How to Handle Negative Reviews

Review strategy Jan 7, 2022

There’s that saying that your parents and teachers drilled into your head: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all”. Unfortunately, that lesson kind of went out the window when you ran into a schoolyard bully who said some seriously awful things to you [I’m fine, I swear -Ed.]. Luckily, being a business owner isn’t totally like that, but ultimately someone is going to have a bad experience with your business and make a point of leaving a negative review. Let’s face it; taking harsh criticism is…harsh.

Customer reviews are immensely important - they are the summary of their experiences with your brand. A negative review is the story of a customer’s expectations not being met.

For many, they are the deciding factor of whether or not you are making a sale, regardless of them being awesome or terrible. So if (and when, sorry) you get that negative review, it’s absolutely key that you still be accepting and engaging with your unhappy customer. Let’s dive in.

Why Negative Reviews are Useful

Negative reviews build trust

Time for another saying: “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is”. Veteran online shoppers aren’t stupid - they know this. The research says when a customer only sees bubblegum and rainbow reviews, they go looking for reviews somewhere else. If those other online sources are telling a different story than your own website, you just lost trust with your customers, and probably sales.

Those amazing positive reviews don’t really matter if your customers don’t trust them, which is why including negative reviews makes your positive reviews more genuine. When a customer sees both sides of the coin, they are more likely to trust you. Besides, this is your online reputation; you’ve got nothing to hide!

Negative reviews help customers make the right purchase

With more genuine reviews, the customer’s expectations are more realistic and there’s a lot less room for error (and disappointment). If a shopper is reading a negative review because a previous customer was bummed that the size of the shirt they ordered fit too small, that just helped pick the right size for them.

While being pleasantly surprised is always nice, the customer needs to feel confident that what they’re purchasing is described accurately and that they’ve made the right decision. Negative feedback might be tough to read, but it will almost certainly reduce the rate of returns and refund requests from your customers.

Negative reviews identify trends with your business

If you pick up on the same bad story being told from multiple people, that’s probably a trend you should look into. Maybe something about a product isn’t being communicated accurately enough in your product description, or fulfillment times are a bit scattered. Watch those negative reviews closely as they may just shed light on some changes you should make to your product or business.

“What should I do if I have a bad review?”

Unreal question. Sometimes 1 star reviews can be kind of…mean. Someone is talking smack on your business. They’ve insulted your thought child, or whatever. You’re upset, that customer is “wrong” and you want to hit the keyboard with ferocity, typing the gnarliest of comebacks you conjured up in the shower.

If you’re feeling these things when reading a bad online review, take a step back, cool off, and let’s come back professional.

Responding to Negative Reviews

When feeling more calm, cool and collected, it’s imperative that you engage with the customer who has left you a negative review.

Make it personal

No, not in a sinister way. Just make sure to actually address the author of the review. They’re still your customer, so thank them for being one, and for taking the time to leave a review. A canned response to start things off is fine, but ensure the response is tailored to their customer experience. The last thing an unhappy customer wants to feel is that they’re getting the same robot routine as everyone else.

Own the problem

Let them know their feedback is extremely important to your business, and even offer to take it offline. There’s only so much that you can do from the review section, so provide contact information where they can reach out to further resolve the issue. Don't hesitate to follow up, either.

Even if the review was scathing, showing that you care and inviting them back to give you another chance shows confidence and that the experience they had is not acceptable to you, either. It may sound crazy, but a bad review is a second chance at making a happy customer.

Responding to the review in itself is now part of the process a new customer will experience. Seeing that the business they’re browsing cares enough to engage with even the most venomous reviews shows trustworthiness, and it’s a huge opportunity to flex your amazing customer support.

Sympathy and responsibility

The most common negative online review is left when a customer did not have their expectations met. Things happen during the ecommerce journey that are completely out of your control, but it’s still important to apologize. You don’t have to write a novella, just keep the apology short and sweet, but take responsibility for what happened. This continues to build trust between them and your brand. Excuses don’t do that.

Some bad reviews are kind of ridiculous, and honestly it sounds like Maria Paula B’s mom left her yoga mat outside with the pup. Luckily, Manduka’s customer care team is chill, and immediately opens up a direct line of communication to this unhappy customer. What’s great about this response is that they match the tone of the review, too. Straight to the point and solution. No long winded sob story here!

Leaf Shave always engages with negative reviews left by customers. Here we have one of the co-founders addressing their customer and owning the problem.

We chatted with Adam Simone, Leaf Shave's co-founder who responded, about the importance of talking with unhappy customers:

"We absolutely make a point of engaging with our negative reviews. A customer who has taken the time to share their experience, even if it's a bad one, is hugely valuable. We learn from them and always try to make things right - we want others to see that."

Moderating Negative Reviews

Simply put: don’t moderate. You want your business reviews to tell an honest, genuine story about your brand. As much as it may hurt, let them through. Only showing the positive reviews will make potential customers completely lose trust in you, and they’ll go to some other review site.

Oh, also, if having a distrusting customer isn’t enough, it’s also illegal. The FTC is bringing down the hammer on businesses who engage in deceptive practices, including fake reviews and the censoring of bad reviews. Handle negative reviews with extreme care, and you’ll become more trustworthy to your customers.

Embrace Negative Reviews

The bottom line is this: negative reviews are just as important as positive reviews. You’ll learn more about your customers, identify pain points in your business model and help potential buyers make the right decision when purchasing your products. They might be brutally honest and tough to take, but engaging with them will only make your business more trustworthy, and stronger. Embrace the bad, it’ll make you look good.

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