How To Deal With Negative Social Media Reviews

Woman Upset and In Disbelief At Laptop Computer With Hands In The Air

Customer Feedback is great for your business.  If we truly care about the customers we serve, then customer feedback allows us to see ourselves purely from the clients point of view.  We feel good when we see positive social media reviews online on how we’ve made our clients feel about using our products and services.  Positive online feedback is a very public “pat-on-the-back” that many other potential clients will see.  But what do you do when you receive negative social media reviews from a client? Or even worse, an un-named “Troll” who’s likely a competitor and has never really done business with you? How do you handle it?  What steps can you take to rectify the situation and get the negative review removed?  In this article, we’re going to address those questions.

Threats Won’t Help

Social media has become so big and commonplace, threatening the web service owner to remove a bad review “Or you’ll file a legal action” really won’t get you far.  If someone used your product or service and had a negative experience, as long as they’re honest, there’s not much you can do by way of going after the social media service where the comment was posted.  As a matter of fact, some web services “roll their eyes” when they receive threats. has the following comment placed very openly on the top sidebar of their site:

“Please don’t send us legal takedown orders or threats, we don’t actually host every WordPress blog in the world. If you don’t understand that, you probably shouldn’t be sending legal notices anyway.”

Yelp / is even less responsive to complaints than WordPress.  Yelp brands itself as a champion of free speech.  Yelp does have content guidelines however.  If there is a post that violates content guidelines, yelp encourages notifying its moderators, but no promises made are promises kept.  Yelp’s Terms of Use policy pretty much state they’ll do nothing if they don’t want to and something if they choose to.

So, what do you do when you receive negative feedback from a client?

As a decision maker in your business, you may have limited contact with your client whereas your staff have the most contact with your client.  Or, you may deal with your clients directly and suddenly you’re faced with a negative review from one of them.  Negative reviews can hurt in two places.  They can hurt our egos, and they can hurt our businesses.

The first thing you should do after discovering a negative review is – cool the emotions.  Avoid the knee-jerk response of feeling that you need to post and respond immediately.  The best action is to plan the response.  The best tone is to own it!  Whether the comments are deserved or not, own it and respond the way you would as if there were 10000 clients watching you.  In a way, a lot of people are going to see the dialogue.  In the long run, it’s not the negative comment that will hurt you as much as a poor response.

Steps to Handle Negative Online Business Reviews

Step 1 – Evaluate the Complaint

Magnifying glass with black handle

Is the complaint legitimate or nonsense?  What is the person complaining about?  Have they predetermined a remedy?  If you believe the complaint is legitimate, proceed to the next step.  If not, go to step 5.

Step 2 – Get answers from those who were there.

Is this a situation you have first-hand knowledge of?  If not, get an explanation and the facts from the employee or partner that dealt with this client.  It’s important to know the facts up front to help you plan how to respond.  You should at least begin to have an idea at this point on the following:

1.       Again ask, is this a legitimate complaint?  Is the person using the complaint angle to obtain free services or product from you?  If so proceed to step 5.

2.       Is your business at fault?  And, if so, is there room to compromise or fix the situation?

3.       Is the client expecting too much?  Was there a breakdown in communication between what was promised, what was expected and what was delivered?

Step 3 – Identify the Poster

Image of an unknown person holding up a white card which hides their face. The image deliberately indicates an unknown person.

1.       Is the poster using a real name or just a handle?  Is the name of the poster someone you’ve done business with?  If so, perfect!  It will be easy to reach out to them.

2.       If the poster is using a handle, research that handle or nickname or whatever identifier they’re using to post, and examine the online behaviour of that person.  Are they a frequent complainer?  Could they be a spam-bot leaving crappy comments to the amusement of a programmer?  (Many things are possible and having this knowledge will help you craft a response).

Step 4 – Consider the intentions of the Poster

Most people who feel underwhelmed about a service or product they purchased are commenting to avenge the feeling of having no control over the situation they’re in.  They’re upset and they want to hurt you because they feel hurt. If that’s the case, hearing them out may be a terrific way to start the dialogue and fix the problem.  It’ll be easy to start the dialogue with them if they’ve experienced negative service and you genuinely want to fix the problem.  Try to understand their feelings as oppose to just understanding the chronological unfolding of events.  Consider what consequences they may have experienced, and consider finding out what can help them feel better.

Step 5 – Take the discussion offline

Once you have determined if the complaint is legitimate or not, regardless of which, respond to the negative complaint using these steps:

1.       Identify yourself as a representative of the company

2.       Thank the person for using your products or services

3.       Repeat back your understanding of what they are complaining about

4.       Apologize for the fact they’ve had a negative experience.

5.       Offer to discuss the issue and advise of your willingness to address the problem.  Provide your phone number and business hours.  (This information will be on your website anyway, but it’s helpful to provide it in your response).

6.       Thank the person again and advise them that you genuinely look forward to hearing from them.

7.       Don’t be baited into keeping the discussion online.  Advise that you’re willing to discuss the issue over the phone because it’s much more personable.

Real-Life Examples

Here are some real examples of how big corporations do it – notice they don’t try to delete the posts, they respond to them.  The bigger corporations don’t put in the effort I’ve mentioned above, but the optics of personal responses far exceed canned and repetitive responses.

Canadian Tire:

A Facebook snapshot of the Canadian Tire Account
Canadian Tire on Facebook with a negative review - part I
Canadian Tire on Facebook with a negative review - part II

Fed Ex

A Facebook snapshot of the Fed Ex Account
Fed Ex on Facebook with a negative review - part I

Whirlpool Canada

A Facebook snapshot of the Whirlpool Account
Whirlpool on Facebook with a negative review - part I

Step 6 – Followup

If appropriate, consider setting a reminder of 30 days in your personal business calendar to respond to the complaint again should the poster not contact you.  Be sure to monitor the post from time to time to see if there have been any changes.

Step 7 – Address the complaint in person accordingly.

1.       If the poster contacts you

a.       Hear them out.  Let them vent.  Acknowledge how they feel and sympathize with them.  Give them a reasonable amount of time to be heard, even allow them to repeat themselves if necessary.  If you genuinely care, you’ll respect their feelings and allow them to validate those feelings by paying attention.

b.       Explain to the client that you care how they feel.  There is a very appropriate maxim for this situation.  “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  At this point in writing this piece, I genuinely believe that you care about your client and business, otherwise you wouldn’t have read up to this point.  😊

c.       As long as it’s true, explain this is not a normal reaction for customers to have and explain you want to fix it.  If this is a normal reaction that customers have, then you have some soul-searching and looking into the mirror to do to fix the problem with your business that caused this.

d.       Ask how you could fix the situation.

e.       Decide if it’s reasonable.  Explain that your reputation is important and you want to fix your reputation with the client.

f.        Don’t be afraid to mention the negative post.  Explain that it hurts and that you respect that the client may have been hurt.  Ask if they are willing to work with you to put a mutual end to the hurt.

g.       Take the appropriate action and if they’re willing, ask them if they’d feel comfortable adjusting their post based on the correction of events.  In most cases, the poster will have experienced a sense of validation and if the problem was fixed, most people will leave happy and even change their post.  Encourage them to write about their experiences.  Fixing a problem and getting a good review for customer care is a lot more reassuring to potential new customers than a “30-day money back guarantee” before they buy.  You may have also gained a friend and supporter by fixing the problem with a little TLC.

2.       If the poster doesn’t contact you in 30 days, respond to your response.  Acknowledge your attempt to take the post seriously and acknowledge your attempt to fix the problem.  Advise that the door is open should they change their mind.  Wish them well and thank them again.

Step 8 – Violations of Content Guidelines or Terms of Service

Sometimes, depending on the forum of where the complaint was left, there may be rules against foul language, ALL CAPS TO DENOTE SHOUTING, off-colour or offensive expressions.

According to YELP in the Content Guidelines section, under Conflicts of Interest, contributors shouldn’t write about their own business or employer.

If you notice that a poster has violated Content Guidelines or Terms of Service, report the post to the forum moderator and cite the specific violation in the terms of service.  This is the one rare case where you could spur a service to remove a negative post.

Step 9 – Learning moment

Reflect on the entire incident from start to finish.  Determine where the process could be improved to avoid a potential repeat of this event.  Fix the problem and move on.

Business Credibility

Image of a handshake between two business people indicating trust when it comes to business

If all else fails, don’t sweat it.  Everyone knows we’ll never please everybody.  A negative review that a previous customer wont fix won’t hurt your business as long as you have taken the steps above to show you’ve tried.  People will read the review and your answer to the review.  As long as you’ve maintained composure and offered to help, you’ll look good in the eyes of potential customers.

Reputation Management Services

If you have numerous negative reviews and comments, you may consider firms who offer Reputation Management Services.  Reputation Management Services employ a variety of strategies to ensure that your business is expressed online in a positive manner.  The strategy is to push your positive ratings up and bury the negative ratings deeper in search engine results, or dilute them altogether.  Reputation management employs many of the tactics and best practices used in Search Engine Optimization.

Final thoughts

There is a saying that for every instance of negative feedback, there are ten people who feel the same way.  But for every instance of positive feedback, there are a thousand who feel the same way.  It’s always easier to get negative feedback than positive feedback.  Concentrate on doing your business well and treating your customers accordingly, and the positive feedback will flow.

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