How to Handle Negative Reviews (and Why They May Not Be as Terrible as You Think)


Bad reviews. We never think they’re going to happen to us. But let’s face it, they’re occasionally unleashed on just about every company. We all know that naysayers are out there and that addressing unfavorable comments can be tricky. But knowing how to respond is critical. That’s where we can help. Done correctly, not only will you limit the impact that unsavory feedback can have on your business, but a swift and thoughtful response to a negative situation can actually have a positive effect on your brand.

At FARM, we recommend having a response strategy in place for addressing any type of review or comment. This will help you deliver appropriate and consistent messages to your audience and ensure that key stakeholders at your company agree with the process. Here are a few suggestions for what to do (and what not to do) when creating a plan to respond to less-than-stellar commentary.

What to do: Address the issue
Whether the review is on one of your company’s social media accounts or a third-party site that links to your brand, it’s imperative to address any issues that come to your attention in a timely manner. Even customers in a heightened emotional state will usually appreciate your acknowledgement of their concern, even if you can’t immediately solve the problem. Regular monitoring of your reputation is best practice, and there are plenty of tools, like Mention or Talkwalker, to help you do this. And, as a side note, it’s also great to respond to those leaving positive remarks. People like to be able to interact with their favorite brands, and two-way communication provides a greater level of engagement that works to humanize your company.

What not to do: Ignore it
If you ignore the pile of dishes in the sink, does it go away? No. The same is true about negative comments or customer complaints. Pretending they aren’t there is only going to fuel the negativity and possibly spread it to others who see that your company isn’t addressing a problem that someone took the time to bring to your attention. Even if you direct the conversation offline, answering comments is always important to show that you value customer feedback, however painful.

What to do: Keep it positive
No matter how bad the feedback might be, responding to negativity in-kind will only equal one thing … more negativity. Keeping a positive or empathetic tone in your responses will help resolve issues without further conflict and let your customers know that you care.

What not to do: Get defensive
I know, it’s hard not to take some things personally. But remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your customer’s perceived problem. When it comes to responding to reviews or social media comments that seem more critical than constructive, it’s best to take a step back and focus on the issue—not how it was articulated—before you reply. The internet is forever. Even if you delete something you’ve said, someone has already seen it and it’s archived somewhere (just ask 90% of celebrities).

What to do: Tailor the resolution to the situation
Some issues are specific to one customer and easily resolved, providing immediate gratification. Others may require time to research before you’re able to provide a satisfactory resolution. If you have a significant number of customers complaining about the same thing, their collective sentiment likely indicates a real problem on your end. It’s okay to respond by telling your audience that you hear them and you’re working on a solution. This lets your customers know you’re committed to addressing the things they don’t like in order to create a better experience for them. More importantly, they feel like they have a voice—one which they may use less publically if they have a problem in the future.

What not to do: Delete comments or reviews (with one exception)
While it’s sometimes difficult to figure out the best way to address customer complaints, removing them isn’t going to help. It will only outrage the person who wrote it, potentially encouraging a more severe and greater populated attack on your brand. That’s the thing with the internet, everyone uses it, with strangers in their corner often willing to jump into the action. Removing what was said won’t actually remove anything … except any chance you had at peacefully resolving the issue.
There is an exception to deleting comments or reviews. Depending on your company policy, it’s okay to remove comments or reviews that contain profanity or offensive content. In these instances, it’s good practice to leave a comment informing viewers why the content was removed.

There are plenty of examples of companies that have successfully tackled difficult or sensitive issues that received public attention; think Starbucks during the holiday season with their controversial red cup or JetBlue when they had thousands of angry, stranded customers. These companies were successful because even if they didn’t completely resolve a concern, they acknowledged the issue, which is often enough to turn a potential brand defector into a long-term brand loyalist. Keeping this advice in mind can help guide your approach to turning negativity into advocacy.

Andrea Liseno

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