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The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Negative Online Reviews

Whether you check your business’s online reviews daily or haven’t even bothered to claim your Yelp listing, you can be sure potential customers are reading what others are saying about you online. A whopping 79% of U.S. adult Internet users check online reviews before they make a purchase or visit a business, according to a survey by

Many small business owners ignore online review sites because they’re terrified of getting a bad review. If this is you, take comfort: another recent survey reports that just one in 25 entrepreneurs say they’ve been impacted by a bad online review.

Still, it does happen. If someone slams you online, how should you respond? Here are the dos and don’ts of dealing with negative online reviews.


Get defensive. It’s natural to get mad when someone criticizes your business, especially if you feel the complaint is unfounded. But responding in anger does no good — and may possibly spiral into a viral nightmare. Take some time to get your thoughts in order before you respond. Maybe even write yourself and email to review later, and see how your thoughts come across on screen.

Ignore it. Ignoring a negative online review is almost as bad as posting an expletive-filled answer. First, the reviewer will feel completely justified in his or her anger because you’re not addressing the issue. Second, other customers and potential customers will start to wonder if you really care, or if they can expect the same brush-off if they have a bad experience.

Get pulled into an online battle. No matter how polite your initial response, you may run into a troll who just wants to keep complaining online. If your interaction threatens to escalate into an exchange of name-calling, just re-state that you’re happy to resolve the issue and ask the person to contact you offline. Other readers will see that you’re being reasonable and that the troll isn’t.


Acknowledge the issue and apologize. Just like in real life, most customers who complain on the Internet simply want to be heard. Before you try to get to the bottom of the problem, it’s crucial to empathize with them and apologize without blaming them.

Tactfully promote a positive image of your business. Without sounding like you’re contradicting the guest, convey why his or her experience is rare in sincere and non-condescending language.

Be authentic and personal. You never want to come off like you’re giving a canned response. You or any employees who respond to negative online reviews should use your real names (or first name and last initial), explain your role in the business and give your direct phone number or email.

Take it offline. To avoid an online exchange that everyone can see, you should always strive to take the discussion of the issue offline.

Here’s an example of how to respond to a negative online review:

“This is Steve Wilson, owner of S&W Pizzeria [authentic and personal]. I’m sorry you were unhappy with the service you received at our restaurant [clearly states facts without blame]. Our goal is for every guest to leave feeling satisfied with the experience [promotes positive image]. Please call or email me at [contact information] so I can resolve this issue to your satisfaction.”

The biggest “do” of all: Do use negative reviews as a learning experience. If you consistently receive negative reviews or if a lot of reviews cite the same criticism, such as slow service in your restaurant or poor selection in your store, it’s time to make a change. Consider it free market research.


Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Contributor at Fundera
Rieva Lesonsky is a small business contributor for Fundera and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.
Rieva Lesonsky