Bad Online Reviews: What to do about negative comments on Yelp or Google

Example: negative review onlineYou did your best, but you got slammed with a bad online review.  To your dismay you may find a negative review shoots to the top of the search results, above all the other links to your website.  You can’t make it disappear or push it down the list by posting something else.    You’re going to have to deal with it.

You want to respond carefully.  Studies show that online reviews are very influential when customers are making up their minds about who to hire.

First of all, this certainly feels bad. I am sorry if this has happened to you.  There is an important opportunity here. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to deal with negative reviews.

First, Why is This One Bad Review So Visible?

Google can make a low rating in Google Places or Yelp distressingly high.  Google’s goal is to serve up all information – good and bad – relevant to a buying decision.

Here’s the opportunity: Your answer is highly visible too.

Negative reviews are opportunities to showcase your honesty and integrity. Stand tall.  Apologize, regardless of who you believe is at fault.  Show your intent to improve your business and to earn the respect of your future customers.  That’s it.

There IS a Wrong Way to Respond to a Negative Review

In a nutshell, anything rude, insulting, or that puts down the customer will work against you.  This is not the place to try to argue or change the customer’s mind.  If totally mishandled, a bungled response can blow up and doom your career, and even force your business to close.

Case One:  You may have heard of the widespread public outrage that flared from the insulting remarks made in December 2011 by customer service rep Paul Christofo, President of what was once Ocean Marketing.  In brief, when a customer typed a message to respectfully inquire about a missed delivery date, Christoforo’s uninformative answers sunk to progressively more insulting lows after each customer request.  (You can read the whole account at the, and one industry reaction at Digital-Trends.)

N-Controller, which hired Christoforo and Ocean Marketing for customer service, fired him.   But damage to both sides continued.  The thread is still making rounds on the Internet. Adweek severed its relationship with Ocean Marketing.  The N-Controller product received 1-star ratings on from hundreds of outraged reviewers retaliating against Christoforo.

Responding negatively to customer criticism will hurt you the most in the end.

Case two: Judith Griggs closed Cooks Source magazine after a food blogger privately accused her of reprinting her recipe without permission. Griggs’s less-than-cooperative replies were published and re-published, forcing the magazine to close after two weeks of the controversy.

The Right Way to Respond to Negative Online Review

An ideal response to a public complaint is to be 100% polite and accept that you see room to improve your business.

Search Engine Land has published a model response to a negative one-star (low) review on R.J. Hidson’s Google Places page.   To paraphrase the complaint,  a woman vented her disappointment to hear reports of his lack of courtesy while taking wedding photographs.

This excerpt shows how well he avoids blaming his customer in his redeeming reply:

Hello Joy, I  apologize if my attitude came across the wrong way at Joel and Esmeralda’s wedding….  There were over thirty people in the wedding party, and getting them to do things was a challenge…. Possibly because of the size of the group.  During the shoot there were people (who were not in the wedding party) stepping into the frame of my shots, and, unfortunately, to capture moments I had to act fast.  Maybe I was too assertive with these people and they complained about that… However, going forward I’ll certainly keep in mind the experience I had on that day and learn what I can from it.

Hidson shows how to avoid publicly correcting the customer. Don’t fault your customer.  Don’t argue why they are unfair or wrong.  This is like dousing a fire with propane. Boom!  It is only natural for a person who feels repeatedly wounded to become enraged.  Rage is viral.

Your response needs to completely avoid judging or faulting your customer.  Your next customer doesn’t care if you’re right. They care about whether you’re honest enough to admit a problem, and if you’re professional enough to calm things down.

In his research on influence, Dr. Robert CIaldini’s reports a finding that the #1 trait people look for when deciding whether to view another person favorably is honesty.

Your response needs to affirm that you are an honest person, especially when it appears you were involved when things got messed up.

A Template for Responding to a Negative Review

Respond to a negative review as directly as you can, in the same place where it appears.

Here is a rough outline to help draft your public response to negative review:

  1. Thank the person by name for taking the time to post.
  2. Because there is hurt, apologize.  For example: “I am sorry you are unhappy over what happened during our work together.”   You may  explain your side of the story professionally, but without fault-finding.  Put in your own words what your customer saw as a problem.  Show you can see it without any attempt to argue it away.
  3. Say how you’ve learned something – and especially if you see a way to improve your work in the future.

People want to avoid open public conflict.  If you can cool down a hot, angry situation in public, you are showing a rare and needed skill.  Your reply can work in your favor if you show you can face a difficult situation with tact and integrity.  Not everyone can.

Your future customers want to work with a stable, cool professional.  When you’re calm under fire, you show a strength your competitors can’t show if they have nothing but complementary reviews.

Finally, once you have given your response, go out and request additional reviews from happier clients.

If you steer clear of pitfalls, you can recover from negative online remarks and your business will come out the better and stronger for it.

P.S.  Google Places (also called Google Maps) is not publishing or allowing business owner replies as of this writing (Feb 10, 2011.)  IF you can’t reply to a review in Google, others have found and reported this problem too: