6 Solid Ways to Combat Negative Online Reviews

Negative online reviews are just a part of the game, but you can learn how to tame them and attract new potential customers if you keep a cool head.

A lot of business owners just don’t really get what negative online reviews can do for a business, in terms of learning and improving processes, and customer relationship management. People are just human and they want to be heard online. Negative online reviews just happen, it’s a fact of life.

One of my favorite 80s sitcoms, which you probably well know, The Facts of Life said it in the right way in the lyrics:

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life.”

Negative reviews are just part of the game, a fact of life. People are going to have good stuff to say, you’re going to have good experiences, and some are just going to have lousy experiences. Or they’re just going to be the kind of people who are trolls, and they have a bad experience and say, ‘You know what, I can be heard more if I just turn this into a negative, lousy experience.’

Some reviews are going to have fixes that you can handle, some might not. But as a business owner, it’s up to you to make the decision to come to the rescue of customers who just kind of howl, and they’re screaming to be heard.

But before you even try, I’ve compiled six really solid ways that you can combat those negative reviews before you let them drag you, as a business owner, down and also your business.
I want to keep you in a good, positive light, with much research and a collection of examples for you to learn more.

  1. Cool Your Jets

The first solid, solid tip that I have for you, and this goes with anything, even if you have a customer that’s in your face, in your establishment, your brick and mortar store, wherever it is, cool your jets.

It’s really tempting to want to just respond defensively to a negative review. Take a look at the bigger picture, before you even respond to the review. Take a step back and really see where it’s coming from. Don’t respond while you’re angry, human reaction is to react with anger when you or your product gets trashed in a review.

This was the very first thing that the now infamous Amy’s Baking Company, on their episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay, they received international attention for posting a response accusing a reviewer of being a lying liar with a terrible palate. The owner, Amy and her husband, Samy, go on to do a lot more damage, and it just rolls down a hill like an awful snowball.


Reacting in anger has consequences that you may not foresee. They did so much damage that the only way that they can hope to reclaim some monetary value was to merchandise off their misfortunes in social media. They are the perfect case study for what not to do.

The Season 6 video is the video of the rant. Watch how the owner, Amy, cannot take criticism from her customers or Gordon Ramsay, nor her husband. I’ve watched Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. He’s phenomenal, helping business owners really build their businesses beyond just recipes. It’s not just about what customers are eating, but how you handle negative criticism and what you can do to help and build your business

Season 7 episode 1 is the behind the scenes video where Gordon Ramsay and his team came back. They had gotten so much viewership they couldn’t pass it up to have another episode. In this video, they went back to the restaurant to talk to the owners to see what they had to say, if there was anything different, if they changed their minds about how they handled negative customer reviews.

You have to take a step back and really cool your jets.

Some questions to ask:

Really take a look at the person’s profile to see what kind of reviews they’ve posted in the past. Historically, have they really posted negative reviews?

Are they a trusted reviewer with others, letting you know that certain reviews have been helpful to the? (You can give a thumbs up on a review) Do they have any thumbs up notes on them, was there a special circumstance that happened beyond your control that caused this negative experience to occur?

I just want you to take a step back, before you respond, cool it off, and just see what the whole circumstance is.

  1. Be polite and really write a personal note.

You don’t have to write a ton of words, a whole essay, but at least take time to be specific. If you’re responding publicly, remember that this review is going to affect your potential customers’ opinions of your business before they even walk in the door. If you can, frame your answer and just let them know that you’ve been in business for so many years, and you’ve never seen this kind of problem. Or even, the reason this problem happened was because of “xxxxx”.

Explain what’s changed. Did you revamp the menu, get a new chef, change your inventory? Whatever you want, you can have a private or public response, and save self.

  1. Address their concerns and complaints.

If the reviewer complains that your store or restaurant aggravates their allergies, and you have a potpourri shop, you’re not really going to be able to do anything about that. But, if you fixed the problem discussed in the review, make sure you bring it up.

I’ll tell you a very specific issue that happened to me and the restaurant that I was helping manage their social media, and all their marketing, was an issue that happened with Groupon and the staff members taking in customers without reservations. This turned out to be a problem because the restaurant was a small restaurant, a local mom & pop.

They weren’t really well equipped with enough staff to handle diners who didn’t make reservations. That’s why in the Groupon we made sure that it was specific letting them know that when you buy the Groupon, you have to make a reservation.

This is the reason why, because a lot of people come in because they’re getting a great deal on a Groupon, but they don’t think that, you know, that requires more staff to handle more customers coming in to get a Groupon. So, because the staff members were wanting to get in all of this business.

They were excited, sold over five hundred Groupons. This was at a time before Groupon really got diluted because a lot of other competitors came on, Google, Amazon Local, and it just got very diluted. But, at the beginning when we offered this Groupon, it was really good for a very local restaurant to be able to get in that amount of new customers. Yes, you’re going to get some old customers with Groupons.

It’s interesting to note that what happens is, the staff wants to take in as many customers as they can, hopefully they’ll make good tips off of it, where people will be good in tipping on the full price value of their plates, not just the Groupon price, which happens.

But, when they would take in those customers who didn’t have reservations, they would back up the kitchen because they were in the back, not totally prepared to handle that amount of customers. What happened was, the service ratings and the Yelp ratings went down because people really didn’t understand that it was a cause and effect because they didn’t make their reservations, the staff wasn’t prepared to handle that volume within the restaurant.

If the customers had made the reservations, the staff would have been prepared. That was something that we were able to manage, and let them know in the responses on Yelp, to the reviews, which you can manage as a business owner.

Gordon Ramsay has a great quote, he says that, ‘You can’t learn if you don’t get complaints.’ Those negative reviews, including those negative reviews that came in because of that whole Groupon fiasco, with not making the reservations, you learn that it’s very important at some point to put your foot down and let people know that they have to make a reservation, even if it means turning away business.

You’re still pleasing your other customers who went as far to make a reservation. I would definitely, highly recommend checking out Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares, and also there’s a new show on MSNBC that I’m really liking, it’s called Say It To My Face. That’s all about social media and restaurants handling their customer complaints in person, they just want to try to get people in. I saw an episode with The Shrimp House, and the owner was not really willing to listen to customer complaints but when he had two social media experts come in, which they have on the show, and I’m not big on reality TV where they’re not bringing in some kind of an expert to help you fix the problem, but this show does, so check out Say It To My Face, and also Kitchen Nightmares.

  1. Describe how your future customers are not going to have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to really tell people that something changed and that this is not going to happen to them. When you respond, make sure that you let people know that you’re aware of the situation and that issue’s not going to happen again. This is really a golden opportunity to market your business, say you put a new process in place, and that tells your prospects that your company or your restaurant is good and getting better. Just like I told you with the issue that people who bought those Groupons were not making reservations. Now, when you let them know that that process is very important, people will know that their experience will not suffer if they just take that action.

  1. Don’t ask people to take the review down

Your negative review can be an opportunity for people to see how you handle the issue. Again, reviewers want to know that they’re being heard and that they’re able to do their duty for their community and let people know of their experience. If you ask people to take the review down, word’s going to get out, just like something as easy as encouraging people to come back and give you another try, with or without a discount, that’s not all that important. But just don’t ask people to take down reviews unless you know that they were obviously a lie and that’s going to be hard to detect, but if you take a look at their history like I gave in my first tip, to look and see where it’s coming from. Take a look at their reviews, see if other businesses have been responding to them, what is the nature of their reviews, so you can get a good leg up on how to manage that particular customer.

  1. Be Authentic

I highly recommend this book by Kim Garst, who’s owner of Boom Social, she helps businesses with social selling, her book is Will the Real You Please Stand Up. (Affiliate Link)Will the Real You Please Stand Up by Kim Garst

She talks about authenticity in social media, very, very important. People really aren’t looking for perfection online, they’re really looking for humanity and a genuine response so having a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a really authentic and positive way and that’s going to have a really good impact on all your customers. Turn it positive and be constructive and show that you’re a real, genuine, authentic business. You can take some time and formulate a polite reply but make sure that it’s authentic, don’t lie, acknowledge the person who’s complaining and say you appreciate their input, explain your side, and add a human touch.

People know that businesses are owned by people, especially smaller businesses, mom & pops, right? You can say something like, I’m sorry you had a bad experience, we’ve been in business twenty-five years, we have thousands of customers a week, whatever is the truth, we aim to create the best possible dining experience for the community and our customers. Responding is a great way to really frame your story while still making the person feel like they’ve heard and acknowledged. I’m going to give you an awesome example of handling customer reviews, this is a great article in INC. Magazine, I’m going to give you the link in my show notes, the article is called You’ve Been Yelped and it’s great. To get a sense of how far things can go when a business decides to respond to negative reviews, you can see this story about this bookshop owner, Diane Goodman, she was booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco Hospital for mental health evaluation. This is no joke folks.

This business owner, Diane Goodman, who owns a very small bookshop, this is in 2009, she became obsessed with Yelp and she wanted to see what the critiques of local businesses were, she checked out her company’s Yelp page everyday to see what customers had written about their experience with her bookstore and she really had a hard time reading these reviews because she thought people were personally attacking her. Just like the Amy’s Bakery story that I told you about that you also can see the video of. She really couldn’t look away, she couldn’t look past it. There was a review by somebody who had the name Shaun C who said, ‘This place is a total mess, I think this place needs to close down for a few days, do a thorough cleaning and organization and get rid of all that crap.’ So, she writes to him, ‘why don’t you come in her and say it to my face, or are you too much of a coward?’

This woman could not take criticism; she was just totally obsessed. I don’t want you to become that way, I want you to know that reviews are just part of life and they’re going to happen whether people like you or not. You can take that negative, turn it into a positive because people are not … You’re not really looking at negative reviews only, they’re part of the game, they’re part of seeing what people generally have to say about your business. It’s important for people to see how you handle those complaints. They want to make sure that you don’t have a hothead, if you do, they might come in and just take pictures with their iPhone, see if you’re really nuts, to see if you’re a little loopy. Take a look at that video that I talked about in the beginning, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Don’t lose it, keep your head and cool your jets and make sure that you always stay authentic and you’ll be right ahead of the game.

You want to really show your best game face on Yelp and think of it like in sports, when you have a coach blowing off steam with a hothead, people just tend to think of that. You’re running the show, and you’re running a team, and if you want to have people come down and sit at your restaurant tables, and enjoy a dining experience with you, they want to make sure that they want to do business with you. So stay as positive as you can. With that said, I hope these six solid tips help you today, manage your customer reviews. The secret is you can’t really combat negative online reviews, you can manage them. And you can manage them by staying positive, don’t be combative and negative in any way, always keep your head above water and people will remember you for that and reward you for that as well.


Amy’s Baking Company – Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey
Return to Amy’s Baking Company

Will the Real You Please Stand Up by Kim Gaarst (Affiliate link)


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