Are “Negative Nancy” and her Sister, “Karen”, Killing your Business with Negative Reviews? Learn How to Deal with Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are frustrating for businesses, but many make the problem worse with how they manage and respond to the reviews.

Increasingly so, customers are turning to social media and online review sites to voice their complaints about a business.  Often, they do this without ever having contacted the company directly to express their issue and seek a resolution.   Occasionally, the negative reviews come from people who have not even done business with the company.

It can be understood that a business would feel overwhelmed by negative reviews, especially if they know the person leaving the complaint is being less than honest.  We can all relate to the feeling a business owner likely goes through when they want to defend and fight for the reputation of their business.  However, many businesses make the mistake of arguing with the customer on social media and on the review websites.  This only makes the problem worse and hurts the reputation of the business.

Business owners are right in their inclination to address and respond to a negative review, however, most go about it the wrong way.  Before I give you an actionable effective way to manage negative reviews, let me address the two biggest mistakes I see businesses make in managing negative reviews.

  1. Arguing with Customers: This causes almost everyone who views the review to side with the customer, regardless of the facts of the matter. It also displays that a business would rather be right then do right by the customer.
  2. Continuing to Reply:  This is a HUGE issue. The more a business goes back and forth replying to the same negative review, the more attention they draw to the negative review.  Most review sites will elevate the reviews with the most engagement to the top. Continuing to reply to the same negative review only ensures that more people see the negative review, and that fewer people see your positive reviews.


Here is the formula I suggest to best manage negative reviews:

  1. Empathize.  
  2. Apologize.  
  3. Demonstrate that you understand the issue.  
  4. Promise a Solution.  
  5. Take it offline. 
  6. Thank them. 


Let’s use an example of a customer leaving a negative review.  Let’s say a customer leaves a negative review about paying extra for expedited over-night shipping, but that it took 5 days to get the order.  Lets also say that the business did in fact package up the order and properly prepare it for over-night shipping, but that the error was the fault of UPS.  This happens occasionally to online retailers.  It’s not technically the business’s fault, but the customer will blame the business.

Negative Review:  “I ordered an item from this store and I paid $20 extra to have it ship over-night.  They took my extra $20 and I still had to wait 5 days to get it! Now it is too late for me to even use it!” 

In response to such a review, I see many businesses tell the customer that it was not their fault and that the issue was with UPS and there is nothing they can do about it.  Such a response will almost always incite an even more negative response. Instead, here is how you would reply using the above formula:

“We can understand you being upset, you should be.  We’re also upset that you did not get the item when you expected. We apologize for you not getting the item on-time.  We understand that you expected to receive the item the next day, but instead received it 5 days later.  We will make this up to you.  Please email us directly at so that we can ensure that you are satisfied with the solution.  We thank you for your business and we appreciate you letting us know about this issue.”

That response might seem long, but it will actually save you time.  It will remove any need to further reply.  If the customer does reply negatively to your reply, which will happen occasionally, you will not need to reply.  Any negative reply from the customer to a response from your business such as the one above will only make the customer look bad. Any reasonable person, seeing your reply, will think highly of your handling of the situation.


Lets further break down the importance of each step:

Empathize:  Often, customers just want to feel heard and have their feelings acknowledged. Leading with empathy will lower the guard and anger of even the most upset customer. Empathy also adds the human touch to it. You’re not just a business replying, you’re a person who has had similar experiences.

Apologize: This is huge, even when it is not your fault. This demonstrates that you are taking 100% ownership over the problem.  Taking anything less than 100% ownership over the problem will likely only upset the customer more and lead most people viewing the review to side with the customer and be more likely to pile on by replying with negative comments of their own.  It is also the right thing to do.  Whether it was your fault or not, you should genuinely be sorry that the customer did not have a great experience, so much so that they felt the need to take the time to leave a negative review.

Demonstrate that you understand the issue: This part is key.  It can seem robotic to repeat the customer’s issue back to them, but it demonstrated that you truly read and understood their complaint. It lets them know that they were heard.  Also, in the event that the customer was not clear about the issue, or that you misunderstood it, when they contact you off-line, as you’ll prompt them to at the end of your reply, they will address that and further (and hopefully more clearly) explain the issue.

Promise a Solution:  Notice this does not say, “provide a solution.” There may be times in which the solution is obvious and you can promise it within the reply.  However, the best course of action will usually be to promise the solution and then follow-through with providing the solution off-line.  You would not want to offer them a discount and then have everyone else see that and try to work you for a discount too. This is also a one-on-one matter between your business and the customer.  The exact solution does not need to be on display for everyone, merely that a solution will be provided.

Take it Offline:  This is important.  You want to take the issue off-line and communicate privately.  Customers who are serious about a resolution will follow-through.  Customers who just want to complain won’t.  You also don’t want to be in a position to have to keep replying, further elevating the negative review.

*Note: When taking a conversation “off-line,” if the negative review is through social media, ask them to “Direct Message” you on that specific platform.  They’ve chosen that platform as their preferred method to communicate their complaint, make it convenient for them by asking them to message you directly on the platform that you already know they are most comfortable using.  For review boards, such as Yelp, Google or TrustPilot, provide an email address for them.  DO NOT only provide a phone number.  These days, most customers prefer online communication, especially if that is the method they chose to leave their negative review. 

Thank them.  Thank them for their business and for bringing the concern to your attention.  It is important to do this at the end, and not at the beginning. Customers don’t want to hear you thanking them for their business before you’ve empathized with them and addressed their concern. It will be viewed as disingenuous.  When a thank you is extended at the end of your reply, it will come across as more genuine and the customer will be open to your giving of thanks at that point in your reply.  Also, it is the right thing to do.  You should genuinely be thankful that they are a customer and that they brought the issue to your attention.  You can’t fix issues if you don’t know they exist.

Implement this formula as the way in which you’ll reply to negative reviews and you’ll see a positive change in your online reputation, as well as an increase in new and repeat business.

If your business is struggling with a significant amount of negative reviews, feel free to email me at and I can see if I can provide some help.


PRO TIP:  When replying to positive reviews, which you should always do, try to include a question in your reply.  By asking a follow-up question, the customer will likely reply again and that will elevate your positive review.


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