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What to Do With a Negative Review

What to Do With a Negative Review

Anyone running a business knows that customer reviews are golden. Whether the reviews are for specific products or for the business itself, there’s no denying that they guide customers’ decisions. In a perfect world, your customers would always be happy and always leave five-star reviews. At the very least, customers with complaints would simply call you directly and give you an opportunity to fix the issue.

Sadly, this is not a perfect world, and online reviews have become the preferred method of feedback for the vast majority of customers. This means that given enough time, nearly every business or product will receive at least one critical review. After all, people have different tastes and perspectives, and even the best service providers have off-days.

Let’s be honest. Critical reviews sometimes feel bad. They can sting. However, the good news is that they do not mean that you are failing as a business owner. Better yet, if handled properly, they can become valuable tools.

Before reacting to a negative review, ask yourself a few questions:

Is It Actually Negative?

Many of us strive for perfection, which is how we became entrepreneurs in the first place. Anything less than a five-star review could be seen as “negative” in the eyes of a perfectionist, but believe it or not, many four- and even three-star reviews are filled with compliments. In other words, don’t automatically get nervous and defensive when you see the number of stars. Read the whole review first.

I remember the first time one of the authors I was working with got a three-star review on her book. Every single review prior to that one had been five stars, so we were a little shocked and appalled when we first saw it. Then we started reading. The reviewer loved the book. Her one complaint? She thought it was too short and she wanted more. She wasn’t upset about the price, the value, or the quality of the writing. She just wished she could have spent more time with it.

Not so bad after all!

Is it Business or Personal?

Again, if we were in a perfect world, customers would always leave thoughtful and helpful (if not always positive) reviews. They would think critically about the service or product, and they would provide suggestions that would let you know exactly how to improve.

Of course this isn’t always the case. Some reviews are full of emotion and contain very little factual information. Some are even pure personal attacks.

For example, there is a café in my local area, and it’s… not for everyone. You could honestly describe the place as being “offensive on purpose.” I like it because they serve good food and coffee, and I have become friends with the people who work there, but I can see how some people would have a strong reaction to the atmosphere.

Many of the café’s online reviews are scathing. They’re highly emotional, and most of them describe either the outlandish décor or the personal appearances of the various baristas and servers. I’ve spoken to the owner about the reviews, and her attitude is surprisingly calm. She says she talks to her staff if someone mentions rude service or a food quality issue, but she doesn’t let any other comments get to her. She’s aware that not every customer who walks in the door will appreciate the café’s punk aesthetic, but she has no intention of changing it to please those people. To her, those kinds of reviews represent personal opinions, and she chooses not to worry about any prospective customers who are swayed by them.

Not everyone is going to love your brand, and people are entitled to their opinions. It’s up to you to read critical reviews carefully and decide how much (if any) of the feedback could actually help your business.

Does It Require a Response?

Responding to a review is a tricky thing. It’s a natural instinct to want to defend yourself or correct false information, especially if the review was of an emotional or personal nature. Just know that your response says as much—if not more—about you and your business than the original review.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you’re going to participate in the conversation, you have to demonstrate empathy, not defensiveness. You may need to take some time get over the sting before you respond.

Address any customer service issues. Is the reviewer upset because an item wasn’t delivered? Was their dinner order messed up in the kitchen? Did they spend an hour on the phone with tech support, only to not have their issue resolved? Whatever the specific problem, address it head-on. Tell the customer exactly how you will fix it for them.

Don’t defend yourself against personal attacks or opinions. If a reviewer doesn’t like the Rolling Stones poster in your coffee shop or the cell phone policy in your waiting room, that is their opinion. If the reviewer is calling out something you consciously chose and that you are not going to change, then there is no need to respond.

Be brief; be sincere.

What Next?

Use critical reviews as opportunities to improve. Take note of what the reviewer has said, separate facts from opinions, and make any changes to your business that you think are necessary.

Owning a business is the ultimate exercise in growth, and with customers providing more feedback than ever, they can be some of the best guides in the process.


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by Jessica Dawson // Editor-in-Chief of Founder Nonfiction, a boutique publishing house of non-fiction, making published authors of entrepreneurs, business people, and professionals.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.