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August 6, 2021

How Companies Turn Negative Online Reviews into Positive Experiences

Learn core techniques that will help your single or multi-location local business manage negative reviews so they help, rather than hurt.

Day in and day out, your business works hard to provide the best customer experience possible. But inevitably, an unhappy customer here and there will surface and leave a less-than-stellar review of your company online. Before you hit the panic button, know that the repercussions from a handful of negative reviews don’t have to be all that bad, if handled appropriately - either internally or via a managed Google review management service.

Of course, if consistent themes emerge in the negative feedback, then it might be worth taking a look in the mirror and figuring out the core issue(s) leading many customers to feel disgruntled.

As a benchmark, under 10% of your total review volume should be 3-star reviews or less. 

While review management tactics can’t prevent negative reviews, they can provide the guardrails needed to handle responses professionally in the face of public scrutiny.

Ultimately, after reading, you should be able to appease unhappy customers while demonstrating to prospective customers that you're committed to their satisfaction.

Embrace the Opportunity

Car dealership customer review (Google, July 2020):

"To the owner. My daughter read and 100% respected all your reviews, good or bad, and loved your responses to all of them. She knew your dealership was the place she wanted to go because of how you respond to all your reviews."

Your first instinct upon reading a negative review might be to slam your computer shut and never think about it again. But ignoring your bad ratings won’t make them go away, nor will it help your business gain traction with new and existing customers. 

Consider this; companies that take the time to respond to their customers online collect 12% more reviews, and their average star rating goes up by 0.12.

Additionally, 30% of customers report increased trust in businesses that respond to their online reviews. With this data in mind, your business should embrace the opportunity to properly respond to your negative reviews.

Responding to negative reviews has two positive effects: 

  1. You address the customers’ concerns and let them know that you’re committed to their satisfaction. Show them that you're willing to go the extra mile to make things right. Customer service does not end when they leave the store.
  2. You demonstrate to prospective customers that you take their satisfaction seriously, and will take the time to help if problems arise.

Keep Emotions Out of It

A public review forum is not the place to express personal feelings. No one likes reading bad things about something they’ve worked really hard on, and your employees may be tempted to debate the issue when crafting their responses.

As a rule, avoid this.

Either provide the proper training to staff or consider outsourcing responses to ensure the necessary emotional distance.

For example, Widewail responders have the training and experience (300,000 responses) to handle delicate situations with grace. Working directly with your team, we bring an unbiased perspective to your business, along with our years of experience in assisting clients to make the most out of their subpar reviews. 

Through Engage, you’ll have access to our team of super-talented writers that will respond quickly to customer engagements across your most powerful review sites. We can help lighten the load for your internal team, all while ensuring that each and every customer hears back from your business.

Stand Your Ground When Appropriate

You’re likely familiar with the old saying, “The customer is always right." But we all know that’s not necessarily true.

When you’re responding to negative reviews:

  • It’s important to apologize for the customer's negative feelings.
  • But avoid accepting responsibility for the material issue in the response.

The goal of a negative review response for the customer: have a more detailed conversation over the phone, email, or in person.

The goal of a negative review response for the prospect: demonstrate publicly that if they choose your business and happen to have a bad experience they can expect to be helped and treated with respect.

Give the customer a resource they can use to further alleviate their concerns. Whether that’s through providing the manager’s phone number or an online form, give your customers the means to further explain their situation in a more private setting.

You should avoid litigating the issue online for the whole world to see. However, you shouldn’t entirely defer to the customer and their viewpoint, especially if the complaints they raised were through no fault of your own. Feel empowered to stand your ground if the circumstances call for it, just make sure how you stand your ground doesn’t come off as defensive or arrogant (Widewail can help with this).

The Late Customer Example

Sometimes the full story is not presented by the customer:

2-star review from John Smith: "Subpar experience, it took 2 hours longer than expected for my car to be serviced."

What the customer left out - he showed up an hour late for his 11:00 am appointment, meaning the dealership had to call its technicians back from lunch early to work on his vehicle while attempting to not inconvenience other customers.

This is how Jane, our response team lead, would respond:

"John, I’m sorry that you’re frustrated, but I think it’s fair for me to share some additional information here. You arrived at your appointment an hour late. This meant we had to call our technicians back from their break to complete the service on your vehicle while also taking care of our other customers. Prompt service is always our priority, but in this case, there wasn’t more we could do to accommodate you. I'd be happy to discuss the situation in more detail over the phone. Please give me a call at 555-555-5555. Thank you, Sarah Woodward, General Manager."

Interested in more negative review response examples like this? We have 9 more in this guide. Plus 11 positive review response examples.


  • Show customers and prospects you are committed to customer service post-transaction.
  • Avoid emotional responses.
  • Apologize for the customer's negative feelings.
  • Don't outright accept responsibility for the material issue without more research.
  • The goal is to have a conversation with the unhappy customer offline.
  • 3rd party review response managed services help provide an emotional buffer and experience with many different types of situations

What's Widewail?

Widewail is a reputation management software and services company based in Burlington, VT. We help hundreds of small local businesses and national brands like Lexus and BH Property Management generate and respond to reviews.

Learn more about our core products:

Engage: Review response managed services

Invite: Send automated SMS review requests to all your customers

Free Book  56 Review Response Examples and Templates Read Now

Jake Hughes

I’m the Director of Marketing here at Widewail, as well as a husband and new dad outside the office. I'm in Vermont by way of Boston, where I grew the CarGurus YouTube channel from 0 to 100k subscribers. I love the outdoors and hate to be hot, so I’m doing just fine in the arctic Vermont we call home. Fun fact: I met my wife on the shuttle bus at Baltimore airport. Thanks for reading Widewail’s content!

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