In this digital age, online reviews are here and they are here to stay. But what happens when you receive a negative review?

First, it depends on whether the review was warranted or not. Before you jump to respond, take some time to look into the feedback. Was this person actually a client? You might need to talk to a variety of staff members to look into exactly what happened from their perspective. Check the facts as presented by the review – do they match your company’s recollection of what happened?

If the person was not a client, or you believe the review might be posted by an alias, you can try reporting the review to the platform on which it has been left (for example, Google or Facebook) but these platforms are notoriously slow and lax in removing “fake” reviews (unfortunately). So, the best way to respond is acknowledge their comment but state clearly that you cannot find any record of having dealt with this person. Then ask them to contact you privately.

While this approach won’t remove the review, it does flag to potential customers that this is probably not a real review and can lessen the impact of the negative feedback.

If the person was a client, and your company really did make a mistake then the best method of dealing with their anger and frustration is to own up and apologise. And, here’s the thing with apologies – you have to actually mean them for them to be effective.

Don’t respond in anger and don’t try to deflect. You also don’t need to write a novel as your response. You don’t want to air your dirty laundry online so best practice is a short acknowledgement and a request for them to contact you so you can address the issues. Something like:

“Hi John. Thanks for your feedback. We’re genuinely sorry you’ve had this experience as it’s not in keeping with our usual high standards. Please reach out to us via phone or email or PM/DM us so we can talk about how we can resolve the situation.”

If the person was a client, but you feel the review is unwarranted or doesn’t adequately address their role in the situation, it’s much trickier. As justified as you may feel in calling them out, when playing the ‘blame game’ in this situation, the company will lose every single time and you risk igniting the flames of a war you simply can’t win.

Best practice in this situation is to acknowledge and take the conversation off-line. Something like:

“Hi John. Thanks for your feedback. We’d like to try to resolve this issue with you as we’ve checked our records and there are always two sides to any story. Would you please contact us by phone or email or PM/DM us so we can discuss further?”

Each situation will be unique and different clients will respond in varying ways so you do need to take into account what you know about the personality of the client and how they are likely to respond. In some cases, if you can disarm them, address their issues and rectify the situation you can ask them to remove the negative review.

Of course, the best way to counter a negative review is to overbalance the scales with positive reviews. So, make sure you have a foolproof system of asking for reviews from every customer. As part of your staff procedures, you should have a standardised email that is sent to all clients with links to all the platforms you have where a review can be left. The email should thank them for being a customer and clearly ask them to leave a review for you. Make this a clear request – don’t simply hope they will read through the lines and work out that’s what you are asking for.

If a client emails you their feedback, always respond with thanks and include links to your review platforms with a request for them to add their review there as well.

How to respond to negative reviews should be a key component of your company’s social media policy so everyone in your business is clear on the procedures around how to respond, who will respond and when you will make the response.