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Negative reviews don’t have to be bad news

Diane Hall


Blocks showing sad, neutral and happy faces.

There’s no pleasing everyone when you’re in business. Really, you can’t. That’s why, in marketing, we talk about appealing to your target market, as your product or service, generally, will not appeal to everyone, at least not in the same way.

Businesses offering a service—such as hospitality businesses, tradespeople and those offering a personal service, like beauty treatments—are often subject to reviews across social media and specific feedback platforms. Examples of these would be and Trip Advisor, where the general public can let rip about a company or product.

Of course, it’s great to receive a good review, and it can really help you market your service. However, back to my first sentence: you can’t please everyone. And that becomes apparent in some of the reviews people leave.

Indeed, you may have delivered a poor service (for whatever reason), and it’s arguably useful for the rest of the world who may be thinking of engaging with your business that they may have a similar encounter. It’s also useful to you, as the business owner, to know where you’re falling short, so that you can rectify this.

Sometimes, however, you can offer the best service or provide the best product and still get a bad review. The problem with some sites is that the feedback is not verified in any way. If someone has a problem with you personally (a competitor, a spurned lover, a keyboard warrior picking on you at random), they can slate what you do/sell without even coming into contact with you or what you offer.

Anyone else reading their bad review will not know that it’s unfounded, and that’s the issue here. If you don’t know anything about the business, you will take its reviews at face value.

So, how do you combat bad reviews?

Whether they’re genuine or a sabotage attempt, because visitors won’t know the difference, you should always give a professional response. It’s tempting to just ignore bad reviews, but this can do more harm than good and give potential customers the impression that you don’t care what people think. Apologise for the perceived error and if there are measures you could take to ensure the same doesn’t happen again, explain what these will be. Thank the person who’s left the review for taking the time to reach out and, should you feel this appropriate, invite them back for another meal/treatment, or suggest some minor compensation for their inconvenience.

Sign on top of bar on a brick wall

Sign on top of bar on a brick wall

The genuine reviewers will appreciate your response and will likely be content with your suggestion of redress; few will take you up on it, and even if they do, they’ll likely give you a glowing report next time if you do what you do best. This is because people with a genuine complaint predominantly want to feel heard and have their concerns recognised and acknowledged than be out for a business’s blood.

If your response is professional and appears to be heartfelt, anyone who leaves a fake bad review will not get the glory or reaction they’d planned for. They will just look like an awkward customer to anyone reading their feedback.

Some businesses take another tack and give their side of the story when a dispute or complaint occurs. Whilst this can be effective and ultimately satisfying, particularly if the original review has been embellished or aggravated, it’s best just to stick to the facts rather than get into a slanging match.

There’s a third approach rarely seen, which is to poke fun at the reviewer. Whilst it’s worked for a few businesses, it’s not a method we’d advise unless you’re sure that your followers and loyal clientele will see the funny side and have your back. It could lead to some free media exposure, if nothing else! Click here for a selection of memorable responses.

It can be disheartening if you do all you can to please your customers and some unknown person tries to stick the knife in you on a review site. Just remember, they’re one person amongst the many you will have undoubtedly impressed with your offering and customer service. Bad news doesn’t always travel fast—it may have done in the early days of review sites; nowadays, most people take bad (and good) reviews with a pinch of salt, which rather defeats their purpose.

If you’re confident that you do what you do well, your loyal customers will be aware too. One bad review will not upset the whole apple cart.

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