How to Respond to Negative Reviews

A Practical Guide to Handling Negative Reviews for Local Business Owners.

One of the worst things that can happen to a business is a negative review. It is frustrating and upsetting, especially when you know that the review isn’t deserved.

Naturally, you want to defend yourself and your business, but stop and think for a minute before reacting in a way that could make the situation worse and cost you money.

There will always be people who find pleasure in moaning and reviews give them the perfect platform to air their grievances, and for whatever reason, these are often the ones you remember. You could have 500 great reviews but it’s the single negative review that keeps you awake at night.

Negative Google reviews for local businesses

In this article, we will look at how you can handle negative reviews, and also give you some advice on how to avoid them in the first place. While the principles apply to anyone who is reliant on reviews, we write for businesses that supply goods and services for the home.

The Importance of Reviews.

Why should you bother to defend negative reviews anyway? Are reviews that important?

We would say yes, they are important, depending on where they are seen. You may have a review on an obscure site that nobody visits so it may not be a priority. It also depends on whether you are trying to grow your business. I clarify this because I’ve seen some strange reactions from business owners who seem hell-bent on destroying their own business.

If you are interested in using the power of reviews to improve your visibility so that you can grow your business, read our article – Use the Power of Reviews to Help You Grow Your Local Business.

Assuming you are a professional and you want to grow your business, reviews are important and can make it much easier to attract good quality traffic to your website. If you leverage your reviews properly by showcasing them on your website and using them in marketing materials, they can also help those visitors become paying customers.


How do Reviews Help you Grow Your Business?

When it comes to Google, reviews are like money in the bank. More reviews help you to appear higher in the local rankings. The higher you are in the rankings, the more your result will be clicked on. More clicks mean more visitors to your website and more visitors means more customers.

In addition to being a trust signal for Google so that you appear higher in the Google Business Profile listings, they will also reward you by including you in the map pack which is the top three results if someone searches for a keyword that has been used in a review.

Regardless of where your reviews appear, they help you grow your business by creating trust with potential customers.

Of course, your potential customer will see all of the reviews including the negative ones. The way that you handle those negative reviews is what will influence the visitor.

Negative Reviews Are Inevitable!

If your business has been around for a while, you’ve might have already experienced negative reviews. It’s inevitable. If it hasn’t happened yet, then it’s coming. Every business in the world has negative reviews somewhere. It’s part of doing business and learning from mistakes. Nowadays it’s just part of the world we live in. There are some people who delight in misery and part of that is leaving poor reviews. Google has a local guide system that is open to abuse. Google’s Local Guides program is intended to reward active contributors to Google Maps and Google’s other location-based services. But some users are using it as a shortcut to fame and fortune, putting in minimal effort to earn rewards and earning money for negative SEO.

If your customers are frequently leaving negative reviews then it’s up to you to decide if it’s time to review your standards In this article the focus is on what to do after the review rather than prevention.

The first step is to understand the negative review.

Where has the negative review come from? Let’s break this up into two parts – genuine reviews and fake reviews.

Genuine Negative Reviews.

If your customer is unhappy and leaves a negative review, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to have it removed by Google or Facebook. Most review companies have received bad press recently and they are genuinely trying to improve the perception of review sites so if the review comes from a genuine customer, it will not be removed. Your only option is to respond to it and to communicate with the customer to try and resolve outstanding issues.

Genuine or not, some reviews are unfair. One of my clients who sells garage doors, has a great reputation but received a one-star review because he did not respond immediately to an enquiry. This is not reasonable but it is a genuine review of that particular person’s experience. You cannot allow for unreasonable people. In this case, he did not attempt to have it removed or further contact the customer. He left a response that shows he cares but it is also clear that the reviewer was unfair. This review has been mentioned by a couple of customers and it appears that they take sides. Evidence that negative reviews can help.

Unhappy customers may leave a poor review to gain your attention

Reviews Left by non-Customers.

Another common cause of complaint is driver behaviour. If a van is sign-written and the driver offends another driver, they are quite likely to look up the company online and leave a review. I’ve even seen a negative review for parking across the line in a supermarket car park.

In other cases, the reviewer may have simply misunderstood the product or service or confused your company with another.

The previous examples of reviews are not from customers but from people who have experienced the business in other ways. They are all valid if unfair and unnecessary. Reduce the risk of this type of negative review by deciding the standards for your business including the way that your business is represented by others at all times and impress this upon anyone who works for you.

The problem with negative reviews is not so much what is written as your customer can make up their own minds about whether the review is a reflection of the service. The problem lies in the effect on the average. The total of 9 x 5-star reviews and 1 x 1-star review means an average of 4.6 and that at first glance does not seem as attractive as an average of 5.

Road rage can lead to unfair negative reviews

False Negative Reviews.

How do false negative reviews occur? The most common reason for false negative reviews is that the reviewer has an axe to grind. This can be a disgruntled employee of the company being reviewed, or a competitor. In some cases, the reviewer may have been hired by a third party to post a negative review. There are plenty of people who make a living doing this.

Perhaps the most galling of negative reviews are those left by customers who have received a satisfactory service but have always had an agenda to cheat you out of paying the full balance. This is pure theft and it’s a shame that it’s not recognised as fraud.

What are Your Options for Dealing with Negative Reviews?

Most people dread negative customer reviews. Even the thought of one makes their stomach churn and their heart skip a beat. That’s why business owners ignore negative reviews completely or respond to them with aggressive comments that make the situation worse. There’s a better way to handle negative customer reviews. You can write a response that is respectful and solution-oriented. When you respond in this way, you can preserve your reputation, retain customers and turn detractors into promoters. Doing this isn’t easy, though, which is why most businesses avoid responding to customer complaints at all. But if you want to be a customer service rock star and put the growth and reputation of your business before your pride, you have to do it.

In this article, we’ll show you how to respond to negative reviews in a way that preserves your reputation and turns customers into promoters. We’ll also share a few tips on how to deal with reviews that are just plain nasty.

Think Before You Respond to Reviews graphic

The Benefits of Responding to Negative Reviews.

Responding to negative reviews is one of the best ways to manage your reputation online. When you respond to negative reviews, you have the opportunity to resolve the issue at hand and improve the perception of your business..

As long as you respond quickly and appropriately, responding to negative reviews can actually help you. In fact, research shows that customers who see a response to a negative review are actually more likely to buy from the business than those who don’t see a response. In some cases, if they think the reviewer is unfair, they will show support for the company by taking the next step.

The first thing to do with a negative review is respond to it. Remember that you are responding as much for other readers as the person who left the review. If it’s not genuine, say that you believe it is a mistake as they are not a customer. Ask them to get in touch so that you may resolve it.

If the negative review is from a customer, respond in an apologetic way and arrange to get in touch. Do this even if you do not agree. You can revise your response later if the customer proves unreasonable. In the first instance, you just want to limit the damage and preserve your reputation.

3 Things You Should Always do When Responding to Negative Reviews.

Regardless of the reason that the reviewer is unhappy, it’s important to respond.

1. Take a minute to think about what you are going to say. Responding to a negative review in the heat of the moment might lead you to say something that could damage your business. Talk it out with someone if you can. Email us for advice if you want to. Include a screenshot or link to the review.

Man working on lap top

2. Respond as soon as you are able to. You can edit responses whenever you like so if you are going to take time, at least leave a response to say that you are looking into it and will come back to them as soon as possible.

3. Introduce yourself as the owner of the business and take personal responsibility. This shows anyone reading that you are fully invested in your business and care about your customer’s satisfaction.

Let’s take a look at some specific circumstances and a few ways that you can either reduce the potential damage or improve the rating.

If the customer is genuinely unhappy.

If your customer is genuinely unhappy with the service, the only solution is to communicate with them to resolve the issue. Once resolved, it is reasonable to ask them to adjust their feedback.

If the customer has left a glowing review but hasn’t given 5-stars.

It’s tricky if the star rating doesn’t match up with the review. It’s quite common to see positive comments and 4 stars. Some customers believe that a 4 star review is positive and think that they are being fair to you. To a business owner who has worked hard to maintain 5 stars over a long period of time, it can be devastating. 4 stars is not devastating. There is even a school of thought that says it’s better to have a few flaws showing as it seems more genuine.

While I don’t subscribe to that school of thought, I also don’t think that a few 4-star reviews needs to be too damaging. Overall, I think that higher reviews in number, and quality, give the best results.

I recommend responding to a 4-star review in the same positive way that you would respond to a 5-star review but I would contact the customer directly and ask what needs to happen to turn that 4-stars into 5.

If the comments are positive but the reviewer has left 3-stars or less, again, respond with gratitude but contact your customer to ask why. Sometimes they misunderstand the system or do not know what effect their rating has on your business.

If the customer is unreasonable.

Since Covid, we seem to live in an angrier world and business owners are reporting more unreasonable customers. Part of this is the rise in use of online services and recognition of the power of reviews. A negative review is a powerful weapon in the hands of a consumer.

If a customer has unreasonable expectations.

Sometimes the customer is unreasonable about expecting services you didn’t quote for and sometimes they are just in a bad mood or having a bad day. They can use their power to take it out on you and your business. The worst are those who use that power to try to avoid paying the final bill. I’ve recently heard from a client who has had this problem with a client who was in the police force. That is criminal but what do you do?

I know that the instinct is not to bow down to these tyrants or to hit back with an angry response but you have to think with your head not your heart when it comes to business if you want to grow. What is the cost of your response? If that review and/or your response will deter potential customers, the cost of your pride could be several thousand pounds and in the worst-case scenario, can lead to the downfall of your business.

You can only have a frank discussion with the customer to find out what the real issue is. Some will have a genuine grievance that they haven’t told you about. You know how children will say they have a tummy ache regardless of what is really bothering them? They don’t know how to express the real discomfort but they want you to know that they have a problem. Some customers are like that. They feel awkward about being honest. It’s up to you to make it comfortable for them to be honest with you

My rational advice is to give the customer what they want as long as it is reasonable. Like you, I find it painful to give in to unreasonable demands but the business comes first. Part of the cost of being in business is doing things you don’t want to do for the sake of the business.

How to Deal with False Reviews.

This image shows a message from a fake reviewer. I receive these regularly. There is no doubt that false reviews are out there. Don’t get involved as you are likely to get caught and your listing could be suspended. If you suspect competitors of faking reviews, leave them to it or report them. It will only be a matter of time before they are caught.

Google has a local guide system that is incentivised by points and levels. There is no incentive for a negative review but for some reason, some of these guides will rack up points quickly by leaving a 1-star review without any comment. This could also be part of a negative SEO campaign. Regardless of the reason, try to get false reviews removed as soon as possible. Any review company will have a system for challenging false reviews and having them removed.

Mostly on this website we are concerned with Google as that is the foundation for local SEO.

Message from fake reviewer

How To Flag False Reviews To Google For Removal.

Open up the review in the Google Business Profile Manager or where you go to reply to reviews. You will see the three dots in the top right corner. Click on this and you will see ‘flag as inappropriate’.

How To Flag False Reviews To Google For Removal

Clicking on that will take you to a list of reasons why the review may be inappropriate. All you can do from here is choose the reason why the review is inappropriate and trust Google to make the right judgement. When they notify you of their decision, you may have a chance to appeal.

The inappropriate review system has recently changed and is a bit inconsistent. never-the-less, start by reporting in this manner and see what happens. If the review is clearly spam, the process should be automatic. If in doubt, screenshot the review and email it to and we will advise.

Last time I reported a review for a client, I received a call from Google asking me to explain why. The reason was that the negative review was for a different company with a similar name. We knew this because the review, mentioned a sign written van and my client doesn’t have vans of his own.

List of reasons why the review may be inappropriate
Google notification of a policy violation

If you’ve done all you can, what’s next?

If your customer will not change their review and Google will not remove false reviews, you may just have to live with a negative review. All you can do is respond to it in a positive way so that anyone seeing your response will judge you as someone who cares about the business.

There is still the problem that your review average may be affected. The best way to deal with this is to make a concerted effort to ask for more reviews to dilute the negative review.

Use the Power of Reviews to Help You Grow Your Local Business.

Lack of budget, or fear of spending without return, is often the reason for not maximising the potential of your business through marketing.

Of course, time and knowledge are also factors but there are ways to market your business that cost nothing, take no more time than you’d normally put into providing excellent customer service and there’s no learning curve. Read our article about growing your business with the power of reviews.

Part of the cost of being your own boss is doing things you don’t want to do for the sake of the business.

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