The 6 Golden Rules for Bad Online Reviews

Daniel Kehrer offers 6 ways to respond to negative online reviews.

Thumbs DownOnline reviews are increasingly important for local businesses of all types.  If someone searches for your business online, it’s just as likely these days that online reviews will appear near the top of the results. What’s more, the latest study from Lightspeed Research shows that more than half of all consumers now use the Internet for some type of research before making a purchase either online or offline.

Inevitably – no matter how good you are – you’ll get some reviews that aren’t to your liking. What then? Should you respond? If so, how? What should you say? What shouldn’t you say?

Here are the six Golden Rules for responding to negative online reviews:

Golden Rule #1: Monitor what’s being said about you online.  This is absolutely critical. If a customer writes a negative review about your business, that’s bad.  If you don’t know about it, that’s even worse. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s bad business.  It’s not nearly enough to simply search your business name online occasionally to see what comes up.  Instead, local business owners are turning to more sophisticated but easy-to-use “reputation management” or reputation monitoring services.  These services scour the web for any mentions of your business, giving you access to the information via a handy online dashboard, and offering ways for you to respond.

Golden Rule #2: Know your options and have a plan.  Familiarize yourself with the major local review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Places, DexKnows, Yahoo! Local and others.  Check out the tools they offer local businesses to respond to customer reviews (good or bad), and any options you may have for requesting removal of offensive comments.  Armed with this knowledge, you can have a plan in place for what to do if something bad shows up. This will help you remain calm and approach your response professionally.

Golden Rule #3: Do unto others….  Well, you know the rest. Basically it means this:  Don’t overreact. Knee-jerk reactions to negative reviews have gotten many business owners in hot water, and can only make things worse. Avoid raising a public stink about it. Never go on the offensive; as tempting at that might be in some cases. Showing anger and frustration won’t help. Keep your focus positive and on making things right.

Golden Rule #4: Remember that prospective customers are your audience.  When you respond to a bad review, your audience goes way beyond the customer who wrote it, so that’s who you’re really writing to. You need to “own” the issue yourself. That puts you in control and allows you to fix the problem for the current customer while describing how other customers won’t have the same issue.

Golden Rule #5: Be sincere and offer a real solution.  Talk is cheap. Anyone can say “We’re sorry.”  But what you choose to do about it is what counts in the minds of current or potential customers.  Whenever possible, go the extra mile to offer something tangible, perhaps a discount, freebie or extra of some kind. You are making this gesture in public, so others will judge you on it.

Golden Rule #6: See the silver lining.  Customer service gaffs are opportunities to shine. That’s the flip side of your unintended flop. A bad review, while discouraging, provides important feedback that you can use to better your business. Think of it as market research, and approach it objectively. Such feedback can expose hidden weaknesses in your product, service, staff or approach that are important for you to know. Take advantage of your opportunity to respond in a way that turns the situation around and makes you look caring and responsive in the eyes of other customers.

There’s another bright side to crummy reviews: Customers who encounter bad reviews that have been skillfully responded to feel like the time they’ve invested to research you online has been validated, and this may in fact move them more quickly to make a purchase.  And ironically, a few negative reviews can lend greater credibility to your positive ones since customers will be more convinced they are genuine.

Have a question about these 6 golden rules? Connect with a SCORE mentor online or in your community today!

About the Author

Daniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. Read more of Daniel's tips at, follow him at and connect on LinkedIn at