How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews [Step-by-Step Guide]

Use this step-by-step guide to respond to negative online reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp and other review sites.

A woman sitting in front of a laptop with her hands covering the sides of her face and looking disappointed.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Those famous words were first written by the poet, John Lydgate and later spoken by Abraham Lincoln. Today, we can use that expression to characterize online reviews.

Sometimes, you're going to have dissatisfied customers and some of those customers are going to post negative reviews about your business on Google, Facebook, Yelp and other review sites.

Being vigilant to negative reviews and responding appropriately communicates to previous and potential customers that you're dedicated to customer satisfaction.

In this post, I'm going to share a step-by-step guide for responding to negative online reviews.

1. Assess the Review

In the first season of The Profit, a business owner would publicly argue and insult his customers online when responding to their negative reviews. Throwing a temper tantrum with every customer complaint is a sure-fire way to destroy a business’s reputation.

Instead, assess negative reviews by asking yourself questions like this:

  • Should the review be flagged for spam or abuse?
  • Can I respond without provoking the customer?
  • Do I need more information from a team member or supervisor before responding?
  • How can I resolve the complaint?

Pro Tip
Create a list of assessment questions (like mine above) that anyone on your team can quickly reference. Not only does this make responding easier, but it encourages team members to adhere to guidelines and leads to more consistent, professional responses.

2. Respond Quickly & Publicly

Respond quickly — ideally within 48 hours. Customers that review your business, will appreciate a quick response.

By responding publicly, you’re informing previous and potential customers that your business is capable of resolving customer complaints. In some cases, the customer might even update their negative review to a positive review.

Even if a business has several negative reviews, they can show their commitment to customer satisfaction by responding publicly. Potential customers who read their responses will likely consider that when making their buying decision.

Pro Tip
Spellcheck and grammar check your responses with a free service like Grammarly. Don’t give the customer anything else to complain about.

3. Apologize & Empathize

Example of how to apologize and empathize.

Don't be afraid to admit if your business made a mistake or might’ve made a mistake. Hold yourself accountable if you want to keep customers.

Apologize and empathize with customers by showing that you understand and share their feelings. This conveys your willingness to help and relaxes negative emotions.

Try apologizing and empathizing like this:

“First of all, I’d like to apologize. I’m terribly sorry that you didn’t have a positive experience at our restaurant. I know you must be disappointed in us.”

Pro Tip
Just like the list of assessment questions in Step 1, create a list of apologies and empathy statements that anyone on your team can reference. This will lead to more consistent, professional responses.

4. Address & Resolve Minor Complaints

Example of how to address and resolve minor complaints.

The antidote to negativity is positivity. Address the complaint in a way that would satisfy yourself. Be friendly, but professional and keep responses short, clear and concise. Aim to be a nonjudgemental peacemaker.

Don’t expect customers to read company signage and remember holiday hours, refund policies, etc. Even though it can be frustrating when you put up notices and customers fail to read them — don’t make customers feel stupid.

For these type of minor complaints, address the negative review and resolve the issue in the same response like the following:

“Our holiday hours should’ve been posted on the entrance door from the day before Thanksgiving until the day after New Year’s. I promise the sign will not be removed again.”

For major complaints, address the negative review like the following and then move onto Step 5:

“Our team goes through special training and the behavior you mentioned is against our code of conduct.”

Pro Tip
Be consistent in resolving complaints. For example, if you offer a customer a full refund and a $10 voucher for a double-charged item, other customers with similar complaints or false complaints will expect the same.

5. Transition the Conversation to a Private Channel

Avoid turning responses into a public chat — where you and the customer are messaging back and forth for anyone to read. If a complaint cannot or should not be resolved in Step 4, transition the conversation to a private channel (direct message, email or phone call) like the following:

“We’d like to learn more about the experience you had at our store. Please contact me directly at or at 555-123-4567.”

Pro Tip
Anticipate problems in advance by providing a satisfaction guarantee that describes how you’ll address dissatisfied customers. This way, your business will have a standardized process for resolving customer complaints.

6. Resolve Major Complaints

Example of how to resolve major complaints.

Once the conversation has moved to a private channel, immediately take action to resolve the complaint.

“We love our customers.”

That’s not a resolution.

“Thanks for the feedback.”

That’s not a resolution.

“You’ll need to speak to my supervisor.”

That’s not a resolution.

Find genuine, customer-loving resolutions and do it quickly.

“I’m going to email you a voucher for your next meal worth $30. You can use this anytime and for any item. I promise you’ll have a better experience when we see you again.”

That’s a resolution!

Pro Tip
Sometimes, you might follow all of the above steps to address a negative review, but may still be unable to resolve the complaint. Unfortunately, some customers or even fake customers just want to complain or troll your company. If this happens, flag those reviews. Google, Facebook and Yelp each have their own policies for flagging and removing reviews.

Wrap Up

You just learned how to respond to negative reviews. Follow these steps to communicate with previous and potential customers that your company is dedicated to customer satisfaction.

How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews [Step-By-Step Guide] first appeared on the Bento Sites Blog by Jeff Shibasaki.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you click a link and make a purchase Bento Sites will earn a very small commission — at no additional cost to you.

Close-up of Jeff Shibasaki wearing a black hat.

Jeff Shibasaki

I’m an Atlanta web designer that specializes in website design and development on Webflow and Squarespace.

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