How to Deal With Negative Reviews & Complaints


As a small business owner, you know that a negative review or complaint can have a big impact on your online and offline marketing – as well as your bottom line. Even if you are making 99% of your customers happy, occasionally mistakes happen, and good customer service can sometimes slip through the cracks. But when someone attacks your business, it can feel like they’re attacking you, and it can be difficult not to take that personally. Before going on the defense (or offense), try the following tactics to deal with these negative reviews and complaints:

Relax, because it happens to the best of us. The thing is, every business has had its fair share of customer complaints. Want proof? Go to a search engine and type in the name of a brand you especially love (like Apple) along with the word “reviews” or “complaints” and just look at the number of results you get. If it’s a brand you already know and trust, it’s easy to remember that for every unhappy customer there are scores of happy customers who keep that company afloat. But if a potential customer is researching your business because they saw an organic or paid search result, they might not already know about all your happy customers. This is especially true if your happy customers aren’t leaving positive reviews to counteract the negative reviews of others.

Wait until you’ve cooled down before doing anything. Seriously. Take a deep breath, head out of the office for a bit. Whatever it takes, make sure that you’re no longer reacting emotionally or intensely before making a decision about what to do next – especially if you’re considering responding to the negative review. Remember, what you write will be publicly seen by everyone, and if you’re anything less than apologetic with a sincere offer to correct that customer’s complaint, you risk inviting the wrath of the Internet. For example, take a look at this reply a business owner left to a negative review on Yelp: think it was written in the heat of the moment? You bet.

Respond once you’re calm. Or don’t. As a consumer, you probably already know that some negative reviews are more legitimate than others. Sometimes when you read a negative review that has too many misspellings, doesn’t address a product or service complaint directly, or just “reads” funny, you’ll roll your eyes and move on to the next one. But if you read a negative review that cites specific details about what they purchased or how they were treated, it might be in your best interest to pay attention. The goal of replying to a negative review or complaint should be to accept responsibility for a lapse in quality, and to make a concerted effort to correct the situation. So converting that unhappy customer to a long-term customer is the brass ring in this case. But at the very least, demonstrating a level-headed demeanor will assure prospective customers that you’re the kind of business owner who can stay calm and prefers fixing problems than playing the blame game.

Move on and forge ahead. The reality of negative reviews and complaints is that many aren’t worth replying to, many you won’t even have the option of replying to, and most (if not all) will never get deleted or taken down (with very few exceptions). But there are ways of redirecting consumer attention to more favorable things about your business before they get to the negative reviews. Promoting positive content about your business across as many sites as possible (as part of your overall web presence strategy) can, in time, replace the spots those negative results occupy in the search engine results for your business name. And, of course, continue focusing on delivering the best products and customer service possible, so when you ask happy customers to leave positive reviews on the sites where those pesky complaints reside, it’s a slam dunk.

Have you ever seen an example of a business owner who handled a negative review or complaint badly – and it came back to bite them? What techniques and tips have you discovered when it comes to replying to negative reviews? Share your story in a comment.

Angela Epley writes about online advertising, web presence, and digital retention as the lead blogger for ReachLocal, which focuses on small business online marketing strategies.


The ReachLocal online marketing blog shares practical tips and advice for those who want to reach local customers online. Learn about online marketing from our in-house experts and thought leaders.

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