How to Handle Bad Reviews

While I hope this never happens to you… the reality is every business, at one point or another, is going to receive poor reviews or negative comments from less-than-satisfied customers.

If you’re a good and reputable business, this shouldn’t happen very often. But still, your heart can sink when you see that negativity from a past customer. If you know how to deal with it, you can at least minimize the effect this has on your business.

Monitor your Brand Mentions

Before you can respond to any negative review, you need to know they exist. Be sure you monitor all your websites and social media accounts… and have alerts set up for brand mentions outside your website!

You can use Google Alerts to notify you when a specific term is used on ANY website, anywhere. This is a FREE service from Google. Just make sure you put your brand in quotation marks otherwise you’ll get tons of notices of unrelated content.

Don’t Panic

Let me say that again: Don’t Panic!

Once you’re alerted of a bad review or negative comment about your site, you will likely become very angry and defensive. Hey, it’s only natural! You’re proud of what you offer and for someone to come along and slag it off… WHO ARE THEY TO BADMOUTH YOU!?!?!?!

But the reality is, that’s not a productive attitude. So take care.

If you need to vent, do it privately. Go make use of a punching bag at the gym or scream into a pillow if you need to… but don’t let your colleagues and/or partners—and CERTAINLY not the public—see you sweat.

Just Breathe


Once you’re over your initial reaction of frustration, take a bit of time to look into the matter objectively. Remember, being defensive doesn’t help you here. You need to approach the situation with the understanding that you very well may have done something wrong. And you need to be accepting of that possibility.

Learn as much as you can about the person who’s making the complaint. Is she a past or current client of yours? If so, you should have records of all dealings with her. If there were any incidents that could have led to this review, I hope you took careful notes during the fact. These will come in handy now.

Uncover the Facts of a Bad Review

If the person is not a direct client (past or current), then you need to learn a little more about them. Without being creepy, check them out on social media and try to figure out what their beef is with your brand. Are they someone who simply likes to complain in order to get free stuff? Or did you truly offend them in a way that requires an apology?

Note: Often times, if a non-customer complains about you it will have something to do with your marketing. They could be offended by something you’ve posted on Social Media, or about an ad you put out in front of your store, etc. In this case, it’s important to remember that for every person who complains, there are probably a hundred others who were equally offended but didn’t bother letting you know about it!


Once you have enough information, it’s time to respond. Ideally this is done very quickly, before the fire has a chance to spread too far. In a perfect world, you’ll respond to a negative review within hours of it being posted. At the worst… 24-48 hours, tops.

When you respond, first take a deep breath, and go back to my second point: DON’T PANIC!

Never respond to a review when you’re angry. Your anger will inevitably pour into your response… whether you mean it to or not.

Be polite and courteous. Always start out by thanking the reviewer for his or her comments. Whether you agree with it or not, they took the time to inform you of what they consider a serious problem, so you should acknowledge that.

How you structure the rest of your response depends on whether it’s a legitimate complaint or not. But either way…

Be professional, but be authentic. There’s nothing worse than a corporate, boilerplate, rehearsed response to negativity these days. People see right through them. Take the time to write something from the heart and be sincere. Trust me, people can tell the difference!

If it was an honest and fair review

Acknowledge it and explain how you plan on taking the necessary actions to remedy the situation. Apologise directly to the reviewer, and if there’s anything you can do to help them further, offer that as well. Your goal here should be to turn this complainer into an advocate of your brand through exceptional customer service.

You don’t have to shell out money!

Many people think the best way to shut a complainer up is to offer them a refund. While this is true and likely the easiest method, it’s not always the best tactic because it doesn’t show that you truly care. Instead, try offering the customer a sincere explanation, and perhaps a revisit once the issue has been resolved.

Time for an example. Say a client took to your social media account and complained that you, as a makeup artist, didn’t listen to what they wanted out of a makeup trial. You agree that the client left looking disappointed, but during the trial she didn’t really speak up about what she wanted. Your reply could be something like this:

Hi [Client] and thank you so much for your feedback. I’m terribly sorry that you didn’t like your makeup after our trial run. I always strive to give people what they want but unfortunately sometimes I can get carried away, especially if the client doesn’t explicitly mention what she likes or don’t like about my work. While I thought your makeup looked amazing, I did notice that you weren’t thrilled when you left my studio and I should have tried a little harder to get a critique from you. I really do care and I hope that all clients leave my studio happy!

I’d love to have you come back in for another trial (my treat!) and I’ll do my very best to ask for your feedback throughout the process. I hope we can work together to get you that perfect makeup look this time around! Please let me know if you would be willing to give me another chance!

Either way, thank you for reminding me that just because a client doesn’t say anything negative, doesn’t mean they love my work. I promise I’ll do a better job at getting honest feedback from all my clients, good and bad!

Now imagine if you just happened to see this complaint on another makeup artist’s social media account, along with this reply. Would the MUA come off as sincere and caring? After reading this thread would you be more likely to check out their services on your own? If this is the case, then it’s a good response!

If the Review was Unfounded

Sometimes clients will make a negative review out of frustration even though they have no basis for the accusation. This can happen especially if there are additional fees for the services you provided, or if something unexpected took place that was beyond your control.

Even if you don’t agree with the negative review, you must still remember the key elements discussed above. Don’t remember them? Let me refresh your memory:

  • Don’t Panic!
  • Never respond when you’re angry!
  • Be polite and courteous.
  • Be professional, but authentic.

Here’s where things differ. If you received an unfair, negative review, you are allowed to tell your side of the story.

Apologise to the client for his/her reaction, but DON’T apologise for your actions if you did nothing wrong. Instead, address it in a cordial but firm way.

Here’s another example. Say you’re an event planner and a client is unhappy about a surcharge that appeared on her final invoice because she changed her mind last-minute on the caterer, for instance. This is a fee that you both agreed to, in writing (you have an email trail). Your response could be:

Hi [Client] and thank you for your feedback. I’m very sorry you were unhappy at the caterer surcharge. As you’ll recall, when you decided to change caterers only a few weeks before the event, I explained that there would two additional fees: one to cancel the original caterer last-minute, and another to rush the new caterer into meeting our deadline.

You agreed to these additional fees via an email conversation between the two of us. I am happy to send you a transcript of this email conversation if you do not have it on file.

As you know, we always strive to keep our clients in the loop on exactly what’s going on with their events, including all fees that their decisions incur. While we are highly flexible and strive to give you exactly the event you want, we also do explain that occasionally there are additional fees that come with our clients’ decisions. When such situations occur, we do our best to get you the best price, and inform you fully of all the fees before we get your go-ahead. This is exactly the procedure we followed in this case.

Again I’m very sorry that you were unhappy with the additional fees, but at the same time I understand you were extremely satisfied with the caterer at the event so I hope you’ll consider it par for the course.

If you would like to discuss this matter further, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly. I am always happy to hear from you and will make myself available to explain the details once more if that will help alleviate your concerns.

In the case above, notice how the event planner was able to tell her side of the story, not be insulting to the customer, but still stick to her guns that she did nothing wrong.

Again, put yourself in an objective position. If you came upon this review on an event planning website and then read the response, would it seem like the event planner handled the situation with grace and decorum? Would you feel like she was in the right?

Again, if the answer is “yes”, then it’s a good response!

Always Respond Publicly

If a customer makes a complaint or posts a bad review in a public manner, then respond in the same way. Don’t resort to a generic “Thank you for your feedback. We have replied to you privately to discuss the situation”. That type of response doesn’t benefit you one bit when it comes to others who might read the review.

At the same time, just be mindful of privacy concerns. Never give out a customer’s private information when responding to a review… and try to avoid giving specifics such as the exact amount they paid, names of third parties, etc.

Respond to bad review publicly

If a Reviewer Starts a War

Whether they’re in the right or not, there are some nuts out there who just want attention. If the client continues to harass you once you’ve responded and dealt with the situation, then it’s time to take further action. You can warn them that their behavior is unacceptable and if you need to, you can get a lawyer involved. 99% of you will never experience this type of negativity… but if you do, just remember: the absolute WORST thing you can do, is to get into a fight with a client over a bad review. Regardless of how much the person grinds your gears, always remain polite, courteous, and objective. Trust me. I’m doing you a favor here!

Have you ever had to deal with a bad review from a client? How did you deal with it? Let us know in a comment!

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