How to Respond to a Bad Review – Principles and Examples

Bad reviews can feel like a punch in the gut, but a strong comeback can actually make them work in your favor.

Here at Userlike , review platforms like Capterra and G2Crowd are an important source of qualified sign-ups. It's only logical that people largely base their decision on what other people are saying.

Responding to reviews – good and bad – is one of the core responsibilities of customer service . In this guide we'll share the principles our team developed for dealing with bad reviews. To begin, let’s clarify why you should welcome public criticism in the first place.

Bad reviews are good

In today’s digital landscape, many people have developed a healthy scepticism toward positive reviews. Rather than reading the potentially fake five-star review, they focus on a few moderate to bad reviews, hoping for a more realistic picture of the product or service.

If nobody hates you, you're doing something wrong.

Dr. Gregory House, House

If a company doesn’t have a single bad online review, it quickly lands on the “too good to be true” radar. It just doesn’t seem trustworthy. You might know this from your own experience, but it’s also reflected in a study by the Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center .

So, there's no reason to fear a couple of bad reviews.

Customers understand that things can't be perfect 100% of the time. What they do expect is for companies to take responsibility when things go wrong.

A 2018 review survey by Bright Local found that 89% of people researching your business will read your response to a bad review. Your side of the story matters.

Pie chart of people reading company responses to bad reviews.

A good response is more than damage control

A thoughtful response to a bad review is more than self-defense and reactionism. It’s an opportunity for your company to show personality and care. The company gets a face and becomes relatable.

Your response is a chance to make things right with the complaining customer, and win over all the other readers who stumble across it.

The principles of responding to a bad review

1
Objectivity

Negative feedback hurts. But in order to write a smart response to a bad review, your head needs to be clear.

Breathe. Relax. Remember that a bad review only reflects a single experience in which expectations weren’t met. It’s one opinion, not a life sentence.

A microscope, to symbolize objectivity.

The first step after reading a bad review about your company is to find out what exactly happened. Do some proper internal investigation to get the full picture.

If your employees were involved in the scenario, again, objectivity is key. They might be emotionally charged when they tell you their side of the story, so try to see the events from your customer’s perspective as well.

Write your response in an objective state - rage-free. At best you'll win over an angry customer ; at worst you'll show all review readers that you take criticism seriously.

2
Responsibility

Another important principle when responding to bad reviews is to take ownership. If you were in the wrong, admit it and apologize.

A 2015 customer rage study showed that only 37% of upset customers were satisfied when offered a monetary remedy. When the business offered apologies on top of the credit, however, satisfaction increased to 74%.

Example phrases:

  • “I apologize for the inconvenience...”
  • “We are sorry you…”

There is an exception to the rule. Don't apologize if your company obviously didn’t do anything wrong. You can still show empathy by saying you're sorry that things didn’t work out, but clarify that the source of their dissatisfaction wasn't your company. This isn't to defend your ego, but to clarify to potential readers that the low rating doesn’t reflect your service or product quality.

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To give an example from our own experience, in some bad reviews people complain that our live chat software doesn't offer a specific functionality, like video calling.

That is a conscious choice from our side, because video calls don't fit in our philosophy on customer support, and we don't advertise anywhere that we offer this feature. It's unfair to judge pasta for not being pizza, but sometimes that’s exactly what people do. In such a case, we would reply that we're sorry that we weren't the solution they were looking for, and explain our reasons for not including that feature.

3
Empathy

A heart connected to a brain, symbolizing empathy.

"Sorry" alone doesn’t make for a good apology. A 2016 study conducted by Ohio State University and Eastern Kentucky University found that an effective apology is both empathetic and specific .

Show that you understand the consequences of the customer's individual experience. Maybe she couldn’t get an important job done, maybe it caused stress at work. Add a phrase along these lines:

  • "I understand how important this is to your workflow."
  • "I can definitely see how frustrating (...) would be."
  • "I would also be annoyed if..."

4
Balance

Some critical reviews will also include positive comments. But due to the negativity effect , readers will naturally be more sensitive to the negative aspects of the review. In your response, it doesn’t hurt to highlight the positive.

Dear guest,

Thanks for your stay with us and for sharing your experience with other travelers. We were pleased to read you liked the size of the room, but were sorry to hear there were some issues with the temperature. Please rest assured we have addressed this with the team to ensure we improve on this.

Kind regards,
Annabelle
Secretary Guest Relations

In this example the hotel staff first touches upon the positives in the review – the size of the rooms. The criticized temperature issue seems relatively minor and easy to fix.

If the reviewer doesn’t provide you with such little gold nuggets, you still have the option to slide in some self-praise – if accurate.

Example phrases:

  • “Being known for our great [product/service] it came as a surprise, and we would like to make things right.”
  • “We pride ourselves on our [product/service] and the high quality standards we maintain, and would like to make things right.”
  • “We’re normally known for our exceptional attention to detail, and we regret that we missed the mark.”

5
Reasoning

Giving a reason doesn’t change what happened, but it will influence whether people accept your apology. This can be explained by the phenomenon of the because justification.

An experiment by psychologist Ellen Langer showed that when people are presented a reason – any reason – they would most likely accept the asked favor. In her study, a test subject asked people who were about to use the library printer if he could cut in line, first without giving any reason. Only 60% of people agreed in this scenario.

When the sentence, “because I need to print,” was added, the number rose to 93%. With a more solid reason like “because I’m in a rush,” acceptance increased to 95%.

Infographic of the copy question.

The reaction of a caught-by-surprise library visitor might differ from the reaction of an angry customer, but solid reasoning will still improve the acceptance of your reply. It shows that you care enough to explain what went wrong and allows your customer to empathize with you.

A 2013 Bazaarvoice study supports this assumption. Seven out of 10 consumers changed their opinion about a brand after the company replied to a review. And 41% of consumers said that brands replying to reviews make them believe the company really cares about their customers.

6
Concession

This is your customer’s favorite principle when you respond to their bad review. The 2015 customer rage study conducted by Dialogdirect suggests that the satisfaction rate nearly doubles if customers are offered a monetary remedy – like money back, free replacement or a discount on the next purchase.

Consider the importance of your concession. It's crucial that your team knows which remedies to offer in what situation. It feels nice to spoil your customer, but the costs for your redemption have to stay within reasonable bounds. It's about finding a balance.

A best practice is to offer the customer two options that she can choose from. It creates a feeling of empowerment, which in turn makes for a more satisfying experience.

Example phrases:

  • “We invite you and your dad to join another tour for free and see how we have changed things for the better.”
  • “We are happy to replace your speaker at no cost if you still face connection problems. Otherwise we'll gladly provide you with a 20% coupon to use on your next purchase with us.”

7
Solution

The aforementioned concession can be part of the solution, like if the product breaks after two weeks and you replace it with a new one.

Regardless of what your solution looks like, clearly communicate what you are doing to solve the case.

  • Are you calling or emailing them?
  • Can they contact you to speed up the process?
  • Are they expecting something in the mail?
  • Do you need more information from them?
  • How much time will it take until the customer can expect a solution?

Be specific and instructive, but don’t promise what you can’t achieve to avoid disappointing the customer twice.

Example phrases:

  • “If you’re open to discussing this further, please call us at (656) XXX-4321 and ask to speak with Larry, our general manager.”
  • “Please contact our live chat team to provide us with your email address. We'll then send you a tour voucher.”
  • “I have issued a refund to your original payment. Please allow 1-3 days for the refund to be processed”

8
Change

What did you learn from this review? Which action steps for your business can you deduct?

A compass, to symbolize a new direction and change.

It’s obviously important that you do anything in your power to avoid the same mistake from happening again. Otherwise the best complaint management system will not help you.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to include your new insights in your response to the bad review. It shows both your angry customer and review readers that you take action and they won’t be confronted with the same problem again.

Example phrases:

  • “Your comments have been discussed at length with the responsible team leader to prevent this from happening again.”
  • “We have since invested heavily in training our service team.”

9
Gratitude

A "Thanks for the feedback" can go a long way and is always a healthy component of your response.

Expressing gratitude is more than a platitude if you look at the feedback as a gift: You just got free, honest feedback - which is usually not easy to come by. (We talk about dishonest feedback later, because that’s a whole different story.)

It goes without saying that you would prefer your customer to discuss issues with you in person, but even an overly emotional online review might contain a bit of insight. Negative feedback can shine light on blind spots and be a wake-up call for you and your team. Share this appreciation with your customer, either right at the beginning or at the end of your response.

Example phrases:

  • “Thanks for your feedback”
  • “Thanks for bringing x to our attention”

10
Speed

A ReviewTrackers study found that 52 percent of customers expect to hear back from you within seven days after posting their online review.

With any review process, speed is paramount, as is placing yourself in the position of the customer first.

Lee Wilson, Vertical Leap

Considering that an unanswered bad review doesn’t shed the best light on you, it’s recommended to keep the time span as short as possible. One to four days is a reasonable goal for your service team.

With the help of media monitoring tools , you can make sure that you're staying on top of what people are saying about you online so you can respond to them as fast as possible.

Examples: Good responses to bad reviews

Response to a bad software review

Hi [],
I am very sorry to hear that you are not satisfied.
(Empathy)

For offline response collection, the successful operation of our app is dependent on a number of factors, such as the cache and private browsing settings and the version of the browser. These critical factors were not sufficiently communicated to you. (Reasoning)

Given the impact that this can have, we have adapted our documentation and we will make sure to communicate this very clearly to future users. (Change)

As for the issue resolution, we try our best to solve issues within the shortest time. I understood your issue was solved 3 hours after its discovery. It is true that we do not foresee 24/7 real-time support in our standard plans. In our experience, the level of support that we provide is sufficient for most users. (Reasoning)

That said, a 24/7 hotline is certainly a specific support option for us to consider in the future, for users who need real-time support during trade shows or events. (Change)

Wishing you all the best, Stefan (CEO at SurveyAnyplace )

Response to a bad hotel review

Thanks for sharing your feedback, both positive and constructive! (Gratitude)

I apologize that we did not exceed the standard you received during previous stays. I understand that this was especially upsetting considering you spent your anniversary with us. (Empathy, Responsibility)

I am glad to read that the hotel staff surprised you with a bottle of wine and provided great service. (Balance)

Your comments have been discussed at length with the responsible team leader to ensure the hotel maintains its high standards. (Change) We hope you will visit us again soon and would like to offer you a $100 voucher towards your next booking. (Concession)

Warm Regards,
Tania

Response to a bad product review

Hello Diane,
You’re right, this is unacceptable. I understand that a birthday party without a functional sound system is a nightmare. If you allow me the chance to speak with you I would like to make it up to you.
(Empathy, Responsibility, Change)

My number is [phone] or you can email me at [email].) (Solution)

I’m genuinely sorry this happened and look forward to speaking with you.

Yours sincerely,
Matthew

Response to a bad restaurant review

Hi Rebecca,
I’m Will, the store manager at Waffle Wonder. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience that we have caused you. I wouldn’t want to eat a cold waffle either!
(Responsibility, Empathy)

If you allow me to explain, we had a few servers calling in sick that Sunday and a huge party order coming in at last notice. This caused a line up and we couldn’t deliver our delicious waffles as hot and fresh as we usually do. (Reasoning)

Please visit us again. We’d love to make it up to you by offering a discount coupon for the troubles that we’ve caused. (Concession)

Best,
Will

How to deal with fake and unfair reviews

Here are some markers that hint at a fake review:

  • The complainer isn’t in your software system
  • Purchased items and/or transaction date doesn’t match the complaint
  • No customer service calls on record
  • Lack of detail
  • A stream of bad reviews in a short period of time
  • A connection between the reviewer and a competitor
  • A competitor is mentioned in the complaint

What's more, some reviews are real but obviously below the belt. You might wonder if there is any chance to remove fake or unfair reviews from a rating platform.

A poison bottle, to symbolize unfair reviews.

The good news is that companies are not at the mercy of angry, emotional customers. There are indeed some ways to remove a bad review. Reputation management is specialized on this very topic and gives you the exact action points you can take on different rating platforms to get the review removed.

Unfortunately it can be quite a long and complicated process, especially if you are dealing with big institutions like Google or Facebook. The easiest way to remove a bad review is to impress your dissatisfied customer with exemplary complaint management skills, such as the ones we describe in this post. If your customer is happy about your response and the solution you offer him, he might delete his bad review on his own terms.

If all attempts fail, there is still another path to go: cushioning the bad review in many good ones. Incentivize your happy customers if they leave you an honest review by offering them a coupon or free delivery with the next purchase.