What You Can Do About Negative Reviews

What you can do about negative reviews

Dealing with Negative Reviews – Part Two

This part two of a two-part series on dealing with negative reviews for your business. Keep reading or go back to part one and find out why you should worry about negative reviews first.


Sometimes in business, it feels like you can’t turn a corner without someone extolling the importance of a customer-first approach. And we agree. All of us as business owners, managers and marketers could benefit from being more customer-focused. But the truth is that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you’ll fail to please your customers.

You’ll be left with unhappy, or even angry customers, wondering what to do about it…

The good news is that what you do when you face failure is a better indicator of your future success than anything else. You have the power to turn failure into success.

The following is a list of steps which, when adapted for your business, should help you take a proactive approach to negative reviews which will help you build your brand.

#1 – Gather Information

The first thing you need to do when you get a negative review is to gather information. While acting promptly is important, if you don’t have all the facts you’ll end up spending more time in the long-term and potentially doing more damage to your reputation too.

A) Find out who they are

As soon as you receive a negative review you need to start investigating who wrote it. Is the review from a current or former customer? Is it from someone who was considering becoming a customer but then decided not to? Or is it a review from a person who has interacted with your brand in some other way?

With modern review platforms such as Google, Facebook or TripAdvisor it can often be tricky to connect the user who posts a review with your customer information. This can be because your customer database is incomplete but more likely it’s because, like many of us, they don’t use their full or legal name on these social platforms.

In this case, you should take any clues you can from their profile name. Usually, the first name remains the same but the surname is either a different version, a maiden name, or a fake name. If your customers are international you should narrow your search by location.

B) Find out what they bought

Next, try to find out what product or service they bought or were considering buying.You might already have this information in your customer database or there may be details of the product which they bought in the review itself.

Once you have established what they bought, try to find out as much as you can about it. Are there any know issues or obstacles to customer satisfaction with this product or service? Are there any support services or is there any documentation available?

C) Find out how they interacted

Finally, you need to find out about any and every interaction they had with you. Check your CRM (customer relationship management) system. Read the review itself and see if there are any hints there. And above all ask members of your sales or customer service staff of any interactions they may have had with a customer fitting this description.

Hopefully, after all these steps you will either have positively identified the reviewer or have a pretty good idea of who they might be.

#2 – Report Fake Negative Reviewers

Fake reviews which contravene the community guidelines of the relevant platform Google Maps, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp etc can, with enough evidence, be removed.

But they probably won’t be…

If having fully investigated the negative review you still have no clue who the person is then you may suspect that it’s a fake. Perhaps you’re thinking that it’s a competitor trying to damage your reputation or someone with an axe to grind. However, as tempting as it is to think that all negative reviews about your beloved brand are fake they’re probably not.

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Every review platform has different rules around what constitutes a fake review but basically, unless it falls into the below categories it’s not a fake review:

  • The reviewer is falsely claiming to be or have been a customer and you can prove this.
  • The reviewer has a clear conflict of interests and you can prove this.
  • The reviewer is pretending to be someone which they’re not and you can prove this.

If the review doesn’t fall into one of the above categories then it’s not a fake. Even if you consider it to be unfair or grossly exaggerated, and can prove this, you will still not be able to get it removed by a review site. Having said this, if there is clearly abusive, racist or otherwise discriminatory language used you may have a case to get it removed.

Read the Google Review Policy and if relevant you can flag fake reviews. Read the Facebook Community Standards and report fake Facebook recommendations. With Facebook, you have the option to turn off recommendations temporarily or permanently.

Although it’s unlikely, as your business grows you may well get some fake or abusive reviews and if you do you should report them. However, this process can take time and will unfortunately often be unsuccessful, therefore it’s essential that you don’t wait.

As soon as you’ve logged your case to have a fake review removed you should proceed with the below steps for dealing with negative reviews – assuming it will stay up.

#3 – Engage with Genuine Negative Reviewers

Your next step is to engage with the person who’s written a negative review. Hopefully, from the information gathered, you’ll be certain who this is. If you’ve any reason to think that you may not have the right person you should frame it as a routine service follow-up.

In most cases, if the customer has previously been in touch with a customer service agent or salesperson then this is the person who should make initial contact about the review.

Ideally, you’ll have an email or telephone number for the reviewer. If so, except in the case of B2B, you should use email to make contact as a call could come across as too personal.

If you don’t have this info try contacting them using the direct messaging (DM) on the platform which they left the review. If you can’t find any private means of communicating with them then make contact on the review site itself by responding to their review.

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Once you do make in-person contact listen don’t speak. Get the conversation going by asking about their experience with your product. Look for opportunities to resolve any issues they are currently having or to make up for past problems with your product.

If a negative reviewer’s grievances are genuine you should always consider offering a refund. In some cases, even if you don’t agree with their position you should still offer a refund. Your reputation is more valuable than the product you have sold them.

Once you have resolved a negative reviewer’s problem you can ask them if they would consider removing, revising or adding an update to their review. This should be handled with sensitivity and should only be done if you feel that they are well-disposed to you.

Be careful not to appear demanding or desperate and be aware that most review platforms, such as Google, expressly forbid offering any form of incentive around reviews.

#4 – Respond on the Review Platform

You should respond to each and every negative review you receive. Even when you’ve already contacted the customer privately. Even when you don’t agree with the review. Even when you suspect it’s a fake review. Respond to every review.

According to a 2018 study, by Harvard Business Review replying to customer reviews results in better ratings. While this study was examining hotel reviews the positive effects of responding to reviews can be seen across a wide range of industries. According to a 2019 BrightLocal survey, 89% of people read responses to reviews. As marketers we’re always on the lookout for new audiences and new platforms – so why not use this one?

It’s essential that any response you make to a negative review is polite, professional and consolatory. Remember, when you write on a public forum you are speaking to every potential customer, employee or even investor who may be curious about your brand.

Write any public response you make to a review to the wider online audience.

A well-judged response to a negative review can partially or in some cases completely counteract its negative impact. It’s all about showing your business as an empathetic organisation who’s willing to take responsibility when something goes wrong or when someone isn’t happy. Consumer’s today are savvy. They can spot the difference between a smooth marketing message and a poor customer service track record. Be better.

Of course, understanding what a good response to a negative review looks like isn’t easy. Take a look at the reviews of brands you admire for inspiration or check out this article from review trackers for examples. Over time, with effort, you will get it right.

#5 – Build Positive Reviews

Now that you’ve taken all of the above steps to counteract negative reviews its time to look at the one sure-fire way of dealing with negative reviews. Drown them out.

The best long-term strategy for not just dealing with negative reviews but also for building your business is to drown them out with positive reviews.

By following the previous step and responding to every single negative (and positive) review you are attracting more reviews. This is because when people feel heard they are more likely to speak. By responding well to reviews you attract more positive reviews.

Another way to build positive reviews is by improving your product and service. You can do this by taking the feedback which you have received from negative reviewers, by speaking with your customers, by researching your industry or market and by innovating.

You can also build your positive reviews by ensuring your business is listed on all the relevant review platforms which your customers and potential customers use. Once you are listed on these platforms you need to make sure that people know about it. Contact potential brand advocates by email or as an automated part of your post-sales process.

Building positive reviews is an ongoing process which you can dial-up whenever you particularly need to drown out your detractors but which you should never stop.

For more information on building brand advocacy take a look at our previous blog on how to create a customer advocacy plan or get in touch for more marketing strategy advice.

Dealing with Negative Reviews: Part One: Why You Should Worry About Negative Reviews | Part Two: What You Can Do About Negative Reviews

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