Responding to Negative Reviews: A Primer

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

No matter if your business has an established online presence or not, online reviews of your business are part of the reality of ownership - and some of those reviews inevitably will be negative.

A 2018 consumer review survey by BrightLocal shows that 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, and for those consumers aged 18-34, the readership comes in at 95%. This is especially important to consider, as 91% of that demographic trusts those online reviews as much as they trust word-of-month. On a local level, our recent Trust Lab Inaugural Assessment of Western Michigan consumers indicated that reviews were in the top five list of factors that were most important when deciding to trust a company with their business.

Miscommunication, difference of opinion or expected outcome, and simply plain old bullying tactics can often be the cause of negative reviews. If you aren’t prepared to handle them, things can go south pretty quickly. Understanding how and when to respond to negative online reviews is part of the job of business ownership these days. Here’s some quick tips to help out:

1. Monitor Your Online Presence

Make sure you are paying attention to your online presence, even if you don’t have an established website. There are numerous places where online reviews can appear about your company, and the first step is claiming those profiles in order to make sure you’re aware of when those reviews pop up. Here’s how to set up and claim a few of them. : Claiming your business profile is easy. Simply search for your business name on If you find your business, simply click ‘Claim This Listing’ and follow the steps to update and take control of your business information. If you don’t see your business listing, click here to Get Listed. Your local BBB will send you an email when a review or complaint is submitted. Additionally, BBB works with the business owner to verify the authenticity of the submitted review to the best of our ability.

Google My Business: Claim or take ownership of your Google My Business listing by visiting: . Search for or create your business listing, follow the prompts, and make sure you request notifications via text or email when a review is posted.

Yelp: Visit: to claim or create your business listing on Yelp. Follow the prompts and again, make sure you enable notifications when a review is posted.

Additional, industry specific sites will have their own processes. Make sure you claim and monitor these as well if they happen to be relevant for your business.

Monitoring these sites allow you to be prompt and attentive to your customers and any concerns that arise.

Please be aware all the aforementioned sites are FREE to create and monitor business listings. Yelp and/or Google do have additional paid services and you may be contacted by sales reps to use them, but you DO NOT have to purchase additional services in order to maintain your basic listings.

2. To respond or not respond

There are a few schools of thought on response to negative online reviews, and there is no one right answer. It depends on numerous factors, and these are things you might want to consider before you begin typing out that response.

The first step before responding to anything negative it to pause and breathe. Of course you want to defend your business and your quality of service, but it’s best to not respond in anger in the heat of the moment. Take a second to calmly absorb what the review is saying and then begin your response.

Should you even respond? Some research shows that yes - responding is key, for both positive and negative reviews.

A recent Harvard Business Review article on managing online reputation conducted a study of TripAdvisor reviews on hotels. It saw that hotels who responded to reviews (both positive and negative) saw a 12% increase in the number of reviews that came in and a small increase in their rating on that platform. As far as the ‘why,’ this study concluded it had to do with people’s natural aversion to conflict. If there was consistently a response to reviews, a consumer might be less inclined to leave a short or unsubstantiated review, to avoid a potentially uncomfortable interaction with a manager, even though it's only ‘online.’ That online interaction is (often) a permanent record of engagement, and that might be something a consumer with a not quite legitimate or trivial complaint wants to avoid.

Bonus: This same study showed that while negative reviews did still appear for those who responded to them consistently, these were often longer, more substantiated and full of constructive feedback that can be valuable for a business.

But what if an anonymous consumer is irate, typing in ALL CAPS and just going overboard with their review? While anyone’s first instinct would be to respond likewise, take a moment and assess what they are saying and if you should even bother to respond. If someone is making little sense and essentially doing the online version of screaming in your face - what are the chances that a thoughtful response will be well-received? It might be best to move on.

If consumer concerns are genuine, you should respond and respond in a manner that recognizes these concerns, just as you would in person.

3. You’re Responding - So Respond Appropriately

You’ve chosen to respond to the review. Great. But how should you go about doing that?

You can respond one of two ways, depending on the nature of the issue - online within the review platform, or privately/in-person. It’s up to you to decide what the best course of action is, but the following suggestions might offer some guidance. Offline: If you are able to recognize the exact interaction that an upset customer is referencing, it might be better to a personal approach first, and contact that customer through other offline channels. Often, the issue is a result of miscommunication, and you might be able to make it right with a personal touch. This could even turn a negative review into a positive one. (Yes, consumers can alter the reviews they leave on numerous online platforms). Make sure if the situation is resolved satisfactorily through this engagement, you kindly ask for that consumer to consider re-writing or responding to that negative review online.

Online: When responding to a negative review, make sure you address the issue and offer an apology. Personalize your response to the problem and be empathetic. You can also considering adding a sentence or two about how their experience is the opposite of the service you usually provide. Contrast the problem with your positives: “I apologize for your experience with our business. We’re usually known for our superior execution and friendly staff, and I regret that we didn’t live up to our standards here.”

Make an offer to correct the problem or to discuss it further - include contact info for management and the name of an individual to connect with via phone or email. It shows that you take customer service seriously, and personalizes the interaction.

No matter the issue, try to keep your response short and sweet - a few sentences if possible. Writing a book in response to each negative review can appear as if you are trying to justify the review and can seem defensive. Also, information overload - it can be too much to bother reading.

Remember, you are responding not just for this customer, but for all the potential customers that are searching for your business. If a consumer actually wants to be helped, help them. If a consumer simply wants to complain and engage in a virtual shouting match - don’t give into argumentative temptation and simply move on.

Online or Offline, Operate with Integrity

Protecting your online reputation is part of protecting the reputation of your business overall. Extend the level of customer service and business integrity you exhibit in face to face interactions to your digital ones. Online is often the first contact and point of reference a potential new customer has with your business - make it count. Your efforts and sincerity will be recognized and appreciated.

When in doubt or when frustration strikes, remember: while you cannot control what other people do or say, you can control how you react to it.

More resources:

Now that you’ve got the basics covered, Check out the below resource for some additional tips and tricks when dealing with online reviews on your profile:

Customer Review Tips


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