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Receiving criticism of any kind requires a form of finesse possessed by few. Oftentimes, reaction to the critic can determine if the criticism received is constructive or destructive. In truth, no one likes to be criticized. But the fact remains, negative reviews and customer feedback happens to every business at some point.

When it does, the first step is to determine whether the feedback is legitimate.

Illegitimate feedback can come in a form of a “low-blow” from a competitor that is unwilling to compete on an even playing field. This is against most review website’s policy, and can be flagged for review. Other times, the feedback is a blatant injustice, the kind that comes when a misinformed customer makes an unfair and biased assessment of the way you do business (even when you and your team have done nothing wrong).

Once you have determined the customer feedback is genuine, and after your initial gut reaction to reply with swift justice of your own, the best course of action is to own the feedback, apologize for any inconvenience, ensure the feedback was responded to, and move on with your life.

The truth hurts

The other side of the coin is the one-star review that is full of painful truths. The one that glaringly identifies the shortcomings you have on your agenda to fix tomorrow. The one that points to every aspect of your business in need of improvement. The one that really hurts you personally. Every business knows of some things need to be fixed, but the realities portrayed are difficult to accept and process.

You have to pick your battles.

Reviews like this are bound to happen. Knowing how to respond internally through operational changes, and externally, through a solid review response, is essential to the health of your online reputation.

Let’s take a look at what needs to take place if you want to make the best lemonade of the review lemons that come your way.

One-off or Systemic Concern?

When someone drops the ball and a customer has a less-than-satisfactory experience, it is your responsibility to dive into the issue and find out if you are looking at the first symptoms of something systemic that is likely to happen again and again, or if it is a simple fluke.

If it is a fluke, you still need to communicate the concern to all stakeholders. Knowledge is power, and a well-informed team is very unlikely to make the same mistake twice. If your business is generally a great performer when it comes to reviews, then you may want to include the issues escalated as part of your daily notes, or mention it during a scrum or team meeting.

People, Process, or Product Issue?

In most instances, we can isolate customer concerns to people, process, or product, or a combination of several of these factors. Before implementing any changes, you need to step back and evaluate the root cause of the problem.

According to a highly experienced food and beverage manager, when personnel drops the ball in the foodservice industry, problems can be often tackled by implementing technologies instead of training or firing staff.

A great of example of this in action is a digital display of food orders at the table. This new form of accountability can reduce the error rate in the kitchen and improve overall customer satisfaction. In most instances, when there are discrepancies with food orders, the customers tend to point to the server or other frontline employees as the culprits of a less-than-excellent dining experience, when in reality, it was a simple miscommunication.

Fix only what needs to be fixed. Don’t come out swinging left and right. Intentionality matters.

Deliver a Sincere, Respectful Apology

This is the most important takeaway from your new feedback. It may be inconvenient, but your reviewer is also your customer, which means the reviewer always right. If your one-star review is full of painful truths, don’t forget the long-term value of honest feedback. Thank the reviewer profusely. After all, he or she is giving you a priceless opportunity to get your act together.

“It may be inconvenient, but your reviewer is also your customer, which means the reviewer is always right.”

But apart from saying thank you, provide a respectful apology that includes the steps you are taking going forward, and provides the customer a remedy that leads to subsequent engagements. That is, do what you need to do to have that customer come through your door again.

And remember, your response is being evaluated by everyone who leaves a new review. It will reflect your business’ attitude toward all customer feedback forever.

Earn a second chance to do it right! Sincerity goes a long way when it comes to customer experience strategy. At the end of the day, customers value knowing that behind your organization and brand there are humans that care at a personal level.

Check out: Success Stories: Business Owners Respond to Bad Yelp Reviews

VIP the Reviewer into a Second Opportunity

Almost everyone reacts positively to outstanding comebacks. Everyone loves an underdog. Make every effort you possibly can to have the reviewer come again and, if possible, review your business again. The best way to do this to have them edit the review they left earlier, before you had the chance to redeem your business.

A second-chance review is a powerful testimony of your commitment to delivering superior customer experiences time after time. Not only do you stand to gain a loyal customer, but you are also earning a badge to display on your review profile that will add credibility and increase trust from potential customers.

Establish an Early-Capture Feedback Process

One-star reviews are very unlikely to happen if you have processes in place aimed at reaching out to customers immediately after a transaction. If you give them an opportunity to voice their concerns privately, before they even have a chance to consider public third-party review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, you will be ahead of the game.

One of the best ways to reach out to customers is by pushing a NPS (Net Promoter Score and System) survey to all your customers. Polling your customers with a simple one-question survey will give you a better picture of the direction your business is heading, and it will give your customers a chance to escalate concerns. Early-capture feedback is tremendously helpful to organizations of all sizes, and it can help you refine your customer experience strategy without having to spend on pricey marketing research.

Read MORE: Net Promoter Score and System (NPS): A Quick Guide for Fostering Customer Loyalty and Measuring (and Requesting) Customer Feedback

Your one-star review can be the catalyst for a radical change in your business. One that can benefit your customers, and improve your business, taking it to the next level. Don’t waste it.

Kevin Kent

Kevin is the Director of Finance and Operations at ReviewTrackers. Every day he finds creative ways to solve business owners' problems and identifies key issues to help them achieve top results.


  1. spameater

    It’s often difficult coming to terms with the fact that as hard as we try, there will always be faults in our work. Even if it’s our passion and put our all into it. Being able to accept and learn from the negative reviews that come as a result, is so important.

  2. Sammy J

    Criticism is away to motivate people of their flaws for further betterment. It can be blunt at times, which can be attended to with a sportive attitude. Accepting and going ahead in what you do reduces the stress rather than yielding.

  3. Raul Lago

    I make it a point to never respond to negative feedback immediately upon reading it. I read it over two or three times, then wait anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days before responding. This has helped me to avoid responding based on emotion and to draft a professional and tactful reply.

  4. Jonah

    It does hurt to see a bad review on my page. Rather replying to it emotionally, i prefer to check if it really is constructive and answer to it in nicest way possible. Helps in making myself convey the message than be rude.

  5. Go Harry Go

    The truth hurts…ok…but one-star review mean something…that’s mean that you have to change something about your business to become much better. Than you”ll get five-star review 🙂

  6. Patricia Gill

    it makes different react when someone after bad critics said “thank you for listening”…ok,then I’ll’ think positively about what he said

  7. Yes2Freebies

    I always post negative comment, when I had negative experience and I never said thanks for listening, I want to annoy them as much as I am

  8. B.Logan

    I agree Raul Lago. Take a deep breath and then respond.

  9. Samantha

    First things first you always need to apologize and try to make the situation better with the customer. But it can be quite difficult coming to terms with the fact that you business has a flaw and one big enough to cause someone to leave a bad review. The hardest part about responding to a accurate negative review may just be admitting that there is a problem that needs fixing.