Critical response: How to deal with a bad online review of your business

Critical response: How to deal with a bad online review of your business


You know the feeling. The mixture of shock and frustration and the sense of unfairness; you’ve been working your back off 24/7 and someone decided to one-star you in an online review and slam your business.


First, take a step away. Actively go and do something else: get a coffee, read a newspaper, handle some work tasks that don’t involve customer contact. Get over the initial shock.


The fact is all businesses get bad reviews. And there are broadly four types:


1. The mean-spirited troll who slams everyone

2. The paid fake-reviewer who’s there to trash your business to benefit your rivals

3. Mr Wrong-end-of-the-stick (who may even be reviewing the wrong business, or tried to use his washing machine to make toast)

4. The justified critic, who’s picking you up on genuinely poor products or service.


Bad reviews are a problem for businesses. Anyone who tells you to “simply ignore them” is overlooking the fact they can cause serious harm. You know bad reviews matter, because you’ve probably altered hotel and restaurant choices yourself based on other people’s negative feedback.

But the reality is sometimes the least damaging strategy is to ignore them. At other times, you need to respond.

Here are some ways to deal with a bad review.


1. Make a calm assessment

Once you’ve had your coffee, your muffin (and your Valium), re-read the review. Figure out whether it is genuine. It may be specific enough that you have a good idea who it’s from or what service it’s referring to. Or it may be so inexplicably off the mark that the reviewer has criticised the wrong business or misunderstood a product they’ve bought.


2. Do a little detective work

The purpose of this is never to target the reviewer personally. But if you’re a small business and only a few people ordered the T-bone or bought that particular model of pool pump or had a particular hair treatment, you can narrow the truth of it down. It’s worth seeing what other reviews that person has left. Do they typically leave awful feedback? Does it look like they’re slamming every single cafe in town except one particular outlet? If so, that probably looks like fraud, though they may just be a madly loyal fan of one particular business, waging their own little campaign.


3. Consider reporting fake reviews

If you genuinely suspect fraud, then there may be a method to flag the review. Depending on the review site this may or may not have any effect, but at least you’ve done something. Third party sites are having to become more accountable with reviews, both good and bad. The reality is anyone can go online and post whatever reviews they like, regardless of truth or motive. Amazon recently started suing reviewers whom it suspects of posting fake, paid reviews with many users demanding a ‘no receipt, no review’ policy. TripAdvisor is also investigating claims that apartment developer Meriton prevented unhappy guests from leaving negative reviews, and even offered them bribes to leave a higher rating.


4. Respond to the reviewer

If a site doesn’t allow responses, that pretty much speaks for itself about the professionalism and integrity of that place. But most major third party review sites do allow feedback and this is your chance to turn a bomb into a bouquet. When people see businesses politely responding, offering compensation and/or help and information, it makes that business a safer bet to patronise. Customers know that if they have a disastrous experience, that business will be willing to make good. It’s also clear that it’s not that business’s normal practice to leave customers unhappy.


How to respond

Here are some steps to take when responding to a reviewer:

  • Acknowledge the reviewer’s frustration (even if you disagree with the cause)
  • Be objective and honest about your business’s possible failings: promise to investigate
  • Reply with tact in a friendly, constructive way
  • Assert that your business cares about customers and wishes to satisfy them; this is your chance for a little positive messaging
  • Offer a way to communicate further through a more direct channel. This may help take the conversation out of the public eye.


Online reviews are a great outlet for happy customers to express their satisfaction and for companies to build a good reputation. Because of this, consider thanking good reviewers for their feedback.


Some reviews may be mixed. The customer may have loved your hotel, but found a particular facility wanting in some way. This is a great opportunity to gather valuable feedback about how you can improve your services, and perhaps eventually turn a four-star into a five-star review.


As a final tip, consider offering your customers your own method for review and feedback. It means you’ll get reliable, real time metrics about how well your business is performing according to the people who matter most: your customers. It’s always good to hear from customers; understanding what your customers think is the only way you can improve.


Providing feedback at the time of purchase or delivery also gives disgruntled customers a way to get any frustration out of their system. They may not feel the need to vent on a third party site later on.


Remember the squeaky wheels may shout the loudest, but they aren’t necessarily reflective of what all your customers think. Try to put measures in place so that you can hear from more of your customers to understand what they really think. And when they say something nice, don’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops! Positive customer testimonials are a great feature to have on your website.



Sophie Jillings is Head of APAC at truRating, a point-of-payment customer feedback system.

 Tags: online reviews, bad reviews, customer service, truRating, Sophie Jillings


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