March 9, 2021

4 Keys to Handling Negative Customer Reviews

a series of thumbs down symbols coming from negative customer reviews

Few things are more impactful in business than a dissatisfied customer. Regardless of your brand’s industry, and even if you have the best product on the market, you’re bound to generate a few negative reviews now and then — and these bad reviews matter immensely. Many customers look for social validation when considering a purchase, and a negative review will turn them away.

The following is a contributor post from Khoros Marketing General Manager Justin Cook. Learn more about Justin at the end of the article.

So, even though your brand can’t be perfect, it’s vitally important to address negative reviews when they crop up. If you don’t, you very likely won’t get a second chance to win back a buyer’s business.

Here are four of the most important keys to remember when handling negative online reviews.

1. Don’t Delay, and Don’t Hide

Responses to negative online reviews should be speedy and public. For customers who leave a negative comment, their review isn’t the end of the road. They expect a resolution to their issue — and the more quickly this happens, the less damage done. At worst, you should reply within 24 hours, though, of course, faster is always better.

A speedy resolution to an issue may entice a customer to respond positively to a brand’s answer — they can even modify their original complaint in a positive way. This is how you start to crowdsource customers.

But getting a bad review addressed and resolved with the individual customer isn’t the only benefit of a speedy response. The benefit of a public response is that it allows other potential customers to see just how much your brand cares about customer experience. This may help reduce the number of prospects swayed by negative online reviews. Of course, always use discretion when responding publicly; it won’t help to reveal personal or sensitive information. For this reason, it’s often helpful to send a private message in addition to the public comment.

a group of people collaborating on a response plan when dealing with negative customer reviews

2. Find Them First

Online reviews can come on a wide variety of channels and platforms, such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp, to name only a few. This makes it easy to miss a negative review — an excellent way to quickly lose a valuable customer. As today’s consumer interacts with brands so often on social media, it’s likely that a large segment of discussions about your brand occur there as well, even if your brand isn’t directly tagged.

This is where a social media monitoring tool can help. Tools like these can listen to not just the social platforms on which you’re active, but also other social channels and review sites for questions and conversations about your brand, your products, or even simply your industry. This doesn’t just help you keep a pulse on the conversation; it also gives you greater efficiency in responding to negative comments.

3. Get Personal

Customer trust is one of the main factors driving brand loyalty for today’s consumer — the second most important behind price. Let that sink in. Consumers care more about trust even than expertise, and that’s doubly true when it comes to customer service.

So what does this mean for handling negative customer reviews?

Most importantly, it means that when you’re responding to these reviews, it’s important not just to show that you’re on top of the issue, but that you care about the customer’s experience — and that you’re committed to improving it. Let’s say a customer received the product they ordered, but it was broken when it arrived. Here’s and example of what not to do:

“We’re so sorry you experienced this issue. We stand behind our products and would be happy to help you resolve the problem. Please reach out to our customer care team.”

This sort of generic reply gives your customer very little to go on. It’s not personal, nor does it even attempt to address the issue at hand. Worst of all, it leaves the customer feeling like it’s their job to solve the problem. It almost feels like a chatbot (though remember: chatbots are great tools when used correctly). Customers don’t want to leave a review and still have to reach out to customer service; customer service should be reaching out to them.

Rather, show your customer how much you care with a personalized reply:

“Hello [NAME], thank you for sharing this feedback. We’re so sorry your [PRODUCT] arrived broken. Of course we will be happy to send you a replacement, as we want you to love our products just as much as we do. One of our customer care representatives will be reaching out shortly in a direct message to resolve your issue.”

Note what this response does well. It starts with a clear, unequivocal apology directed at the customer by name. It acknowledges the validity of the complaint without being confrontational. It shows that the complaint has been read and understood, but doesn’t dwell too much on the negative, keeping the tone light and conversational (we’ll get to that in a bit). It picks up on individual keywords within the review to formulate a more personal response. It’s specific and informative, and most importantly, it demonstrates how the brand will take action to resolve the issue.

a team working on creating personalized responses in light of negative customer reviews

4. Highlight the Positive Without Ignoring the Negative

The best customer care teams, social care teams, and contact centers don’t think of replying to negative reviews as doing damage control. Rather, cliché though it may sound, they think of these bad reviews as opportunities to engage customers and improve key customer care metrics. This is part of why it’s so important to thank the customer for taking the time to provide feedback, as the example response above demonstrates.

One important goal in responding to this feedback is to get the customer thinking about the interaction in the same way; what starts as a negative experience doesn’t have to end that way. By keeping the tone light, you can move the focus toward the positive. A little line in the middle of your response — for example, “we want you to love our products just as much as we do” — can effectively shift a customer’s focus.

Importantly, though, this does not mean that you should ignore or downplay the customer’s complaint. This can create frustration, and a frustrated customer is unlikely to change their mind about a negative review. Instead, briefly outline specific actions that the brand will take to reduce the customer’s frustration in the future. Of course, make sure you follow through on that plan.

Negative reviews can be frustrating or even bewildering to a brand, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. In fact, some research shows that a negative review can be very important, as long as the complaint is addressed.  Responding to this negative feedback is one of the most important things you can do to foster trusting relationships with your customers. If they’re frustrated, don’t meet them at their level. Rather, respond quickly on the channels your customers prefer, keeping it light, personal, and resolution-focused. With a strategy like this, negative reviews can turn into positive opportunities for your brand and your customers alike.

a headshot of justin cook from khoros

Justin is the General Manager of Khoros Marketing, dedicated to helping customers simplify their complex social marketing operations, drive value from their investments, and protect their brands. He has leadership experience across multiple functions including Product, Growth, Marketing, GTM Strategy, Finance, and Consulting. Justin brings nearly 20 years of diverse business experience to Khoros.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get tips, tricks, and insights from the ReviewTrackers blog delivered to your inbox every week.


How do you rank against competitors and the industry at-large? Let’s find out.

See where you rank