How to respond to bad reviews [with examples]

No business is immune to bad reviews. Our Impact of Online Reviews on Small Business Revenue report found that 19% of the average business’s reviews are negative. Bad reviews aren’t the end of the world, but ignoring your bad reviews can hurt you in the long run. In that report, we also discovered these surprising statistics.

  • Businesses whose reviews are 15–20% negative earn 13% more in annual revenue than businesses who are 5–10% negative
  • Businesses that don’t reply to any reviews earn 9% less revenue than average
  • Businesses with a rating between 3.5 and 4.5 stars earn more revenue than any other rating

This means you should embrace the occasional negative review. Most customers expect you to have a few bad reviews since no business is perfect. However, most customers also expect you to reply to their reviews.

Responding to bad reviews doesn’t need to be a painful task on your to-do list. We’ll show you how to respond to bad reviews using the R.E.S.T. model: respond quickly, eliminate the emotion, say you’re sorry, take it offline. Then, we’ll go over some best practices to keep in mind when responding to negative reviews.

Step 1: Respond quickly

Most customers expect a quick reply. One study found that almost four in ten people expect businesses to respond in a day. A short turnaround shows your customers that you care. It also gives you a chance to resolve the issue right away.

It can get tough to catch every bad review if you have a lot on your plate. The right reputation management solution can help you stay on top of your reviews while you’re balancing your day-to-day with your business.

Step 2: Eliminate the emotion

Although time is of the essence, you should take a breath before responding to a bad review. It’s hard not to feel upset when some reviews are unfair or unnecessarily rude. Instead of fighting fire with fire, take a second to calm down and understand the customer’s points in their review.

Do they have a legitimate concern? Did something unfair happen to them? Is this person unreasonable or dishonest? Finding the answers to these questions is difficult when you’re blinded by your own emotions.

Step 3: Say you’re sorry

Apologizing is an important part of responding to negative reviews, even when you didn’t do anything wrong.

Saying you’re sorry when you do something wrong shows that you’re not too proud to admit when you’ve made a mistake. If nothing went wrong on your end, apologizing is still powerful since you’re acknowledging the customer’s concerns and sympathizing with their experience. Staying human and leading with sympathy can go a long way.

Be careful: Over-apologizing can come off unprofessional or insincere. Instead of apologizing multiple times, focus on briefly recognizing what happened and holding your business accountable when necessary.

Your customer may have had a bad experience if one of your machines broke down or a family emergency resulted in a short-staffed lunch rush. Quickly explaining unique circumstances reassures them that their experience isn’t normal and is something you plan to fix.

However, there’s a fine line between explaining the situation and making excuses. Avoid over explaining and get straight to your solution. Include your next steps to show that you’re committed to finding a solution and making things right with them.

A solution can mean inviting them back for another chance or setting them up with a refund or discount code.

Step 4: Take it offline

Lastly, encourage the customer to connect with you offline. Leave your contact information so they can directly get in touch with you. This prevents input from outside parties and closes out the conversation.

Direct contact with the customer also makes it easier to discuss sensitive information. For example, you can’t easily talk about payment or shipping information on a public review site.

Examples of negative reviews and responses

Now that we know how to respond to bad reviews, it’s time to see some real examples of bad reviews. Read on to see how these business owners handled bad reviews.

The customer who highlighted a restaurant health hazard

Cleanliness is top of mind for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This review comes from pre-pandemic times, but hair in your food is always gross.

These types of reviews are frustrating. You know that you would’ve corrected the issue if the customer told you. This business owner took the high road and looked at this review as a teachable and actionable moment for his company.

What they did well What they said
Owner thanked them for the review “Thanks so much for the review.”
Asked if the customer alerted their staff “Did you mention the hairs you found to anyone on staff on any of the occasions?”
Added more context to the review “The reason I ask is because the waffle is the one thing we dont make in house…so we will need to go to the bakery we source them from and make sure they are aware…”
Empathized with the customer “…it’s terrible that you have had this happen to you on multiple occasions”
Explained why this issue isn’t a normal occurrence “We are very strict about cleaning and keeping the cafe looking nice…”
Addressed multiple points “As for the register person touching money and then food, this is something that should never happen.”
Explained steps they’re taking to correct issues raised “I will make it a point to bring this up with all our employees.”
Thanked them for the review “Thanks so much for letting us know about your experience
Left a direct email “…please email me at EMAIL…”
Offered a refund “…so I can get your purchases refunded.”

How they could improve

  • Apologize for their experience
  • Address the reviewers point about hair nets

Lesson Learned

Don’t let your frustration get the best of you! Explain the situation when necessary and apologize when something is genuinely wrong.

The customer who experienced inconsistent service

In this first example, a long-time customer expresses how fed up she is with treatment she received on her birthday. This business owner respectfully and succinctly addressed each point the reviewer raised.

What they did well What they said
Reached out directly to the reviewer “We’d like to have a conversation with you offline abou your experience and will be reaching out to you directly.”
Succinctly addressed most points the reviewer raised “In the meantime, we did want to clear any confusion…”
Apologized and acknowledged their faults “We apologize for any confusion and discrepancy in the past…”
Explained their policy to the customer “…-but this has always been our policy”
Made it clear that they wanted to hear from the reviewer “We hope we can speak with you further to clear up any other issues.”

How they could improve:

  • Address their birthday policy in more detail
  • Thank the reviewer for their past business

Lesson Learned

Succinctly address each of the reviewer’s points so they feel heard and for a chance to explain what happened.

The customer with legitimate concerns

In the next example, the reviewer brings up some issues that might’ve fairly warranted a low rating. See how this business owner held his business accountable while politely pointing out inaccuracies with reviews.

What they did well What they said
Owner investigated the complaint and explained what happened “Just want to clarify…”
Acknowledged that their staff should’ve already explained the scenario “My staff should have informed you…”
Apologized for their mistakes So I must apologize for my staff not accurately explaining your inspection…”
Explained how they’re fixing this issue “…which I am also taking action for this to not occur again…”
Encouraged the reviewer to reach back out to them “Please do not hesitate to contact me at our phone number…”

How they could improve:

  • Leave a direct phone line or email
  • Refrain from fully capitalized words

Lesson Learned

Own up to your mistakes, but don’t be afraid to respectfully clarify points that the customer got wrong.

The customer warning others about your business

The reviewer didn’t explain much details of the issue.The business might have botched the job, but we can’t tell from this review. We do know that the business owner gracefully handled the review the best they could without a lot of detail.

What they did well What they said
Owner started with an apology “…we apologize if we did not meet your expectations…”
Explained what happened “Our team did show up to your job site…”
Empathized with the reviewer “We understand that you were probably busy…”
Gave the reviewer a refund prior to the review …we refunded your money…”
Thanked them “…thank you for reaching out to us and allowing us the opportunity to work on your project”

How they could improve

  • Leave a direct phone line or email
  • Directly address whether work was done

Lesson Learned

For vague reviews, briefly address the scenario to give potential customers context.

The customer with the nearly inedible meal

This reviewer explained in succinct, yet descriptive detail on why this business didn’t live up to its potential. This business owner did a great job at prioritizing empathy and making things right with this customer.

What they did well What they said
Reassured the customer that this isn’t something that happens often “Really disappointed that you had this experience. Very uncommon for sure.”
Empathized with the customer “Sometimes mistakes happen…but…there is no way you should have had to pay for that experience.”
Left their direct email “Please email me @ EMAIL…”
Offered a refund “I will refund your meal.”
Apologized for the experience “…my deepest apologies for the poor performance on our end”

How they could improve:

  • Explain what they will do next time to avoid this issue
  • Encourage the reviewer to alert their staff next time so they can immediately fix things

Lesson Learned

Don’t forget to be human! Empathize with the reviewer and don’t make excuses for poor service.

The customer who makes accusations against your staff

This reviewer is clearly upset with the service they received and does not trust this business. The owner found a way to address the reviewer’s concerns while also supporting their team.

What they did well What they said
Expressed gratitude for their business “…we appreciate you bringing your beautiful puppy to see us…”
Apologized for the issue “…sorry if the cleaning was not the standard that we hold ourselves to”
Respectfully defended their staff “…we certainly would never lie to our customers.”
Asked for another chance “We hope you’ll consider giving another visit a chance to see that we have an attentive and personable staff here…”

How they could improve:

  • Leave a direct phone line or email
  • Investigate what happened at this appointment
  • Encourage the reviewer to alert the doctors immediately next time if something is wrong
  • Offer a refund or discount for that customer’s next visit next visit

Lesson Learned

It’s okay to stand up for your business. You can show your commitment to your staff while still serving your customers.

The short-and-sweet customer who was not pleased

This to-the-point review says just enough to detail their unpleasant experience. This owner responded with humility, graciousness, and sincerity that clearly shined through their response.

What they did well What they said
Expressed their gratitude  “Thank you for taking the time to give us thoughtful and constructive feedback…”
Expressed their appreciation for their business “We absolutely appreciate that you dined with our local family restaurant during…”
Expressed their desire to quickly resolve things “We’d like to resolve this with you immediately…”
Explained the steps they’ve made to correct the issue “I have discussed this with the Owner and his wife Chef…”
Apologized for the issue “…we are so sorry that we didn’t provide you the service and amazing flavor experience we aim to hold ourselves to!”
Asked for a chance to make it right “…we also hope you’ll give us another chance to serve you”
Messaged the reviewer privately “…I will be sending you a private message to communicate further options.”

Room for improvement:

  • Omit redundant points
  • Shortened the reply to be more succinct

Lesson Learned

Lead your response with gratitude when you’re responding to a tough review.

Templates for responding to bad reviews

We put together a few simple templates you can use to start off your responses. If you plan on using templates, we recommend switching up your wording so they don’t sound exactly the same every time. You want to sound like a human, not a bot!

Legitimate Concern

Some negative reviews raise legitimate concerns. A server may have had an attitude or you may have run out of ingredients. The R.E.S.T. method is especially useful for this type of review. Focus on the issues raised and reassure this customer that you’re committed to fixing it. 

Disgruntled Customer

Unfortunately, not all reviews are simple. Some reviews are unfair. For example, a reviewer may have complained about a long line even though it was a big holiday. Others like to take out frustrations from a bad day in reviews.

You want to emphasize with customers, but you also don’t want to admit things that didn’t actually happen! You may not be open to doing everything we mention in our template based on the tone of the review. Feel free to tweak to your needs and what you’re comfortable with.

Fake or Spam Review

Some people may mistakenly leave a review for your business if you share a similar name with another company. Other reviewers are just bored or mean. There are also some reviewers who leave spammy reviews in an attempt to boost their status. For example, some reviewers leave lots of reviews hoping to get Yelp Elite status or to get perks from Google’s Local Guides program.

Before responding, do your due diligence to find this person’s information. The only thing worse than a fake review is accusing a real customer of a fake review. After you’ve confirmed that the review is fake, you can leave a reply similar to the one below to alert other reviewers.

After that, flag the review and ask your staff, friends, and family to flag it as well. You have a right to remove fake reviews. The review site should get back to you in a few days with their decision.  

We included two templates below for different scenarios.

Wrong Business

Non-existent customer

Bad review best practices

Following our steps is a great way to stay organized when managing your businesses’ bad reviews.  Keep these best practices in mind when you’re replying to bad reviews for your business.

Keep it short and sweet

Succinct responses are always best. Customers are more likely to read the entire thing if it isn’t long. You’re also less likely to upset the customer or open the door to another issue.

Address the reviewer by name

Personalizing your response makes your customer feel heard and makes your response feel less templated.

Funnel review responses through the same people

It’s tempting to give everyone on your staff the power to respond to reviews, but it quickly gets confusing. Your team may promise conflicting resolutions to customers. It’s also much more difficult to keep track of reviews with multiple responders. Keep your team small so you can stay on the same page.

Create an internal review policy

In addition to keeping a small team, put together a policy your team can follow. This is as simple as outlining your response steps and explaining what solutions your staff can offer to customers.

An internal review policy is great when you’re the only one responding to reviews. It keeps you accountable and makes it easier to pass on the task to someone else.

Respond to all reviews

Replying to all of your reviews shows both customers and potential customers that you value customer satisfaction. It also shows that you’re involved in the success of your business.

It also gives you a chance to join the conversation when reviewers leave great or not-so-great reviews about your business. If that wasn’t enough, our Impact of Online Reviews report found that people spend 49% more money at businesses that reply to reviews.

Don’t post fake reviews

Fake reviews are not worth it. It’s tempting to bury a negative review with lots of positive ones, but customers see right through this. You’ll risk losing trust with your customers and getting in trouble with the FTC.

Get more positive reviews

Instead of faking your own reviews, focus on providing excellent service. You can also encourage your existing customers to leave reviews. A recent survey by BrightLocal found that 72% of customers who were asked to write a review went on to write it.

However, asking customers directly for reviews or incentivizing reviews is frowned upon by some sites. Yelp’s recommendation software highlights reviews that share genuine experiences without being incentivized or asked. This means that it suppresses incentivized or prompted reviews.

This isn’t the case for all sites, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re looking to bump up your positive reviews.

Bottom line? Great service is always the first step to a positive review. If you focus on consistently delivering and improving your customers’ experiences, then good reviews will follow.

Can I remove or hide bad reviews?

Yes, you can remove reviews from most sites if they violate the site’s terms of service. For example, Yelp does not allow reviews that include threats or publicized private information. 

Look into policies for each review site to see what’s allowed and what steps to take to get reviews removed. You can look into our guides for removing Yelp reviews, removing Google reviews, and removing Facebook reviews if you’re interested in learning more.

Although it’s possible, it’s not easy to remove reviews. Most review sites don’t take action unless absolutely necessary to preserve a sense of authenticity to customer reviews. These sites will typically side with reviewers unless you’re able to prove that the review is false or inappropriate. 

Follow these links below to see what major review sites say about removing bad reviews.

If you haven’t heard back, you likely won’t get the review removed. Most times, you’re better off encouraging customers to leave reviews and responding to negative reviews than waiting for your case to resolve.

Why should I respond to bad reviews?

Responding to bad reviews is crucial for leaving a good impression on reviewers and everyone else who reads your businesses’ reviews. It’s also an opportunity to make things right when your team makes a mistake. 

On top of that, they’re an opportunity to improve your business’ overall operations and online reputation. The BrightLocal survey mentioned earlier found that 34 percent of consumers always read online reviews for local businesses. That includes negative ones! 79 percent of consumers from that same survey trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.

Online reviews can make a big impact on businesses, especially small businesses. Responding to negative reviews can be a win-win if the process is successfully managed in a timely manner. 

If you’re interested in taking your review response to the next level, check out our online reputation management software. You can see all of your reviews in one place, automate review requests, and manage replies all in one place. 


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