative review with a hint of self promotion.

If your business is facing a major PR crisis, it’s best to determine the severity of the issue an rectify it as soon as possible. This could mean termination of an employee, mandatory cultural sensitivity courses, or probation. Whatever the outcome is, it must match up to the current issue at hand. No one wants to feel like they’ve been served injustice, so make sure that whichever way you decide to handle a bad review that can end up being a PR disaster, it not only rectifies  the problem but appeases your irate customer as well.

Move The Conversation Offline.

Don’t open a can of worms. Keep the lid on tight by offering the reviewer the chance to reach out via phone, email or both.

Remember that this is just a RESPONSE to a negative review, this is not supposed to be a two way conversation. On Google reviews you only get one response and your client doesn’t get a rebuttal. However on Facebook a review or recommendation can turn into a thread. You want to avoid this at all costs.

There are a couple reasons we take the conversation offline. Let’s start with the psychological reason first. Like I mentioned above, ALL EYES ARE ON YOU, so if your potential customer reads that you invited the reviewer to reach out to you at an email address or by phone, because there is nothing to read after that, it is our human nature to assume the complaint is dealt with.

The second reason is that not all issues can be resolved. Depending on your particular business you can be faced with an epidemic of what we refer to in the industry as “Chronic Complainers” – this is common in salons, restaurants, and other service based retail services. It’s also the reason an active reputation management campaign is in place. With our reputation management campaigns we design automated workflows that keep your negative reviews offline and prompt your happy customers to get off their butts and leave you a positive review.

Keep It Simple

Avoid specifics and don’t ask questions. Those conversations are much better served in a space away from the prying public. One reason we keep it simple when we respond to negative reviews is because you don’t want the whole world thinking you’re a pushover and if they complain they get this or that as a result. Rewarding negative reviewers is never our intention but reparations will need to be made.

Final Thoughts!

Once you have followed these 4 guidelines on how to respond to a negative review the easy part is dealt with. Now you have to do all the heavy lifting back stage – when your client actually reaches out to you as you’ve asked them to do.

Remember that your goal here is two-fold. 1) Save a relationship and protect your business from the loss of your customers lifetime value, and 2) have that negative review removed AND if you’re a real master, turn it into a positive one.

Being humble in business is just as hard, if not harder, as it is in life. We all put great pride in our businesses, and the amount or blood sweat and tears we’ve put into them. Bill Gates always comes to mind when I work with clients who are faced with the stress that comes with how to respond to a negative review. I always tell them this:

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

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