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How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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Every organization wants to get a lot of 5-star online reviews, but chances are at some point you are going to get a dreaded 1-star review filled with criticism.

Truth is… the bolder and more impactful your organization is, the louder and more numerous your critics will be.

Some people think if they just ignore online review sites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, negative reviews won’t impact them.

Untrue…  Ignoring negative reviews doesn’t prevent other people from seeing them.

On the other hand, some people are so sensitive to criticism, they fear even a single negative review could ruin their organization forever.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, I believe…

Negative reviews provide unique opportunities to show your organization is made of good people who aren’t perfect but respond with grace, own up to their mistakes and make things right.

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How to Respond to Negative Reviews

Let’s talk about how to make the most of the opportunities that come with negative reviews.

1) Monitor reviews.

It’s important to respond quickly to negative reviews, and the only way to do that is if you are monitoring them. Most online review sites will send an email when a new review is posted. Make sure you are regularly checking the email account you signed up with, and you have “whitelisted” email from review sites so it doesn’t go to your spam folder.

2) Be objective.

Try to figure out what led to the negative review.

  • Did someone drop the ball?
  • Was there a misunderstanding?
  • Were the critic’s expectations unrealistic?
  • Is the person just being a jerk?
  • Does the person seem to have an ax to grind? (Sometimes atheists will randomly post reviews for churches they’ve never even been to just to rant against Christianity.)
  • Is it abusive or fake?

3) Report reviews that are fake, abusive or violate terms of service.

Online review sites will not remove legitimate negative reviews, but they will remove reviews that violate their terms of service. Including:

  • Threats, profanity, and “verbal” abuse
  • Second hand accounts (e.g. “My friend told me these guys are terrible!”),
  • Irrelevant (e.g. “My neighbor owns this company and his dog is always doing his business on my lawn.”)
  • Fake reviews, including those posted by a competitor or a pattern of reviews outside the local area the organization serves.

4) Try to resolve issues privately. 

Google, Facebook and Yelp all allow business owners to message people who leave reviews.  If your organization has dropped the ball or there has been a misunderstanding, send the person a message.

  • Apologize for the bad experience or misunderstanding, even if you’re not sure of the specifics or don’t think it was really your fault.
  • If the criticism was vague, ask for more information. (e.g. “You said, ‘The food was terrible.’ Could you tell us what night you ate in our restaurant and what you ordered? Did you tell your server or the manager about the problem?)
  • Offer to make up for the bad experience or misunderstanding. (e.g. “We’d like to make it up to you by giving you a complimentary dinner the next time you dine with us.”)

5) Post humble, public responses.

Post a similar response publicly for everyone to see.  This will show people that you care about your customers/visitors, you care about their experience, and you’re willing to go out of your way to make up for any mistakes or misunderstandings.

6) On matters of personal taste, highlight your distinctiveness.

Sometimes people post negative reviews based on their own personal preferences. (e.g “The music was too loud.” “The food was too spicy.”)  Instead of criticizing the critic, use the negative review as an opportunity to point out what makes you unique. (e.g.”Sorry to hear you found our food to be too spicy. All our entrees are based on my grandmother’s recipes, and she loved to bring the heat! We do offer tamer versions of every dish, though. Just ask your server the next time you’re in.”)

7) Trust that other people will recognize idiots and jerks for what they are.

Sometime a person will post a review that is ridiculously harsh or just “out there.” Your gut instinct may be to attack the critic or vehemently defend yourself, but that is unnecessary. Most people easily recognize when someone is being irrational or a total jerk, and they’ll completely ignore their review. Respond, but take the high road and maybe try some humor.

There’s one other important way to respond to negative online reviews…

Get more positive online reviews. If your organization has a negative review and only 1 or 2 positive reviews, that will concern people. But if your organization has 1 negative review and 25 positive reviews, that negative review actually makes your organization look more authentic, because everyone knows nobody’s perfect.

Read more about The BEST Way to Get More Positive Online Reviews, and if you’d like our help, check out our new Online Reviews Service. Then fill out the form below to schedule a call with one of our SEO experts.  Its one of many ways we help Christian organizations live out their mission online.

Post a Comment!

  • Have you gotten any negative online reviews? What were they and how did you respond?
  • What questions or comments do you have about negative reviews?

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.


    • This is the action i take “Report reviews that are fake, abusive or violate terms of service”

      Really straightforward and fast ! Thanks for this paul, i will try monitoring reviews next time

    • I’m still in awe of getting hurt by my church because I have not tithed in ten months due to a custody battle that has left me moneyless paying the attorneys. I have tried to reach out with two emails, two text and a call to my pastor and to no avail. The rave reviews are from his kin or from the sheeps that have money to burn, so he does give them a lot of attention, so what about us pea sheeps? Four already have left the church due to this, but no one has noticed. The pastor is a really good speaker tho. So leave it alone and let God?

      • Hi Marilyn, are you saying your pastor knows how much everyone gives and only responds to the emails, texts and calls of those who tithe? I would be careful about making assumption about motives. Follow Matthew 18:15-17 and have a one on one conversation. But if it’s confirmed, personally, I would not be a part of a congregation where the pastor gives preferential treatment based on giving, no matter how good a speaker he is.