Reputation management and navigating negative online reviews.

Feb 18, 2022

Online reviews are a big part of the marketing engine of products and services today.  Knowing how to respond and navigate the tough ones can make the difference between feeling a bump in the road and having to claw your way back to establishing a consistent customer base.

In my experience in the American consumer culture, people tend to only post a review if they feel strongly.  Case in point- on a scale of 1 to 5, how many 3 star reviews are really out there? If you have been in business for awhile, you are statistically bound to get a negative review.

So…Congratulations! Hopefully by now you have received your first less than stellar online review.  First off, don’t panic or react right away.  Here are some tips to help you through.


The Do’s:

  1. Tune in as soon as you can.  Contact the customer directly and apologize. The most common issue is that this person just plain doesn’t feel heard and/or has a legitimate complaint that you can learn from.  Like diffusing a bomb, reaching out with a friendly email or phone call can sometimes mitigate the situation and even eliminate the review altogether. 
  2. Compose a response.  You probably only get one shot at this, so don’t waste your time engaging in direct conflict with the individual. Write your response with a voice coming from high standards and respect for your team and protocols.  This is particularly effective if the complaint references a specific individual as it pulls the spotlight back to where it needs to be, on the company as a whole.  Your response should be written to the next customer who will be reading these reviews, don’t sink down to the level of finger pointing.
  3. If there truly is fault, own it.  Explain the steps that are being taken to remedy this behavior so it will not be repeated. For instance- “we have instituted new training protocols to address this issue.”  Your future customers will respect and appreciate how you show your accountability and commitment to improvement.
  4. Consider the source.  If the review is truly outrageous, trust that the right customer will see through this. Often those who launch all out rants, show their colors in their unreasonable language.
  5. Bury it.  If all else fails, call up your recent cheerleader or repeat customers and send them a script for a 5 star review. Once there are two or three stellar reviews above a one star review, it tends to fade from attention quickly.


  1. Ignore it.  The worst thing you can do is to leave it right there unresponded to on the front page. Nothing says “I don’t care about my customers” like silence.
  2. Defend yourself.  This is the same as pleading guilty in the eyes of potential new customers. By taking this head on, ego and emotional reactivity is being permitted to hijack the logical brain, leaving unfavorable results leading to what is sometimes known as a ‘pissing match’.  The effect of falling into this trap may be permanently visible on your profile so make sure its not something you will regret later.
  3. Lose sleep over it.  Did you know that there are actually businesses out there where you could simply buy 5 star reviews? I found out about this once when a customer asked me if all the reviews my company had were real…much to my surprise I didn’t know that was even a thing! It’s the nature of our consumer society that no one or anything is perfect and we are sometimes more suspicious of completely flawless reputations than slightly tarnished ones.  After all, you are showing how responsive and intentional you and your team is by responding.


If you are finding a string of bad reviews online and the language is consistent, there is obviously something major going on that you are not seeing.  Circle the wagons and deal with this as quickly as possible.

Its also worthwhile to note that responding to any review is important as it not only shows your care but also the bots and rankings look for that.  Find a time for at least 10 minutes every week to perform ‘reputation management’ on all relevant online platforms.

 Need more help? Consider hiring out someone to do ‘reputation management’ just make sure to keep tabs on it yourself.  Your business reputation needs to be properly protected and typically no one cares more about it than the owner.