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Combating the Negative Review

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

About the author:

Codie Henry is a former stylist based in PA and the Vice President of The Sovereign Stylist. Having finished his bachelor's degree in public relations. He is currently working on his Masters of Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine Law School. Codie’s blogs are typically focused on legal issues, marketing, and public relations topics. Codie believes that knowledge and language is the strongest weapon one can wield and that people should always strive to be life-long learners.


Negative reviews are a natural part of being a business in the 21st century. However, addressing them can be a bit of a tightrope walk. The key is not to be defensive, while also not discussing the issue publicly.

Photo credit: Wix

Say you had a client in for a haircut today, you get home to a 1-star review from her complaining her results were uneven in the front and left a picture.

  1. First Step: Take a deep breath! Whether the claim is true or not doesn't entirely matter right now.

  2. Second Step: Show you are listening, apologetic, and open to feedback while also moving it to a private discussion.

For example:

"Hey Client X, I am so sorry about your experience today. I pride myself on impeccable service and am deeply embarrassed by this situation. Would you mind messaging or calling me at (business phone)? I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to make things right and work to earn back your business."

Keep responses short and sweet (3-4 sentences).


Let's dissect some example responses:

"I am so sorry about your experience today."
  • People tend to forget how powerful and good-looking an apology can be. It's common to refuse to apologize for something - especially when one doesn't feel as if they are at fault. However, the apology isn't meant for the reviewer - it's meant for future clients browsing your reviews. To put it simply, it looks good in the eyes of the public.

Quick note: If the negative review threatens legal action,

DO NOT issue an apology - ever.

"I pride myself on impeccable service, and I am deeply embarrassed by this situation."
  • People like to feel heard, which is why the action of reviewing businesses is so popular. Potential clients also like to see that should something happen, they can talk with you about it. This can be a bit of a tight rope, though, as you don't want to explicitly acknowledge something, which is why we feel 'embarrassed' that such a thing happened.

"Would you mind messaging or calling me at (business phone)?"
  • Move the issue out of the public eye. The goal is to be seen as responsive and problem-solving. However, there is never a reason to air the dirty laundry to the public (that would defeat the purpose of responding at all). So, a reply's goal should always be to move the public grievances to a private conversation.

"I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to make things right and work to earn back your business."
  • Don't argue. This is the court of public opinion, not a court of law. Facts do not matter. Logic does not matter. Being seen as taking responsibility for an issue goes far in the public's eyes and is the go-to tool for businesses (think back to literally any issue a previous company has ever had).


Should I Respond To Every Negative Review?

Photo credit: Wix

It depends but probably not. Being in public relations, I can generally review a complaint or negative statement and know if it deserves a reply. However, this came with time, practice, and education. Sadly, short of hiring a public relations firm to handle your social media, readers will have to learn as they go, but I assure you - it's rather easy to develop an eye for BS.

With that said, I do have some tips:

1. Is the complaint reasonable?

If the review isn't reasonable and just is bitching to bitch - ignore it. You don't want to give them a chance to reply further.

2. Is the complaint real?

If you face a fictional review, it's best to ignore it and go through Yelp or Google to have it removed. Now, review sites are notorious for being difficult. So, if they do not remove the fake review, a simple "Thanks for your feedback" will suffice.

3. Is it your first negative review?

If it's your first negative review, set the standard for your business by replying to it - even if it's a small complaint.

4. Does the reviewer have a history?

In other words, does the reviewer hate the world? This context is my absolute go-to - even while moderating our Facebook group. Skim through the reviewer's profile and see if they have a habit of leaving negative reviews or statements. If they do, then ignore them. In the world of social media - knowledge is power.

5. Are you upset?

Negative reviews get under our skin - we are human. However, if you feel your heart beating faster and want to rip their head off - it's best to step away and collect yourself first. Never respond to a complaint while angry.


Will This Negative Review Hurt My Business!?

Oddly, it's the opposite! People have become more critical of reviews in recent years. Having a few negative reviews helps to give your business credibility. Yes, I'm aware of the irony - take a minute to laugh. A business with nothing but 5-star reviews looks like they paid their review sites. But a business that has a few bad reviews looks realistic because people expect complaints to happen.

Having a few negative reviews helps to give your business credibility. Yes, I'm aware of the irony - take a minute to laugh!

But don't take my word for it:

Northwestern University
Photo credit: CanvaPro

A study conducted by Power Reviews in 2018, in collaboration with Northwestern University, found that "purchase probability peaks when a product's average star rating is between 4.2-4.5, because a perfect 5-star rating is perceived by consumers as too good to be true."

In that same study, Power Reviews also found that 85% of shoppers (out of the 97% of people that use reviews to determine before purchasing) seek out negative reviews. For consumers between 18-29 years old, that number increases to 91% - due to the growing demand for transparency.

The study goes on to say, "what’s considered to be a negative aspect of a product for one consumer may be completely irrelevant for another. For example, if a consumer indicates that a type of shampoo doesn’t work well for people with curly hair, that comment will be deemed irrelevant for a consumer with straight hair."


So relax. I would argue that you know you made it as a business when you get a negative review.

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