How Brands Should Respond to Negative Online Reviews

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once compared the immense value of a corporate brand to one’s personal reputation.

He’s right. Senior executives of successful businesses usually are very proud of their company’s reputation. They take it personally.

But here’s where things get hard: although reputation rests on a company’s values and actions, your customers increasingly define it. After all, it’s their perceptions that ultimately count – not yours.

Brand reputation is built on the public’s critical judgment, pro and con. And that feedback is coming from every direction, posted as comments and star ratings on review websites that have a big influence on potential customers.

As most things are with the internet, online review sites are double-edged swords. Positive ratings slice through advertising and SEO clutter to bring new customers and life to your enterprise. But credible-sounding negative reviews can cut the heart out of your marketing effort before prospective clients have a chance to learn anything about you directly.

How should your team handle negative reviews?

Keep Your Ego in Check: The first step is attitudinal: get a grip. Fast. Even the most professional service organizations sometimes react poorly to negative feedback. Avoid that trap. It’s imperative to make sure your brand responds – correctly, to every review – to avert damage. And paradoxically, value can be created: negative critiques of your business represent opportunities to improve operations, customer experience and brand reputation, if you address them quickly and directly.

Do Your Homework: To respond to an online criticism effectively your team should start with the facts. Can the customer and his or her history with your business be identified, or is the person anonymous? Could there be a problem with how your company sets expectations through customer communications? Is there a pattern of similar feedback from others that suggests an operational issue? Depending on your business, this sort of simple investigation can prove invaluable if it uncovers systemic problems such as rude personnel, lack of location cleanliness, parking difficulties, or subpar product quality. Solve the problem and you can improve operational effectiveness, raise customer satisfaction, drive brand loyalty, and accelerate customer advocacy. Talk about a win.

Respond Rapidly and Effectively: The path to an effective resolution is straightforward: regardless of whether the negative review is true or false, someone from your team should engage the complaining customer in an online conversation to:

  • Thank the person for taking time to provide feedback
  • Listen without interrupting while exploring details of the situation
  • Empathize with the person’s frustrations or concerns
  • Apologize for not meeting expectations or living up to company standards
  • Suggest connecting offline if necessary to resolve the issue

Responses must post within 48 hours. Provide templates that support a personal, polite and pleasant engagement. Short and to-the-point responses are best.

Our data show that customers often convert negative reviews to positive ones when teams respond with genuine concern and help reach a resolution. In addition, other visitors to the site will see how conscientiously your business handles customer complaints.

In the case of a fake negative review posted by a competitor, disgruntled former employee, or someone who is clearly off-kilter, it’s fair to consider stronger measures, though they’re not always productive.

For example, if you have strong evidence that a false review is defamatory and/or violates the terms of service of the review site, you could ask the site to remove the offending review. Otherwise, Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act shields online review publishers from being forced to remove unfavorable reviews posted by users except in limited circumstances.

Your best option is to focus on soliciting reviews from all of your customers, including the satisfied silent majority. When you increase your volume of honest reviews, the social web will represent accurately the broad customer satisfaction your company earns daily.

Prospective customers or clients are being presented with star ratings and reviews of your locations all across the internet. Bad reviews represent an important opportunity to generate value. When you engage customers, resolve their issues, and make operational improvements, you keep your brand promise – and maintain the kind of reputation that drives business.

Mark Lange is Chief Marketing Officer at