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How to respond to negative customer reviews

Check out our need-to-know tips on how to respond to negative customer reviews to maintain your positive reputation and provide a sparkling customer experience.

The way you handle complaints and negative customer reviews is becoming increasingly important for your business. In the past, dealing with negative reviews was generally a one-to-one conversation. Sure, it was still vital to respond in the best way possible to keep your customer happy – but there was also less scope for negative customer reviews to snowball and damage your brand.

As we all know, with the proliferation of social media and online reviews, things have changed – 67% of consumers say they’ve used a company’s social media channel for customer service.

Social media has empowered your customers. Now anyone with a grievance and a WiFi connection can sully your reputation by posting a negative review for the world to see. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have any poor reviews due to your next-level customer experience. But let’s face it, every now and then stuff goes wrong and customers complain.

Your reputation depends on your responses

With such a vast potential audience, you need to know how to respond to negative customer reviews. Not only to resolve the situation at hand – but to ensure your name isn’t publicly dragged through the mud, remaining visible forever more to anyone reading online reviews of your business. (See below as an example….)

TripAdvisor feedback

And be under no illusions, it’s a lot of people: 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a site – it’s business critical stuff. As a result, in today’s highly competitive eCom world you really do live and die by your reputation and your customer service. Before we dive into the best ways to respond to negative reviews and complaints, we’ll start with a slightly surprising pearl of wisdom.

Negative reviews can be a good thing (no, really…)

It may seem counterintuitive, but the odd negative review can be a good thing:

Research from Reevoo showed the presence of bad reviews actually improves conversions by 67%.

Why? It’s basically down to trust. 68% of consumers are more inclined to trust reviews when they see both good and bad scores – with 30% suspecting censorship or fake reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions at all. (The phrase “too good to be true” comes to mind.)

When researching a product or service customers also find both negative and positive reviews help to make a decision.

If customers are researching a product enough that they’re delving into the negative reviews, they’re probably closer to making a purchase – so don’t be too hasty to hide those reviews or simply delete them. (Of course, as your common sense tells you, too many negative reviews will, of course, turn your customers off.) Anyway, an interesting point to mull over, but now – without further ado – let’s look at the best ways to respond to your negative customer reviews.

Respond rapidly

The quicker you respond, the better. No one is going to complain about your overly-prompt response. (If they do – good luck dealing with that particular customer.) There’s no time to hang about: 42% of consumers expect a response on social within 60 minutes. If you can’t feasibly manage that, 24 hours is probably the cut off time within which you can reasonably respond without your customer escalating the problem or just writing your brand off entirely.

So, are you prepared to respond rapidly across every channel – from social and email to call centres? You need to be. Whether it’s the weekend, or late in the evening a growing number of your customers expect to be able to reach you 24/7. For social media, set up social listening using your CMS or a Hootsuite-style bespoke social tool to monitor and notify you of any social mentions to make sure you don’t miss anything important.

Jetblue is a shining example of a company who shun slovenly responses on social (and reap the rewards from it). Their twitter account has over 2 million followers.

Jet Blue twitter

As you can see from the twitter conversation above, they reply almost immediately and continue to do so until the problem is resolved. Their speedy response rates are a key part of their widely-acknowledged great customer service, which has helped them win most popular low-cost air carrier in the US for 11 straight years.

Say sorry

If you’ve screwed up, just admit your mistake. (In saying that, as long as you remain polite, don’t be afraid to correct clear inaccuracies or to stand up for your brand values.) Whatever you do, don’t get into a back and forth slanging match – nothing looks worse for your company. Readers of the reviews will generally side with the person they identify with, in the vast majority of cases, this is going to be the customer.

An apology costs you nothing.

Whether or not you agree with the criticism, an immediate apology shows you empathise with their plight and will help to appease your customer, opening the door for you to find a way to make amends.

Obviously, you’ll get the odd unwarranted complaint, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you think every negative review is purely down to a fussy customer. Being open to feedback is key to improving, so suck it up, take the complaint on board and try to learn from your mistakes. The Naked Wines email below is not only a great example of self-depreciation, but how brands can say sorry and ask for honest feedback.

Naked Wines

This apology comes across as genuine and personable, which leads us on to the next piece of advice…

Be personable

This advice mainly applies to your written responses. But with email, social and messaging becoming increasingly common ways to complain, it’s all the more important to respond well in writing. When writing, there can be a tendency to revert to being impersonal – suddenly coming over all formal and almost robotic.

If you’re responding to negative reviews, a good rule of thumb is to judge the tone and content of your reply by how you’d speak to the reviewer in person. Obviously remain polite, but don’t forget to be human. At the end of the day you’re writing to a person, so replying like a robotic corporation with a scripted reply that lacks warmth or empathy will further frustrate your upset customer.

This sentiment also holds true with automated responses. They may save you time, but people will quickly realise they’re getting a stock answer and, for the most part, they won’t actually make sense either. In some cases, they can also make you look rather silly.

American Airlines

As we saw in the Naked Wines email above – taking a personable approach, and using a touch of humour where appropriate, can help to keep customers (and those reading) on your side.

There are plenty of examples of humourous customer service actually turning negative reviews or complaints into good pr. In the below example, although the customer clearly wasn’t that upset, by getting involved in the fishy pun fun Sainsbury’s painted their brand in a good light.

Sainsbury's Twitter

(These fish-tastic puns keep on going for a long, long time…)

Remember your audience

Clearly, you need to address the individual customer’s complaint that you’re dealing with, but you also need to remember your response will be seen by a broader audience. This is something ASOS clearly kept in mind when replying to this Eminem inspired complaint – fully aware their reply would resonate with their target audience.

Remembering that any of your customer service exchanges can make their way into the public domain is a good way to keep you on your toes and ensures you always provide the best support possible.

If necessary, you can suggest taking conversations offline. But don’t forget, even if you take the conversation to a private channel, it can easily be shared by a disgruntled (or even happy) customer. As we saw earlier, 90% of customers check out reviews before purchasing, so make your existing reviews simple to find and showcase them on your website.

Dollar Shave Club make their reviews easy to find, placing them on the top navigation bar while also using them as proof throughout their site.

Dollar shave club

Their reviews page itself gives a handy ratings overview and also makes it simple to sort the reviews – from recent, high to low and low to high.

While the majority are overwhelmingly positive, negative reviews are included and this transparency actually adds to the trustworthiness of the site.

Dollar Shave Club

Solve the issue

It costs 5x more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, and your existing customers are also more likely try new products and spend more. So it’s clear, loyal returning customers are worth more to your business. As a result, it makes sense to do your utmost to keep your existing customers happy. This, of course, means taking steps to solve any problems they may have.

By making a real effort to fix their issue, you can actually turn a negative reviewee into a brand advocate. So, replace their product if their not happy and refund or compensate accordingly where necessary. Yes it’s going to take a bit of time and effort, but realistically the return on garnering a great reputation could make it one of the smarter investments you make.

After all, you not only gain a satisfied customer who is likely to change their review but you also show potential customers reading the reviews you’re a brand that looks after your customers and really cares.


For the most part, you can fix the majority of negative reviews and complaints by simply being proactive, genuine and helpful. With customer lifetime value probably the most important metric in your business right now, it definitely pays to invest in keeping your customers happy.

Responding to negative reviews appropriately ensures both your customer experience and your reputation will remain untarnished. Follow the simple guidelines we’ve outlined (along with your common sense) and you can turn negative customer reviews into positive customer experiences.

To ensure the rest of your customer experience matches up to your customer service, read our free guide to Customer Journey Optimization.