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When it comes to customer reviews, embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly is essential.
While everyone loves a five-star review, it may be tempting to sweep the occasional one-star rating under the rug — what’s one unhappy customer, after all?
Anticipating negative reviews, and responding when you get them, should be a pillar of your reputation management strategy.
A staggering 77% of consumers view brands more favorably1 if they respond to and act on customer feedback, including online reviews.
This guide will round up the top strategies for responding effectively on review sites. We’ll also include negative review response templates you can copy and revise to suit your business needs.
A Bad Review is Bad for Business (Sometimes)
While only 6% of consumers have left a negative review in the past 12 months, a single negative review can cost your business’s bottom line.
On the flip side, businesses can create a silver lining to negative online reviews through thoughtful responses.
Here’s an example of a business that pushed back against a bad review and won.
Meet Geraldine Hernandez, CEO and co-founder of Savory Crust Gourmet Empanadas. One day in 2019, she received a dreaded one-star Yelp review from a customer claiming they got food poisoning from her restaurant.
Many business owners are familiar with what happened next. Despite a pristine online reputation, Yelp refused to take down the customer review. Rather than acquiesce to a drive-by fake review, Hernandez explored her options.
It didn’t take much sleuthing to find that the reviewer who posted the review had previously mentioned she had a medical condition (IBD) in other Google reviews, which could cause some discomfort with certain foods. Despite her earnest attempts to reach the customer, she took a different tact.
With a loyal following, Hernandez made her case in the court of public opinion. She shared her findings, proudly explaining they never had such critical reviews, and even boasted a flawless inspection from the local health department. And then she went even further.
Rather than being upset, she donated a portion of her profits to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation on behalf of the disgruntled customer. In addition, she encouraged her audience to donate as well, including a special offer for anyone to redeem on their next visit. The post garnered nearly 400 reactions and 300 comments.
TLDR: As a business owner, you don’t need to be the victim of a bad review. You should do your best to monitor and respond to negative feedback offering assistance to customers in need. But if all else fails, create a marketing opportunity to tell your side of the story.
Review Response Strategy Guide
Dealing with a one-star review? Here’s a cheat sheet for an effective response strategy.
|Type of Review||Strategy for Responding|
|Product or service quality||Apologize and offer a resolution or refund. Investigate the root cause of the issue and take steps to prevent it from happening again. Consider offering compensation or incentives for future purchases.|
|Customer service||Respond promptly and empathetically. Acknowledge the customer’s frustration and apologize for the inconvenience. Provide a clear explanation of what went wrong and how the issue will be resolved. Consider offering a discount or free service to compensate for the poor experience.|
|Billing and pricing||Listen carefully to the customer’s concerns and investigate the issue. Provide a clear and transparent explanation of the charges or fees in question. If an error has been made, offer a refund or credit. Consider reviewing and updating billing and pricing policies to prevent similar issues in the future.|
|Shipping and delivery||Respond promptly and provide regular updates on the order status. If there is a delay or issue with the delivery, apologize and offer a resolution, such as expedited shipping or a refund. Consider offering a discount or coupon code for future purchases to compensate for the inconvenience.|
|Company policies||Examine the customer review to determine if this was an isolated incident or relates to actual policies from the company. Acknowledge the customer’s perspective and recommend you speak to them to discuss it further. If appropriate, mention that you considered their feedback as you review and update your company policies.|
|Cancellation issues||Review the customer complaint and determine if this was a human error or if the customer was frustrated by an unexpected charge. Approach their concern with empathy. Seek to understand the situation before pointing them to your billing policies.|
|Long hold times||Waiting on hold is never fun. Take a look at the customer review and determine if this is a one-time incident or a growing pattern in other online reviews. You might need to revamp your on-hold music to let people know the expected wait time and offer a callback option. Otherwise, you can respond to the review by being cordial and offer to call them directly at a time that works. Follow up to ensure their primary issue has been resolved.|
|Technical issues||Respond promptly and provide regular updates on the issue’s status. Provide clear instructions or troubleshooting steps to help the customer resolve the issue. Consider offering a refund or credit if the issue cannot be resolved.|
|Marketing and advertising||Apologize and address the customer feedback directly. Provide a clear and transparent explanation of any discrepancies or misunderstandings. Review and update marketing and advertising standards to ensure accuracy and avoid misleading or false claims.|
|Contract disputes||Be strategic in how you respond so you don’t land in a legal mess. In most cases, someone simply wants to be heard at the highest level. Seek to understand the impact of a contractual issue. Respond with empathy and understanding — and make it right. Offer your direct phone number for future concerns.|
|Environmental concerns||Acknowledge the customer’s concerns and provide a clear straightforward explanation of environmental policies or initiatives. If feasible, consider addressing the issue, such as implementing sustainable practices or reducing waste.|
|Ethical or social responsibility||Restate the main concern without admitting fault or assigning blame. Advise that you will look into the situation and consider the online reviewer’s feedback.|
|Accessibility and inclusivity||Review the customer’s concerns and briefly summarize your accessibility or inclusivity policies. If appropriate, mention your efforts to improve accessibility or inclusivity, such as translation services or providing accommodations for customers with disabilities.|
|Overall experience||Examine the customer review and try to get to the root issue. Rather than addressing each point, focus on the most obvious concern. Then follow up with a positive element they shared in their review. Lastly, conclude with an offer to talk it through over the phone.|
|Website or app usability||Listen to the customer’s feedback and take steps to improve website or app functionality. Respond promptly to technical issues or errors. Consider offering tutorials or support resources to help customers navigate the site or app.|
|Personalization and customization||Listen to the customer’s preferences and needs and provide personalized recommendations or solutions. Consider offering customization options or personalized experiences to meet the customer’s expectations.|
Review Response Templates for Negative Reviews
Here are some effective negative review response examples that you can use to handle critical customer reviews for common situations. Some templates you can directly copy and paste, and others you may want to personalize based on the specific circumstances of the review.
Beneath each template, we’ll offer some recommendations for the next steps you can take to resolve the situation. Treat these as flexible guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.
Tip: Bookmark this page and come back the next time you get a negative online review.
1. Product or Service Quality
Hi [CUSTOMER NAME],
We’re really sorry to hear that the clothing you received didn’t meet your expectations, and would like to apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
We take customer feedback very seriously and are looking into the cause of this issue so that production errors like this won’t happen in the future.
In the meantime, we’d like to make it right. I’ve just sent you a direct message— please respond to it and provide your order number. We’ll issue a full refund to your original payment method. We truly appreciate your support of our business and will do our best to make sure you have a positive experience moving forward.
- Process compensation or discount to the customer
- Follow-up in one week to ensure they are completely satisfied
2. Customer Service
Thanks for sharing your experience with our team, I’m sorry to hear that we didn’t quite hit the mark here. We always strive for high standards of customer service, and we didn’t meet that for you.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear more about your interaction with one of our staff. Please reach my office at [EMAIL/PHONE]. In the meantime, I’ve talked with our team about ways that we can improve our customer experience in the future.
- Attempt to contact the customer and listen to their concerns
- Make adjustments to the customer service experience, if applicable.
- Follow up with the customer to let them know adjustments have been made.
3. Billing and Pricing
Thank you, [NAME], for bringing this to our attention. We absolutely understand your concern about pricing. You can reference our package and billing policies here: [LINK], but please reach us at [EMAIL/PHONE] if you have any further questions. We try to be as transparent as possible about our pricing.
- If the error is on your end, offer a refund or discount
- Adjust pricing or billing policies if necessary to prevent further confusion
4. Shipping and Delivery
I’m sorry to hear that your order is taking longer than expected. Would you be able to provide your order number so I can check the status of your shipment? I’m happy to provide updates on when your order is estimated to arrive.
Please accept my sincerest apologies for the mixup. I’d also like to offer you a 15% discount on your next purchase with us to make up for the delay.
- If suitable, offer a discount or coupon code
- Follow up with the carrier to ensure the package is delivered
- Contact the customer to confirm receipt and satisfaction
5. Company Policies
Thanks for reaching out — I understand your frustration about our inability to process a refund. We do allow and gladly process returns up to 60 days after purchase, provided that the item is returned in new condition.
Looking into your order details, you requested a refund outside of our return policy window. You can view our Terms and Conditions of Purchase at this link: [LINK]
We appreciate and value your business. As a gesture of good faith, I’d like to offer you a 20% off discount on your next purchase with us.
I’ve already emailed your coupon code to the email address on file for your account. If you have any additional questions, please respond directly to that email and I’d be happy to help.
- Consider offering a discount or refund to the customer, depending on the situation
- If needed, revise company policies to offer more clarity
6. Cancellation Issues
Thank you for reaching out to us! We’re sorry if our policies on cancellations weren’t clear. You can review our policy here: [LINK]
On the booking page, we do clarify that the deposit will not be returned for cancellations within 24 hours of your appointment time. We do this so that our stylists can appropriately manage their client schedules. If you have any additional questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them for you.
- If a mistake has been made, offer a refund or credit
- Update written policies or procedures if necessary
7. Long Hold Times
I know a long hold time can be extremely stressful and frustrating. We’re a small business, and try our very best to make sure our customers receive support as quickly as possible. Our average hold time is between 1-5 minutes.
However, as you experienced, some days can be much busier than others. We’ll work to expand our support team to minimize this impact on hold times.
If you don’t mind me asking, was your support issue resolved? If not, here is my direct contact information:
If you wish, please contact me, and I’d be happy to look into this personally for you.
- Follow up to ensure that the customer’s issue has been resolved
- If resources allow, consider expanding support resources
- Adjust your business phone system to announce the estimated hold time for callers
8. Technical Issues
Oh no! We’d like to resolve this for you as quickly as possible, could you please reach us at [PHONE] at your earliest convenience? We’d like to get some additional information on this issue and help you troubleshoot a solution.
- If there is a technical issue, immediately pass the feedback along to the technical team for resolution
- Follow up with the customer to ensure the issue is resolved
9. Marketing and Advertising
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. [ISSUE] is absolutely not what we want to communicate at [COMPANY], and we apologize for the misunderstanding. We’ll keep your feedback in mind for future marketing campaigns to avoid this confusion again.
- If necessary, make adjustments to marketing or advertising communications
10. Contract Disputes
Nice to hear from you again. I understand that you felt your [SERVICE] was delivered too late, and I’m sorry that that’s impacted your marketing team’s plans.
Prior to starting any new contract, I provide an estimated delivery date on the scope of work documentation. However, I include on the contract that this is an estimate only and the actual delivery date may vary by 1-2 weeks.
On larger projects like this, many factors can influence a project timeline. Considering the increased scope of work, we delivered the [SERVICE] only five days after the initial estimated delivery date.
- Emphasize or re-write areas of the contract, if needed
- If the error is on your side, offer the customer a discount, refund, or remedy the situation in another way.
11. Environmental Concerns
Thank you for expressing your concerns here, really. We take environmental sustainability seriously here at our small business and continually improve our procedures to minimize our environmental impact.
I’ll pass this along to the relevant team and we’ll evaluate to see if there are any changes to be made to make [PROCESS] more eco-friendly.
- If possible, address the issue and implement more sustainable practices
- If changes are made, follow up with the customer to let them know
12. Ethical or Social Responsibility
Thank you for bringing up your concerns about our brand working with [INFLUENCER]. Until now, we were not aware of their affiliations with [CAUSE]. As a business owner, I’ll take your feedback into consideration of our partnership.
Thanks again for letting us know (and for being a loyal customer!), it’s much appreciated.
- If necessary, discuss the situation with the influencer regarding their statements or activities
- If the ethical issue has made headlines, consider a PR response upon issue remediation
- Consider taking steps to ensure ethical guidelines are being met in the future (such as hiring an ethics officer)
13. Accessibility or Inclusivity
Really appreciate your taking the time to bring this to our attention. At [COMPANY], we try to make every effort to accommodate visitors of all abilities, but we may have missed the mark here. I’ve been in touch with our web developer about making our website more accessible to those with visual impairments, and we’ll be implementing changes very soon. Thank you again for doing your part to make our brand more inclusive.
- If reasonable (or legally mandated), make adjustments to accommodate users with disabilities
- Follow up with the online review to confirm the changes have been made
14. Overall Experience
I wanted to first thank you for taking the time to visit and support our business. We’re a small, family-owned shop and, out of all the options in town you have for lunch, we appreciate you choosing us.
That being said, I’m so sorry that you didn’t enjoy your meal. We’re always happy to make adjustments or re-make your meal in person, just let your server know in the future.
I’d like to offer you a free appetizer on us next time you visit to make up for your bad experience. I hope you give us a second chance!
- Consider offering a discount, free item, or refund to the customer
- If the review mentions valid areas of improvement, work to remedy them
15. Website or App Usability
Really appreciate you taking the time to provide feedback on [WEBSITE/APP]. It’s important to us that [PRODUCT] is easy and intuitive to use, so your feedback will be passed along to our user experience team for review.
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a knowledge base article that should help guide you with [ISSUE]. Feel free to reach out to our customer success team at [EMAIL] should you have any additional questions.
- If there is a technical issue, immediately pass the feedback along to the technical team for resolution
- Consider building out additional product tutorials, if necessary
16. Personalization or Customization
I understand that you’d like to make some personalization changes to our existing products. While this isn’t something that we typically offer, we may be able to make an exception depending on your order and the personalization requested.
Could you please contact our support team at [EMAIL]? We’d like to hear more about what you had in mind to see if we can accommodate your request.
- Follow up with the customer in a timely manner
- If there is a significant demand for customization, consider offering it as an added service
6 Best Practices for Replying to Negative Reviews
✅ Acknowledge the real issue
Nobody’s perfect — own up to your mistakes or acknowledge a negative customer experience. However daunting a review may seem, most customers simply want to be heard and validated for their experience.
✅ Empathize with a customer’s negative experience
Put yourself in their shoes. While a lukewarm coffee or slightly delayed order may not seem worth a one-star tirade to you, try to understand their experience as much as you can. In the right context, empathy can be a customer service superpower.
✅ Take the conversation offline
After a personalized, empathetic public response, it’s best to try and take the conversation offline. Let the customer know how to contact you directly via an email or phone number so that you can sort out the issue without being in the public eye.
You might not know the customer’s name, but with virtual phone service, you can dedicate a special phone number for handling these customer satisfaction matters. You’ll know with certainty why someone is calling.
✅ Personalize the response
Even while using a template, it’s critical to include personalized bits and pieces that show the customer you’re listening to them. 68% of people feel brands should have personalized experiences in every interaction.
Pro-tip: You might want to adopt “I” versus “we” in your response. Why? This subtle difference conveys you take responsibility for the situation. It also puts the onus on you to personally address the negative review.
✅ Don’t be defensive
Now is not the time to armor up for battle. Practice grace and empathy, even when a customer is wrong or irate. Remember that your response is not just for the unhappy customer but for other potential customers who will see your response. It’s also not a bad idea to record calls from your call center for reference purposes, such as defending against customer service complaints.
✅ Follow up to ensure customer satisfaction
After you’ve offered a solution, check back in with the reviewer to make sure their issue has been resolved to their satisfaction. An email is fine, but a phone call or a text is even better. This shows that you truly care about their experience.
When you make it right, you’re able to leverage that as a highlight of your excellent customer service. When the time is right, ask, “Would you have a few moments to share a supportive review? We depend on our business reviews and would appreciate you mentioning we resolved this for you. Can I text you a link?”
Mistakes to Avoid When Responding to Bad Reviews
On the other hand, take care to avoid these common mistakes when replying to customer complaints.
❌ Being defensive
When replying to negative reviews, it’s best to steer clear of defensive language. Acknowledge the customer’s experience, thank them for their feedback, and keep it polite and professional.
❌ Failing to acknowledge the issue
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. If your business missed the mark somewhere, take responsibility and offer remediation. Playing the blame game will only further irritate your customers.
❌ Providing a generic response
The most important part of responding to a negative online review is making sure that customers feel heard. No one wants to get a robotic response that refers to the company name in the third person, like a legal proceeding. Include details in your response that warmly recognize the individual negative experience.
❌ Blaming the customer
Regardless of who is truly at fault, don’t use accusatory language or play the blame game. Remember, it’s about resolving an issue with dissatisfied customers and showing new customers that you genuinely care about their experience. No one wants to be a bad customer.
❌ Failing to follow up with the customer
Always follow up to ensure the customer is satisfied with your solution. Doing so may remind the customer to edit their negative review or, at the very least, leave them with a positive sentiment toward your business.
Turn Negative Reviews into Positive Customer Experiences
Strike when the iron is hot — 53% of customers expect businesses to respond within a few days, but it’s best to reply within ONE day. An online reputation monitoring tool lets you respond minutes after a review goes live, so you can resolve a poor experience and show the online community you care.
Some of the best success stories come from raw, passionate customer experiences. No matter how negative a review is, there’s always an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.
In many cases, responding to customer reviews publicly isn’t always the best approach. In collaboration with Amazon Web Services, customer service expert Shep Hyken surveyed consumers’ preferred contact channels2. The results might surprise you.
Build a Positive Reputation With Proactive Review Management
It’s hard to overstate just how important online reviews are to your company’s reputation management. Nearly eight out of 10 consumers would go out of their way to support a company with excellent customer service, including review management.
Bad service costs you business — it’s as simple as that.
The best way to combat negative customer feedback? Prevent it from happening in the first place.
Short of a time machine, the best thing you can do to prevent poor online business reviews is to be accessible.
Make sure your customers know they can you via phone, email, social media, or other channels. Be active in these spaces, and make it clear that you’re available to lend a listening ear.
Said differently, you want people to voice concerns to your customer service team so issues can be addressed promptly rather than letting them fester over time.
Negative Customer Review FAQs
When responding to a negative review, remove the emotion and the desire to be “right.” Acknowledge their concerns, demonstrate a willingness to remedy the problem, and be helpful. You’re trying to address the customer review and signaling to potential customers that you care about their experience.
Surprisingly, a modest amount of negative feedback can actually help your business. A study conducted by Northwestern University has shown that consumers are skeptical of a 5.0 review rating. It turns out that buyers hold a stronger opinion of a 4.6 review rating over a “perfect” 5.0 score.
Online reputation management is the practice of actively monitoring and improving a positive perception of your business online. It consists of reactive and proactive strategies to collect, respond to, and optimize a business’s online reviews.
The benefits of online reputation management include increased search engine visibility (SEO) and positive reviews and ratings associated with the business name.
Happy customers are your most valuable asset in online reputation management. Encourage them to leave positive reviews through follow-up emails, incentives, IVR prompts, strategically placed QR codes, or simply asking.