There are lots of benefits to running a small business online, but one of its biggest drawbacks is that potential customers cannot put a “name to a face”.

There are lots of ways that you can build trust and credibility on your website, and one of them is to allow customer reviews.

Online reviews play an important role in business marketing.

An incredible 92% of all consumers read online reviews before buying, and 88% trust reviews as much as they would personal recommendations from a friend or family member.

Positive reviews are incredibly valuable.

However, even if you sell the world’s best products and work hard to offer unbeatable customer service, you can never satisfy all of your customers, all of the team.

Negative online reviews are virtually impossible to avoid, as disgruntled customers can quickly leave a bad score to vent their frustration at a late delivery, missing item or a poor customer experience.

Below, we’ve put together some of the ways you should deal with negative customer reviews.


Look for patterns and commonalities

Aside from building trust with potential customers, online reviews serve an important purpose.

Your customers can use websites like Facebook, Google and TripAdvisor to tell the world what they really think about your business – and more often than not, they won’t hold back!

If you receive a negative review or a bunch of them in a short space of time, you should look for patterns and commonalities to see what went wrong.

Brutally honest feedback from customers can help identify clear pain points, and taking them on board will improve your business.

Rather than brushing off negative reviews, do your best to address the complaints and show customers that you’re working on improving your services.

Simply ignoring issues and not addressing them will make you look like you don’t care about your customers.


Take action and improve customer satisfaction

The most obvious way to handle negative reviews, and reduce the number you get, is to improve your service and think of customer satisfaction at every opportunity. You can do this by:

  • Run questionnaires: Don’t wait for your customers to tell you what they don’t like in a negative review. Run regular feedback sessions and hand out questionnaires so that you can understand the needs of your customers – and continuously improve your product.
  • Train your staff: In customer-facing roles, it’s essential that your staff deliver the right service. Run regular training workshops, invest in your team and make sure you only hire the very best employees. One bad experience can turn a customer off for life.
  • Personalise the experience: Think of ways to personalise your service that suits the needs of every individual customer. That means offering multi-channel support (social media, email, telephone, in-store) and listening to customers’ needs when they buy.
  • Review your marketing: Are you overpromising and under delivering? Review your marketing materials and make sure that your customers know what they’re buying. One of the most common reasons for negative reviews is a lack of clarity/misinformation.
  • Be authentic: Consumers want to buy from brands that are transparent, honest and align with their own attitudes and values. Be authentic and true to your brand.

Whether you’re a startup or you’re making millions, no business will ever be perfect. Show your customers that you’re always listening, learning and adapting to meet their needs.


Respond to reviews as quickly as possible

Disappointed customers don’t want to wait forever to receive a response to their complaints, so act fast and check review sites on a regular basis, turning on alerts for new reviews if possible.

26% of consumers say that it’s important that businesses respond to their reviews, so make an effort to respond as quickly as possible.

Oh, and avoid generic stock responses; take the time to read the negative feedback and give a personalised, sincere response to improve relations.

Rather than back-and-forth chat on your social media channels or a review website, you should try to engage with the dissatisfied customer via email or over the phone.

You may even want to incorporate written content into your customer service strategy, creating a knowledge bank where people can go to get information when they’re unhappy with the service they received.


Report reviews that are fake or malicious

Fake reviews are common in the digital marketing world, so common, in fact, that 95% of consumers suspect faked reviews when they don’t see bad scores on a review website.

It can be tempting to pay for a bunch of glowing reports when you receive a negative review to balance the scores, but the truth is that doing so is illegal, and can cause more harm than good.

On the other side of the coin, if you receive reviews that you think are fake – perhaps from a competitor – then you should report them as soon as you can.

The removal of reviews can take several days, or even weeks, so the sooner you send in your report the better.

On Google, you can log into your Google My Business account and click the ‘Flag as inappropriate’ button.

Facebook is slightly tougher when it comes to removing reviews – they only allow you to report a review if the user has left a comment alongside a star rating.

Sites like TripAdvisor moderate reviews and have fraud detection procedures in place to prevent one-star reviews, but if you still think that you are a victim of a malicious review, you can report it directly.

Lynelle Schmidt’s company was hit with 200 fake 1-star reviews overnight.

Not only did this pull her rating from 4.8 stars to 2.3 stars, but it damaged her brand reputation and caused potential customers to think twice before buying from her.

Unfortunately, she struggled to get Facebook to play ball and remove the quite obvious fake reviews immediately, but her loyal customers left more reviews and pushed the 2.3 star-rating all the way back up to 4.1 stars. Phew!

Every small business owners’ worst nightmare: an attack of fake negative reviews

Every small business owners’ worst nightmare: an attack of fake negative reviews


Encourage positive reviews from happy customers

There are two huge stats that demonstrate the power of customer reviews.

The first is that 73% of consumers form an opinion of a brand by reading up to six reviews.

The second; for every customer who complains about your business, there are 26 others that don’t say anything.

One of the best ways to handle negative reviews – and stop them from damaging the reputation of your brand – is to encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews about your services.

Unless you’ve gone out of your way to deliver exceptional service, the average Joe is unlikely to log onto Facebook and leave a review without being incentivised.

You can encourage customer reviews by asking outright, offering a discount coupon on their next order, making it easy for them to log on and leave their thoughts, and showcasing your favourite reviews on your website.


Run an advertising campaign to change perceptions

New management or supplier problems?

If your business hasn’t been operating at 100% and you’re worried that a string of negative reviews will damage your reputation, then you could try an advertising campaign to apologise and change perceptions.

Sometimes a straightforward approach to negative feedback and events is the best strategy and can help win favour.

Always be transparent with your marketing. Be prepared to admit your mistakes and accept that the customer is always right. Going out of your way to show customers that you care will work.

Just take KFC UK, who apologised for their recent chicken shortage and restaurant closures by taking out adverts in national newspapers.

They held their hands up and admitted that they got it wrong when they failed to deliver the goods.

The result? Their apology made headline news, fans and critics hailed their ad “genius”, and brand reputation was restored.

KFC admitted that they ‘FCK’-ed up in a recent ad campaign

KFC admitted that they ‘FCK’-ed up in a recent ad campaign

A similar, perhaps less risky move, on a smaller scale could be just what your business needs should you find yourself in a PR crisis.


Wrapping up

There’s no denying that negative reviews can have a major impact on your business, but with the right attitude and strategy, you can overcome them and prove to your customers that you’re worth a second chance.

Remember to monitor review websites to check for negative reviews, have clear customer service guidelines in place so you can deal with negative comments quickly and consistently, and accept that negative reviews are part and parcel of running a business.