How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

“Hold on, hold on, hold on!” the restaurant manager called after us as we stood up to leave. We had been waiting an hour for food that, when it came was entirely wrong, cold or burnt. “Let me fix this. I’ll give you each several drinks on the house, your meals are free and personally make sure everything comes out perfect. Just stay… and don’t post about this to Yelp!”

Such is the fear of getting a poor review on social media. The restaurant manager above had explained to my party that he had just been hired to revive this store’s flagging sales and that on-line reviews were killing traffic and turning away patrons. The guy was ready to do almost anything to make sure that more negative reviews did not find their way to the rating websites that were so essential to his business.

We complied. The night was salvaged as we ate and drank gratis. And my friends and I began a very interesting table conversation about the power of online reviews.

The Power of Negative Online Reviews

The true gift of social media is that it gives you the ability to truly listen to your customers. If people didn’t care, they wouldn’t comment, vent, or give a poor review. They would simply move on. While negative reviews might leave a knot in your stomach, they have done you a favor by telling you what’s wrong. The best way to react is to treat these instances for what they are; rich sources of data that you can use to make your company better.

How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

So how do you handle these reviews? Do nothing and people may believe the accusations to be true. Get into a war of words in a public forum and you’ll come off like a lunatic and lose business. If you try to bribe silence, you run the risk of being extorted by every malcontent with a smart phone.

Whether the restaurant manager in my story was correct in his actions or not, there is certainly a right and wrong way to handle negative online reviews.

Step 1: Determine the Accuracy of the Complaint

Let’s assume you’ve encountered a negative review. You now have data. Determine if it’s accurate. Did your customer really have that experience? Trying to validate the complainer’s feelings without publicly admitting fault when you are not even sure you are at fault is a tricky process. Some of the best at handling these issues is the airline industry.

If you follow USAir’s twitter feed you’ll notice people complaining about lost baggage, missed flights, and incorrect charges. People are angry and they are very creative in letting the airline know it!

The carrier uses a great technique for problem validation. First they apologize for the way the customer is feeling (not for anything they’ve been accused of). This is great because it soothes the angry customer and avoids an admission of guilt!
USAirways handling my complaint on Twitter
As in this example,they point a link to their policies. If the suspect they are at fault, USAir then asks the traveler to private message them their ticket confirmation code so they can sort the issue out. This is brilliant because it gets an angry, ranting customer out of a public forum, plus everyone else on the Internet sees a caring, responsive air carrier. I hear occasionally USAir actually does work with the customer to fix things – although that’s never been my case!

Step 2: Take Action

If it turns out that the complaint is valid, take action! A few years ago I went online to complain about the cable company who owns a monopoly on my neighborhood. I accused them of using their unfair competitive advantage to provide awful service to me. For my part it was true! My internet would go out and prevent my dvr from recording important football games I wanted to see! Since I look forward to these games all week long, I was pissed and made sure they knew it!

The cable company had recently gone through an exercise where the senior officers monitored mentions of their company online (best practice for any company, if you don’t know how to do this, let me know and I’ll show you.)

Those senior executives got an earful of my frustration at missing the games. One of them reached out to me directly and patiently wrote down the specifications of my entire set up and then asked me to wait for a call. That executive called the head of engineering for the firm. The head of engineering and a technician came to my house and solved the problem within a half hour! It was great! That is an example of getting the job done well.

As a bonus that senior executive who contacted me initially contacted me repeatedly over the next few years to ask my perspective on different initiatives they were debating. I offered candid feedback and felt honored to do so. I remained a customer and went from being soured on their service abilities to praising them.

Step 3: Go from Defense to Offense

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get down to real ninja tactics. This is why you should look for negative reviews not only about your brand, but about your competitor’s, too.

A friend of mine is a career hotel manager. He’s served at some of the most prestigious hotels up and down the eastern seaboard. He is renown for his energy, enthusiasm, and competency. Most people are unaware of how competitive he is.

My friend will monitor online traffic for complaints against other high-end area hotels. He will then personally seek out those clients and offer them an incredible experience at his hotel. My friend takes his unique ability to get amazing results for his own customers and uses it to poach the dissatisfied clients of others! He never bad mouths the competition. He merely solves their problems, and they love him for it. Think about applying that tactic to your industry.
How to get great online reviews


Most of the time when people complain about service it is because they do not understand or cannot see the whole picture. Use the technology you have available to engage prospects and publicly answer real problems that they have. You’ll not only demonstrate your expertise to those right in front of you, those answers will attract others, build your brand and your customer base. Remember, all of the marketing in the world is useless if you are not providing value for your audience.

What About You?

How do you handle negative reviews of your brand or business online? Have an example like my USAir, restaurant, or hotel manager? I’d love to hear about them! Email me or leave a note in the comments.

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