How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

Two women stand in line at the counter of a cozy small business and place an order with an employee.

Negative online reviews happen to every business—maybe a product was shipped late due to issues beyond your control, or an employee was rude to a customer. Where do those unhappy customers turn to vent? The internet, of course.

Managing those reviews is critical to your customer service strategy, given that research shows 97% of consumers who read reviews put equal stock in the response from the business. In fact, when handled correctly, negative reviews have the chance to become a positive piece of marketing as you show your efforts to make it right.

Here are six tips for handling negative reviews and improving your small business customer service while you do it.

1. Monitor Review Sites

Quick action is paramount: More than half of customers expect a response within a week. In some cases, that might even be too long; that negative review could rack up hundreds of reviews before you've had the chance to respond.

One way to stay on top of your business's review activity is to set up a Google Alert that will let you know when your business is mentioned. It’s also important to monitor social media channels, such as Twitter, Instagram and others, as well as respond to complaint emails immediately so that the sender doesn’t turn to a more public forum.

2. Assess the Situation

Once you’ve read the review or complaint, go on a fact-finding mission—if they mention a specific employee, a time when there was slow service, or they received the wrong product, trace it back to figure out what happened. If possible, verify that the person is actually a customer since fake reviews seem to be on the rise.

3. Apologize and Make Amends

Sometimes just a sincere apology can be enough to mitigate the situation. Often, people just want to be heard and know that you empathize with them. While excuses can come across poorly, it is advisable to provide background information, if appropriate. Perhaps the slow service was attributed to several employees who were simultaneously sick, or you were in the middle of growth mode and didn’t have certain systems up to par yet.

4. See How You Can Make It Right

The customer might have made a suggestion in their review—for example, requesting a refund. If their request is reasonable, acknowledge your plan to fulfill it. And if they didn’t make a suggestion, make an offer of your own—whether it’s a refund or discount off a future product or service.

However, don’t feel that you have to give in to their demands if they are excessive, and if the exchange remains hostile, apologize once more and repeat your offer, even if it’s not what they suggest. After more than two responses, it’s best to ask them to take the conversation offline. You don’t need to become internet entertainment as you try to come to a resolution.

5. Thank Them for Their Role in Improving Your Services

One of the great byproducts of a negative review is that you get to find out what a customer is really thinking—before they just ghost you. If not for reviews, you would never know why certain customers faded away, and you wouldn’t have the chance to make it right this time and for the future. A customer who feels understood is more likely to be increasingly loyal.

It’s also important to look for patterns in reviews; if you find that similar issues arise repeatedly, do some deeper research and consider changing a policy or improving staff training. And of course, make sure to respond to positive reviewers, too, to surprise and delight them. They can reinforce what you’re doing right.

6. Put the Situation into Perspective

Of course, no one enjoys a negative review, but believe it or not, they can actually be good for your business in a couple of ways. For one, no one is perfect, and a negative review or two may make the positive reviews look more authentic. After all, page after page of glowing reviews is unlikely, and can make readers wonder what a company is hiding. Furthermore, when you have the opportunity to engage in dialogue—both positive and negative—with your clients, it sets the stage for you to reinforce your commitment to small business customer service, right in front of everyone.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, National Association, Member FDIC.