One of the scariest things that can happen to a company is a negative online review. Someone has bought the product or service you’ve poured your heart and soul into… and they’ve slagged it all over the internet.

We know that we should “rise above” and not call them names learned on the primary-school playground… but we do need to say something. So what can we do to mitigate the damage – and – in best case scenario – turn them in to happy customers?

While we might be tempted to grab a margarita mix, shut down the computer and “deal with it tomorrow” (aka never), it’s actually not that terrifying to respond, especially armed with a solid approach.

Let’s talk through how to do it.

How to respond to negative online reviews

There are a couple of golden rules to keep in mind with responding to online reviews, so I’ll going to start with the core foundations.
a) You can’t see their name, face or pet poodle Georgina, but you’re dealing with a real human, who has had a really tough day. While you might think their complaint is small, imagine it’s the worst day of their life, and this is the thing that broke the camel’s back. Be empathetic and understanding.

b) You’re not just responding to “that person”. You’re responding for everyone who googles your business type and makes a decision based on reviews. How many customers will be lost because they saw this review and decided to try elsewhere?

b) If you respond and “rise above”, you look better — and you look like you care about your customers because you’re taken the time to respond.

c) If your brand values are around customer service, and the personal touches you make, responding to this person means you’re truly living your brand values.

d) And most importantly… you can’t delete reviews – so it’s better to deal with it!

Related: The 5 Must-Have Documents Your Business Needs Before Starting on Social Media

Time is critical

Ideally, you want to respond to your customers within 24 hours of them posting the review, to resolve their issue there and then. Take it offline – don’t get into a “he said/she said” in a public forum (especially one that you can’t ever delete).
Respond to them immediately with something like:

Hi x, thanks for letting us know you didn’t have a positive experience with us. This is not what we want for our customers and will review this matter internally. Can you please send us a private message with more information about what happened, or send us a message with your phone number and we’re happy to jump on a call.

If you’ve missed a window to resolve it, you may need to apologise. And this can be much more delicate, because this is public for all to see, now and into the future.

A lot of the time, people who have had a bad experience just want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged that they’ve had a bad experience and you contributed to that. So, often just letting them know they’ve been heard is enough. For bigger issues; an apology, refund, and/or gift may be in order.

When you respond, I recommend you hit the following points (HT to Social Media Today):

  • acknowledge you understand their feelings and frustration, such as repeating the issues they’ve mentioned, in the words they use
  • apologise
  • thank them for their visit and the time to leave feedback
  • if applicable, offer a discount / gift
  • let them know how it’s being resolved so it doesn’t happen again
  • don’t make excuses. Just own it, learn from it, get better


Hi x

We’re genuinely sorry to hear about this experience. We can’t imagine how stressful this would have made [your special day, your visit, your launch]. This is not the kind of service we want to deliver at a company, especially as we pride ourselves on putting our customers first. [OPTIONAL: To apologise for this, we have given you a full refund, and to apologise, we’ve also sent [a discount voucher, wine, a free sample].] We’ve updated our internal processes so this will never happen again.

Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your honest feedback. While we know the apology [AND/or gift] we sent won’t make up for the stress we’ve caused, but we hope it goes a little way towards expressing how sorry we are.

Thanks, Management, [company].

You may want to rewrite this in your company tone of voice; but you’re not making excuses, or shifting the blame – you’re giving an apology.

Walk the talk

Now, an apology is all well and good; but if you haven’t said and done the things you’ve said in your apology, it will cause even more issues down the line. A simple checklist of things to consider before posting includes —

  • Has someone gotten in touch with the customer after the incident (Do you have their details?)
  • Have they been given a refund? (Is that policy?)
  • Has a manager responded yet? (Not just a minion!)
  • Can they send an apology gift? (Is there budget for it?)
  • How have you changed your processes to this never happens again? (i.e. do all staff need to do additional training, is a policy written publically, is OOO phone numbers visible, is there a new system in place?)
  • Have you set an annual reminder in the calendar to ensure this process is still in place in 1 year (especially as staff change).

If you’re building an issue escalation plan, consider these points before something happens so you can answer as quickly as possible to these kinds of issues.

The clean up

So, you’ve got a bad review written about your business online. You can’t take it down. On the bigger picture scale of things, if you’ve got plenty of good reviews, one bad review isn’t going to be a huge deal. But what if collecting positive reviews has never been a priority for you and this bad review is the only thing about your business online? Awk-ward.
What do you do?
Start collecting positive reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the less the one negative review will matter.
This will take time, but you’re playing the long game here.
Some ways to get more positive review include:

  • Talk to your happy customers 1:1 and ask them to leave a review – many are happy to do it; it just didn’t occur to them
  • Contact past happy clients and ask them to do it
  • Give people simple instructions on how to leave a review if it’s a specific site
  • Run a competition where anyone who leaves a review can win a prize, to increase the volume of reviews in a short period of time.

Setting up systems to prevent it

So, you might have addressed this one negative, but what happens if you get one in the future? The best approach is to set up systems and tools to put you on the front foot.

Simple ways to do this are to:

a) Once a week, look for online reviews on Facebook, Yelp or Google, or set up email alerts like Google Alerts. This means you catch the reviews as soon as they appear; they don’t sit there forever.

b) Have an FAQ and issue escalation plan set up for how to deal with these queries. (I’ve got a great guide here for how to set one up).

c) Don’t just create this document and leave it in a drawer. Regularly update it each month with new queries, and train all new staff and managers that this exists, and when to use it. Add this to your onboarding materials, give everyone a handout, pin it to the noticeboard. Remind your staff annually that it exists and that they need to use it.


Responding to online review can be scary, but following an approach written with a clear head can make all the difference. The key things to keep in mind are:

  • Remember that the person complaining is human, and they’ve had a bad day
  • Get in contact within 24 hours to discuss the issue offline
  • Apologise, when possible give them a refund/gift
  • Change systems internally so it doesn’t happen again
  • Encourage others to post reviews so the balance of your online reviews has more positive than negative
  • Set up issue escalation procedures so that you catch reviews as they happen immediately.

See? It’s not so bad at all. And once it’s resolved, you can grab that margarita mix to celebrate.

Want to work with Rachel?

Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.

She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.

She is based in Sydney, Australia.

Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.