Dealing with bad online reviews

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By Michelle van Schouwen

Prospective customers are more likely than ever to check out your business online. Reviews from the top review sites (Google – the biggest by far, Yelp, Facebook, and Trip Advisor) are especially influential in bringing in new customers, or persuading them to stay away. In this environment, just a few very negative reviews can be damaging, and a preponderance of them can be disastrous. (But believe it or not, having at least one somewhat negative review lends credibility.)

Obviously, the best course of action is to provide such good service and product that the vast majority of your (ideally many) reviews are glowing.  According to a survey by reviewtrackers, “perceived value” is the most influential characteristic among customers choosing businesses, ranking even above customer service or location. While this is great to know, assuming you offer quality products or services, even the best business will have the occasional vocal dissatisfied customer.

Response guidelines

When you see a negative online review of your company or its offerings, be sure to respond. Your response should be prompt (ideally within three days of the review’s appearance) and professional. You should (at least appear to!) take the input as constructive criticism and certainly as a problem to be resolved. Be sure to apologize, thank the reviewer for making you aware of the issue, and offer a remedy. Do not write a snarky or defensive reply under any circumstances.

In some cases, you will know who the reviewer is, and may be able to send a personal message as well, reiterating the points above including the offer of a remedy. In the desirable case that you end up communicating positively with the customer, you may, once the situation is resolved, ask if they would consider updating their review with a note that your company worked with them to assure their concerns were addressed. In the best instance, you may turn a complainer into a supporter.

Encourage positive reviews

Also note that having many positive reviews gives the one or two bad ones less weight, even in terms of the “star rating” your business gets in the aggregate. So, do encourage your customers to leave reviews. Some companies hand out QR codes or links to encourage customers to share their experiences online. If Google reviews are the ones you need, make it easy for satisfied customers to contribute to your Google profile. (See this article for more tactics to get Google reviews.) Be aware that, increasingly, customers who write a review appreciate (or may even expect) an online response thanking them for their feedback.

Several paid services offer to defend your online reputation, and in some cases do the job well. But for a small business, this can be an expensive proposition. In addition, reviews on popular sites or search engines (such as the gorilla, Google!) are not easy to push down in search rankings. In most cases, your own efforts, including responsiveness to reviews, will suffice to manage your reputation.

Finally, in the instance that your online reputation is being tarnished by defamatory reviews that can be proven to be untrue, you may have the option of legal action. This effort should be reserved for cases in which your company has been harmed by lies and slander that you cannot handle any other way.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

1 comment

  1. Ian Dukleth says:

    As the owner of a digital marketing agency, I found this blog extremely valuable. It provided actionable strategies to address negative feedback online, which is crucial for maintaining a positive online reputation and preserving client trust in the services we offer. Thank you for sharing these practical insights!

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