Marketing Matters

When Bad Reviews Happen to Good Businesses

marketing matters

When Bad Reviews Happen to Good Businesses

Alicia Hoglund

Business review sites such as Yelp provide platforms for consumers to voice their opinions about products and experiences with local retailers. These sites also impact potential buyers. Four out of five consumers have changed their minds about a recommended purchase based on a negative online review, notes Cone LLCs 2011 Online Influence Trend Tracker report.

Even the best businesses fall victim to bad reviews. The good news is that, if handled correctly, you can win back favor of the bad reviewer and ensure the situation doesn't repeat itself. With the help of some social media gurus, we've put together a guide to handling bad reviews.


Step 1: Don't panic. A bad review isn't good, but it also isn't the end of the world. In some instances, it can actually help your business.

“Counter-intuitive as it may seem, negative reviews can actually benefit a company by providing validity to the review site,” says Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, president of iMobile Communications, a multi-channel marketing and communication service based in St. John, Ind. “A recent study by Reevoo found that 68 percent of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad. Furthermore, 95 percent become suspicious when the reviews are all positive, sensing that the site might be censored or fake.”

Whether an impulsive rant or a thought-out complaint, the customer mainly just wants to be heard. “Many unsatisfied customers will not remark to you, but will tell others about their negative experience with your product or service,” says Vargo. “It's an opportunity to listen and respond accordingly to your customer base.”

Step 2: Be objective. Whether the first of its kind or a common gripe, a customer complaint shouldn't be ignored. “Don't disregard a bad review because nobody else has complained about the issue. It's possible this person speaks for many,” says Vargo.

Search Engine Land's 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey, an 18-item questionnaire completed at the beginning of this year by consumers in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, provided interesting statistics on consumers' trust and appreciation for online reviews. The survey found that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Following are other key findings.
of respondents say they have used the Internet to find a local business
regularly read online reviews when choosing local businesses
of consumers read between two and 10 reviews
are more likely to use a local business if they have positive reviews

Objectivity is key when assessing a bad review. “Even some of the most hot-headed negative reviews can be turned into a positive when approached objectively and with care,” says Samara Hart, president and co-founder of PIXSYM Internet Marketing & Web Design, Tehachapi, Calif., who explains that most consumers start their research online before making a purchasing decision. “Don't let your emotions ruin an opportunity to turn things around,” adds Hart.

Step 3: Do your research. Before responding to a complaint, Hart suggests researching the problem to uncover where things may have gone wrong and devising a plan to correct the matter. Not only will you be more prepared, the customer also will appreciate your thoughtful consideration of their review, explains Hart.

Dos and Don'ts
Social media experts Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, president of iMobile Communications, and Samara Hart, president and co-founder of PIXSYM Internet Marketing & Web Design, share their top dos and don'ts for responding to negative online reviews.
DO always respond. If you made a mistake, accept it and let the customer know it will not happen again.
DON'T minimize or invalidate the reviewer's concerns.
DO listen intently to the customer.
DON'T respond with an angry or defensive reply. Even if the complaint is biased or unjustified, people reading the review will assume this is how your company handles complaints.
DON'T contact a negative reviewer without a plan to make things right by him or her.
DO be compassionate and caring.
DON'T use generalities. Be specific when addressing a problem. Speak to the matter at hand specifically where appropriate and avoid canned responses.
DO be willing to give a little. Sometimes, customers just want to be heard. Beyond that, your offer to do what it takes to make things right may be the icing on the cake. Your willingness to go the extra mile might just win them back as customers and be worth a referral—even if the discussion turned from how they were wronged to how you made it right.


Step 4: Take action. After receiving a bad review, respond quickly to prevent the reviewer from further publicizing their negative experience. “Consider negative reviews an opportunity to showcase your company's commitment to listening to and resolving customer complaints,” Vargo says.

When drafting your response, be both professional and sincere. If possible, email or call the reviewer directly. But always respond to the complaint on the review website. “It's important not only for the [reviewer] to feel that you've heard his or her request and made things right, but for those who happen upon that negative review and your response to see that as a business, you care enough to correct the issue,” says Hart.

Consumers don't expect perfection. “But they do expect a company to respond to and rectify problems and complaints,” Vargo says

Your willingness to follow through on customer satisfaction may mend the relationship. According to The Retail Consumer Report, 68 percent of consumers who posted an online complaint got a response from the retailer. Of those, 18 percent turned into loyal customers.


A bad review is a chance to examine weaknesses and eliminate the source of the problem. “Valid or not, no company is immune to some level of patient dissatisfaction,” says Vargo. “One of the differentiating factors in companies with great customer service resides in the post-purchase actions of the company.”

“People who read a negative review see one of two things: a business that cares or one that doesn't,” says Hart. “Responding appropriately gives you a chance to come across as a business that made a mistake but did everything to make it right. Add to that several positive reviews, and potential customers will see that most people are happy with their service.” EB