How to Respond to a Bad Review

bad review

How Do You Respond to a Bad Review?

Reviews matter. I’ve touched on why before. A study by the Spiegel Research Institute shows basically everyone (95% of customers) reads online reviews to help make purchasing decisions. Good reviews can triple the chance someone is going to buy from you.

Another study suggests 84% of buyers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, which sounds totally bananas until you learn that it isn’t the evolved part of our brain determining how trustworthy reviews are, it’s our shortcut-loving emotional brain. The first step to leveraging this pervasive love of reviews is to stop heading in the wrong direction. If you’ve had a bad review, here’s my 3-step formula for fixing it:

How to Fix a Bad Google Review

A have a client, let’s call them “Acme Services,” who had a 3.6-star Google rating when I started working with them. Not terrible, but not great either. Some research showed me that bad reviews are quite standard in Acme’s industry, but their audience doesn’t know that.

Acme Services’ problem was not poor customer service. It’s that people are more likely to leave a bad review than a good one. Worse still, reviewers are most likely to either leave a 1-star or a 5-star review. That means a relatively small incident can sour a client on the entire transaction.

All of us can learn from this, as consumer research shows it takes an average of 40 good reviews to combat a single bad one.

In this case, Acme Services’ Google star rating was not an accurate reflection of their performance. However, I’ve worked with other clients on Google reviews and it became apparent they had some work to do on the customer service side. Although it’s important to worry about how to get more good Google reviews, you’ll first want to stem the flow of bad ones.

First, Stop the Bleeding

Dissatisfied customers tend to tell nine to fifteen other people about their bad experience. That is not the kind of word-of-mouth we like. If one of these disgruntled folks shows up on your Google Business profile (formerly Google My Business) and leaves a 1-star review, start by trying to turn the situation around. Here’s how:

1) Reply to their bad review immediately. The 2022 Online Review Report shows 53% of people who leave a negative review expect to hear back from the company in one to seven days. No matter the circumstances, tell them you’re sorry they had a poor experience. After all, it’s the truth. They’re making you good and sorry, whether your feelings are rooted in contrition or indignation. In your reply -this part is key- tell them you’ll follow up offline. Referencing 1-to-1 communication acts as a signal to readers that there is more of the story than they’re seeing.

2) Don’t argue with the review in your reply. To paraphrase JAY-Z paraphrasing Mark Twain, “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools. Cause people from a distance can’t tell who’s who.” Review readers are at quite a distance from the situation and are unlikely to be able assess the nuances of the situation. Unless the reviewer’s point is totally egregious (e.g. making unfounded accusations, etc) you stand to gain very little and potentially lose quite a lot by getting into a keyboard war with a reviewer.

3) Follow up offline immediately and fix their problem if you can. After weeks of work fixing their Google rating, my client got a 1-star review this week. The review stemmed from a total misunderstanding. The client immediately reached out to their customer and sorted out the problem. The customer took down his review. Problem solved.

Know Your Rights

I was able to get rid of several negative reviews just by reading the Google Terms of Service. Google will take down reviews that violate their TOS. If someone leaves you a review that is fraudulent or false, click the three-dot menu beside it and select “Flag as Inappropriate.” I think it’s actually a Google human replacement robot that responds to these flags, but sometimes it works, so it’s worth a try.

If flagging doesn’t work, you can escalate your issue. Here’s how to dispute a review with Google:

  1. Go to your Google Business profile home page
  2. At the bottom of the left-hand side of the page, click “Support.”

A Help window will pop up. Answer the questions it asks and Google will give you an option to contact them; either email, phone or chat.

screen cap of the google review help page

If the review is very clearly illegal (hate speech, threats, serious defamation) you can contact Google’s legal department. Just keep in mind, it isn’t illegal to leave a mean review and it’s not defamation to express a negative opinion.

Finally: Just Ask

Once you’ve dealt with any bad reviews, it’s time to make sure you have plenty of good ones. Next week, I’ll tell you how I totally turned around Acme Services’ Google Business Profile with just one email. Meanwhile, we also have a FREE guide to setting up a review system for your business and you can get it here.

picture of author bridget brown