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Updated Oct 27, 2023

Negative Customer Review? Turn It Into a Positive Opportunity

It’s never encouraging to receive negative reviews from customers, but how you respond and learn from them can improve your business processes and generate additional customer loyalty.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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As a business owner, it’s never encouraging to receive negative reviews from customers — but they’re not necessarily going to doom your business, either. Leveraging negative reviews to improve your processes and responding with honesty and empathy toward the reviewer can generate customer loyalty not only from the customer who had a negative experience but from other customers that see your reply. This guide explains how to handle negative customer reviews and bolster your brand’s public image.

Negative reviews are on the rise (but don’t feed into it)

Negative customer reviews are common when dealing with the public, and there’s evidence that it has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. Negative reviews and interactions are to be expected, but it’s how you and your staff respond to them that matters.

“Negative reviews can shine a positive light on good reviews. When a business shows all of their reviews, they prove they have nothing to hide. Consumers tend to trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad feedback.” said Jessica Hulett, content manager at ecommerce marketing platform Yotpo. 

“[Additionally], bad reviews give shoppers a real picture of what they can expect from your products and service, ” Hulett added. “Shoppers who read those negative product reviews know that they need to order a larger size. Shoppers can see the reason behind negative feedback and use this knowledge to make smarter purchase decisions, which will allow your brand to build a sense of community.”

A 2021 survey by Power Reviews found that 96 percent of consumers specifically look for negative reviews at least sometimes. Over half of shoppers specifically seek out one-star reviews. That makes replying to these reviews all the more important, but how should you respond?

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Respond to all your reviews with a personal touch. Learn more by reading this article on how to respond to online reviews and boost customer engagement.

How to handle negative reviews

When receiving a negative review, it is important not only to acknowledge an unsatisfied customer but to respond in such a way that they will want to give your business another chance, thereby proving to other potential buyers that your business has top-notch customer service. Here’s what you need to know about proper handling and responding to negative reviews.

Answer quickly with a personalized response

In the age of instant and constant communication, customers expect instant and constant gratification in their customer journey, including the post-purchase brand interaction. 

“The first thing you should do when responding to a negative review is to acknowledge the problem. Let the customer know that the experience they had is unacceptable according to your standards and you are sorry.” said social media marketing agency owner Ann Brennan. 

Brennan noted that as a business owner, your response is there not just for the negative reviewer but for every single person who is reading through the reviews, many of whom may have never even patronized your business and are still considering whether they want to give you their business. A generic stock response will make your brand appear impersonal and drive the potential customer further away.

It takes time to read and thoughtfully respond to every negative comment but doing this will boost your customer retention rates in the long run. According to a 2020 Zen Business report on customer feedback, more than a quarter of people ages 30 and older and more than a third of 20-somethings reported changing a negative review to a positive one after their feedback was addressed and some deleted the unfavorable reviews.

Hiring an employee or a reputation management company to help with monitoring for and responding to negative reviews is one way to stay on top of them. Setting up alerts and using all-in-one social media management tools can help you quickly locate and respond to comments across all platforms.

Did You Know?Did you know
Reputation management service pricing can vary as they are often customized. Some companies will charge more than $1,000 per month to repair your brand’s negative image. Check out our review of the best online reputation management services.

Apologize and empathize

Customers may not always be right, but if you tell them they’re wrong, you will lose their business and other potential customers. When responding to a bad review, a brand needs to express understanding and empathy without blaming the customer and be apologetic about the less-than-ideal experience.

“Let the customer know that you empathize with his or her situation,” Jan Vels Jensen from customer experience consultancy Glassbox said. “Make up for the mistake, even if it’s not your fault. By making amends, you’re much more likely to get the customer’s business again.”

Corey Kossack, chief executive officer (CEO) of learning and talent platform Aspireship, recommends addressing the problem in the same forum where you find the review.

“All issues should initially be acknowledged in the same forum as often as possible,” Kossack said. “The company does not need to address the details of the situation in this forum but responding in the same forum first is important because it shows other customers who come across the review that you are acknowledging the issue in question and taking steps to find a solution.”

The next step in resolving a complaint can be done more privately over the phone or email, said Kossack.

“Customers want to feel heard and understood, so it’s important to find out what your customers want and how you can provide value,” he added.

Ask for a second chance

Asking customers how you can improve their experience with your brand in the future is the key to retaining their business. Vels Jensen said that brands should listen and learn from negative feedback. Customer complaints contain valuable information that can help improve both your overall customer service and the trust consumers place in your brand.

Offering a coupon, voucher or replacement product after a negative experience can also help you earn a second chance, Phil Penton, CEO of Xcite Automotive, said. While free products or services shouldn’t be your default response (customers catch on quickly and may give negative reviews solely to receive a free product), this can be a great tactic if there is a problem resolving the customer’s original issue. If you choose this route, be sure to encourage the customer to update their review if the second experience yields better results.

“If a company receives a complaint from a customer because of a faulty product, it’s usually most appropriate to [replace] the product for free,” Kossack said. “If a customer has a bad experience with a specific service or employee, it’s important to fully understand the reason for dissatisfaction to determine the best resolution.”

Encourage more reviews

It’s not easy to take criticism, especially from the people who matter most to your business. But using negative reviews to improve your customer service will give your brand staying power and provide a track record that shows you’re truly committed to your customers. Encourage your customers to leave reviews so you can take full advantage of this branding opportunity.

For brick-and-mortar businesses, Penton recommended placing signs, table toppers or window clings in your store for review sites that you would like to promote. You can also add a note to your invoices or receipts to leave a review on certain platforms. These reminders can increase the chance that consumers will share their experiences. Even providing incentives, such as discounts for future business following a review, can generate customer loyalty and guarantee another visit.

“Empowering your customers to comment on your company and taking the time to respond to them makes customers feel valued and wanted,” Vels Jensen said. “Reviews are a great way to show that you are listening and responding to all feedback and that you truly value your customers’ business.”

Tips for improving online image

Reviews are one of the many parts of your brand’s online image. The other portion of your brand’s online image is created from your brand’s social media’s pages and its presence in others. If you are unfamiliar with social media or looking to improve your online presence in a positive way, here are some additional methods that are easy to implement:

  • Build a website: Establishing a business website gives your customers somewhere to go to interact directly with your brand. A website also projects legitimacy and professionalism, which can help reinforce your brand. Offering contact information gives upset customers a more private outlet before they might resort to publishing a negative review.
  • Monitor social media: Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are among the top social media platforms in terms of reach. Each network has more than 1 billion monthly active users. Keep tabs on social media comments and do your best to reply in a timely manner to ensure your followers stay engaged.
    Engage in other business review websites: Creating social proof is important, and building a presence on business review websites like Yelp can be helpful. Encourage your satisfied customers to publish positive reviews too — they can go a long way to counteracting any negative reviews.
  • Send emails out to your community: As trust in online media drops, some customers are shunning the reviews of publications. They do, however, want to hear from you directly. Creating email marketing campaigns can provide them with a semi-personalized avenue to respond to how they like your product.
  • Be a thought leader: If you provide highly specialized services, your customer base knows what you do already. Writing about what you have done for previous customers or asking clients for a review can help improve your online image as a thought leader in your field, which can lead to more clients.

Changing your negatives into positives

Ultimately, negative reviews are a part of doing business —you can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try. Each customer interaction is an opportunity to understand your customer base, your product’s reception, your staff’s customer service and other day-to-day interactions that you usually do not get to experience as a business owner. Quickly responding with empathy and accountability toward negative reviews are a great way to dampen a negative experience for a customer as well as show to other potential customers that you are someone who wants to provide the best experience for all customers. Pairing active management of reviews with other tips to maintain — or improve — your online image takes a little effort but provides long-term value for all future customers and is definitely worth investing time and effort in.

Jill Bowers also contributed to this article.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Nicole Fallon is a small business owner with nearly a decade of experience overseeing day-to-day business operations. She and her co-founder self-funded their company and now lead a team of employees across multiple disciplines. Fallon's first-hand experience as an entrepreneur running a staffed business has given her unique insight into startup culture, budgeting, employer-employee relationships, sales and marketing, and project management. Fallon's business expertise is evident in her work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she analyzes small business trends. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Newsweek, and she enjoys collaborating with B2B and SaaS companies.
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