How to Handle Negative Online Reviews as a Small Business

by Cobalt Workspace

Reviews can make a huge impact on a small business. They’re the ultimate form of social proof–that real-life stamp of approval on your products and services telling potential customers why they should choose you. 

But in business as in life, it’s nearly impossible to please everyone at all times. It’s natural to expect a few negative reviews on Google or social media from time to time. 

And when you do, how you handle them will determine their ultimate outcome. After all, even a negative review can become a positive experience for the customer, with the right approach.

How to Handle Negative Reviews

DO ensure you’re monitoring reviews and feedback regularly.

  • It’s important to respond in a timely manner, so set up alerts to your email when you receive new Google reviews. Or, establish a regular time where you check and respond to reviews so it becomes part of your routine. Keeping up with your online image is a key part of marketing your business responsibly. The same applies to your social media channels. 

DON’T respond immediately, but respond promptly.

  • While it’s important to respond promptly, don’t shoot off an answer as soon as you receive a bad review. Make sure to take some time to read and understand what they’re saying, consult with colleagues or your coworking professional community, and come up with a solution. Your immediate emotional response to a negative review may also not reflect the best course of action, so take a moment to calm down and look at things objectively before you chime in. 

DO consider the source and content of the review. 

  • Some negative reviews are from scammers and online trolls—those usually don’t need a response. Others are over-the-top and excessively rude or inappropriate. In most intances, it’s best to simply ignore these types of comments, or to delete them if they could be considered hateful or offensive. Evaluate the source and content of the review before deciding how to answer it.

DON’T take it personally. 

  • You care about your business and work hard at it, so it’s hard not to take negative reviews personally. But try to remove those personal feelings from the equation because reviews are about the customer and their experience—not about you. Treat negative reviews with a neutral attitude, focusing on the problem at hand and how you can fix it for them. 

DO respond professionally. 

  • This is obvious, but worth repeating: always, always, always use a professional tone! Even if the negative review is personal or rude, you need to remain professional. Just remember—other potential clients and customers will be reading this, so you need to take the “high road” and project a professional image. The way you respond, especially to the more challenging complaints, will speak volumes about you and your business to anyone doing their research on you. 

DON’T over-explain or deny legitimate criticism. 

  • Try to be concise in your response and avoid over-explaining or defending yourself. Acknowledge legitimate criticism or problems by focusing on solutions and making things right. If the review is accusing you of something or making false claims, it’s appropriate to give the facts about what happened. Just keep it short and simple and don’t go into defense mode.

DO take the conversation offline.

  • The last thing you want is a public back-and-forth argument. If it seems to be escalating or you need more information from the person, contact them privately by phone or email. If you don’t have their contact information, invite them to reach out to you to discuss a resolution further. Remote communication is the norm now, and a skill every leader needs to succeed, so don’t be afraid to jump on a call and make things right!

DON’T forget about it. 

  • Each negative review is a learning experience. If there’s legitimate criticism, consider how you can change and improve things in the future. Use reviews as feedback for your performance as a company and a way to course-correct as needed. 

Examples to Respond to Negative Reviews

Follow these dos and don’ts to respond to negative reviews and you’ll be fine. But if you want to see it in action, here are a few examples you can use as a guide or template:

Scenario one: Complaints about a product they were not satisfied with.

“Hi [Name], Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us! We’re sorry to hear that you were not satisfied with your product. We have high standards for all of our products and would like to make it right. Please contact us at [email] so we can arrange to send you a replacement item.”

Scenario two: General feedback with opinions on how you should do things differently. 

“Hi [Name], Thanks for your feedback. We always appreciate hearing from our community about where we can improve and what can be done differently. We’ve passed on your feedback to our head of [position] who will review and discuss it with the team. If you ever have further questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us at [email].”

Scenario three: Feedback that misrepresents the situation.

“Hello [Name], Thank you for your comment. We’re sorry to hear you were unsatisfied with your experience with us. As you will recall, we [EXPLAIN the scenario in a succinct matter—i.e. exchanged the product twice, once more than our policy dictates]. Again, thanks for taking the time to reach out.” 

Negative reviews are inevitable for small businesses. Your job is to focus on doing great work and then when those reviews come up, handle them professionally. 

Remember, even a negative review can be a great learning experience for your business and an opportunity to turn unhappy clients into satisfied and loyal customers.