How to Handle Bad Reviews

How to Deal with Bad Reviews

Written by Jake Hundley
Published on May 29, 2019

One of the biggest questions I come across in this industry (or really any trade / contractor industry) is how to handle reviews, especially bad ones, real or fake. Responding to a review can make or break your brand’s reputation so it’s important to handle each one as best as you possibly can.

In this post, we’ll talk about the steps you need to take to handle real and fake negative reviews as well as give you a few good examples of what to do.

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Why Reviews Matter

Consider these statistics from BrightLocal:

  • 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has more than 4 stars
  • 40% of consumers will not use a business based off of negative reviews
  • 30% of consumers value the business’ response to reviews
  • 89% of consumers read the business’ response to reviews

It’s pretty safe to say that reviews matter when it comes to getting a new customer to your website and contacting you. It even matters what you say to the reviewer in public. You could have the most scathing online review, but if you handle it in public and address it head-on, it can influence potential clients to ignore the negative review because you handled it so well.

People Trust Online Reviews for Local Businesses

It’s worth it to note that the amount, frequency, rating, and even content of the reviews you receive on Google actually influences your rank in the local map-pack. The amount and the ratings alone do not determine your ranking. It’s also suggested that an owner’s response helps influence ranking signals.

Removing reviews isn’t easy and is sometimes impossible. But they can be handled well enough to actually help your business.

Handling Bad Reviews

Don’t Take it Personally and Calm Down

Calming down is the first thing you need to do regardless of if it’s real or fake. Have you ever been in an argument with your spouse and 10 minutes later thought, “Damn, I should have said this [insert nail-in-coffin statement]…” It’s because you’re calmer. When you’re hot and emotional you don’t think as clearly. If you did, you would have made that statement during the argument.

Remember this, the customer didn’t take the time to calm down before they wrote the review. They’re going to say some nasty things. Ignore them. Only focus on the situation and how it can be resolved. If it’s legitimately from an oversight or quality issue on your end, then you’re going to want to apologize, address the situation, and offer a solution, in that order. Publicly.

If you don’t feel like you deserved the review because the service they’re complaining about wasn’t in the agreement or the customer is mistaken, then you still need to do the exact same thing. It just might be worded a little different.

Respond Quickly

It’s 2019, there’s no reason you can’t respond quickly, especially considering there’s a computer in your pocket. Customers know this too. Over 86% of customers expect a response to their negative review within the first 3 days. Whatever site you can get reviews on, I suggest setting up your business account to email you notifications when this happens. Yelp, Facebook, Google, and Houzz all do this.

Responding to fake reviews shows you’re attentive and ready to communicate with your customers no matter the issue. Imagine seeing a scathing negative review on a new sod cutter with no response from the owner. It would seem like people are having problems with it but it’s not being addressed by the manufacturer. Either they don’t care or they do not communicate with their customers. Either way, chances are I’m not buying that sod cutter.

If the review is over a week old, you’ve lost your chance to redeem yourself. But it’s okay if you have older reviews and you’re just now reading this. Just do so moving forward.

Your customer complained because they’re unhappy (no matter how much of a douche they’re being). They’re expecting a response from you quickly. Or you’ve already heard them first hand complain to you, now they are taking it public because it didn’t get resolved. First, let’s be honest, all issues need to be resolved as soon as possible. If they’re not, you run the risk of getting negative online reviews where responding to them publicly makes it more difficult to come to a solution.

People care about the frequency which reviews and responses from the owner are coming in.

What People Look for in Local Business Reviews

Apologize to the Customer

Even if they’re wrong, apologize to them. As the saying goes, “Kill ’em with kindness.” But you don’t have to admit it’s your fault. Simply apologizing for the circumstances and how the customer feels will go a long way. You can say something like,

“I am sorry you feel that way” or “I sympathize with your situation”.

After all, it may not even be your fault and your customer just feels like being an asshole. If that’s the case, our best hope is to simply respond in a positive manner so the rest of the world can see. You might not get the review removed or changed, but that isn’t the goal here.

There are many ways to apologize, but I suggest reading some tips from Jeffrey Gitomer on apologizing to customers after a screw-up (whether your fault or not).

Speak in the First Person and Sign Your Name

Nobody wants to deal with an insincere clerk or robot. They want to hear from someone that matters. A decision maker or a business owner. Although you’re going to be responding from your business account (as you should be), it’s best to use language in the first person such as “I”, “me”, or “you” in a non-accusatory way. Respond as if they are only talking to you in-person or in a private message.

Pretend you had an issue with your internet service provider (ISP). You were without quality internet, they weren’t answering their phones, and online support can’t seem to help you. So you take to Twitter (as most millennials do nowadays).

(By the way, 72% of people expect a response from a business within an hour on Twitter…)

This is the response you get:

“Hi [your name], we are very sorry to hear you’re having issues with contacting our customer support. Can you send us a DM (direct message) for your issue?”

It’s a helpful response and it’s better than having them suggest the same crap that’s not working for you now. But, now look at this response:

“Hi [your name], this is Jim, Regional Manager of [your ISP]. I apologize for the issues you’re having. Can you send me a DM so I can get you taken care of ASAP?”

The second example is much more personable. If I had left this as a review, I would be a lot more inclined to take it down or change the rating. It shows me I’m not just dealing with a business, but I’m dealing with real people and I know I’m going to have different experiences based on the people I interact with at that business.

Most customers see your business as an entity as if all of your employees represent the same work ethic and communication. Take this opportunity to show them that your business is made up of people.

Don’t Blame, Make Excuses, or Be Defensive

This step is one of the most important ones because this is the one that’s going to make or break you. That’s why it’s so important to calm down first. People are going to see how you communicate publicly and it matters. In fact, 89% of people make sure to read the responses from business owners to reviews.

Do People Read Business Owner Responses to Reviews

As soon as you come off defensive or put blame on anything or anyone, you lose credibility as a business owner. It comes off as if you’re not going to accept your own faults or cannot take criticism. This goes double for blaming the customer for doing something. Or not doing something, like reading the agreement correctly.

If something was your fault, own up to it. Then offer a solution to fix that whether it’s fixing an internal issue so it doesn’t happen in the future or going back to the customer’s property to correct the problem. On that note, your customer doesn’t want to hear excuses, “We were in a hurry”, “I was short-staffed”, etc…

If you’re making excuses in your response then future customers are going to see that your business frequently makes excuses for your shotty jobs.  Avoid this. Instead, tell them that the quality of work they’re explaining is not in line with your standards or the mission statement of your company and that you would like them to contact you to fix the situation.

Offer a Solution

This is an important one as well. Without a solution, you’re just responding to respond. It looks like you’re just trying to get the last word in. The best part about this one is it doesn’t even have to be a direct solution to the problem the customer is complaining about. It could simply be asking them to call you so you can take care of the problem for them.

A common one I see is a client doesn’t read the agreement thoroughly and expects something to be done that wasn’t outlined in there. If this is the case, still offer a solution. You don’t have to do it in your response, but if you do, it could be something like this.

“…although it wasn’t included in our agreement, we would be glad to take care of that for you at the appropriate price for the add-on.”

Painless. The worst thing that’s going to happen is the customer still won’t understand and remain pissed off. There’s no helping these people. Stay positive, stay professional, stay kind. Any new potential customer reading your response will see through that customer’s bullshit and see you as the credible person in the conversation.

Thank the Reviewer

Whenever you can, thank the reviewer for both positive and negative reviews. Yes, even if the reviews are fake. And don’t make the thank-you come off as sarcastic. You can say something like “Thank you for bringing this to my attention” or “We really appreciate your input in helping us improve our own processes.”

Being humble, admitting your mistakes, and thanking them for their input goes a long way when people see how you handle things. People make mistakes, and it’s your job to show the public that your business is made up of people, not machines. But people that are always striving to improve their processes and customer experience.

Examples of Negative Reviews Being Handled

Now that you know how to handle negative reviews, let’s take a look at a few examples:

Example #1

Dealing with a Negative Review for Your Landscaping Company

Ian came off a bit forward. They called this landscaping company’s signs stupid then accused them of a practice that isn’t in line with their policy. This is where we need to calm down and remember the above principles. Although I believe this was handled well, the review is still up. What this landscaping company did not do is:

  • Apologize
  • Speak in the first person
  • Respond the same day

It looks like it took them almost a month to respond. If this was acted upon sooner, the reviewer might be inclined to take the review down as well as seeing a real person was speaking to them.

Owner Response: 3/5 Stars

Example #2

How to Handle a Negative Review from a Google Local Guide

This one is from a Local Guide. Not good. Local guides get all kinds of goodies and discounts from Google for maintaining a certain level of their local guide status. So, naturally, they’re more inclined to leave an informative review, even with pictures.

I would personally want to take more care in the crafting of my response to Local Guides. Local Guides have a direct impact on your local SEO in the map-pack, more than a standard reviewer. The landscaper could have made measure to protect this from happening, such as laying straw down if this amount of rain was imminent. As someone seeing this review, I would like to have read what the owner was going to do about the issue publicly. Not by simply reading a “call us” statement.

The owner did apologize for this. They took the blame, and they offered (somewhat) of a solution. I would have liked to see a response in the first person and an actual offer of how they would tackle the issue for Ryan.

Owner Response: 4/5 Stars

Example #3

Taking Care of a Negative Review for Your Local Business

The root of this review is a simple miscommunication. The landscaping business owner should have been upfront about their design costs. That’s on them. To fix this, I would have offered a free design for their project and see if we could still get the job. Yeah, you’ll eat it a little, but it’s better than a negative review or completely losing a customer because you miscommunicated.

After the apology in this review, the owner should have offered a solution. The problem, though, was they decided to take 3 months to answer this review. To a potential customer, like myself, it doesn’t look like the owner cared to get into a confrontation and waited until the whole thing was blown over. It also makes me leery of hiring them because of things they will inevitably fail to mention and not take fault for it.

I’m not anti-landscaper or local service business. I’m making a point on how potential customers may think when they see reviews like this that are handled this way.

Owner Response: 3/5 Stars

Do You Have a Negative Review You Need Help With?

Send me an email at and I’d be happy to help you craft the best response possible.


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