How To Turn Negative Reviewers Into Your Biggest Champions!

Negative reviews online can damage your companies reputation. The good news is however that with the right approach you can turn those negative reviewers into your biggest champions. Here’s how.

an angry bird

PT Barnum famously said ‘ I don’t care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!’. The message is of course that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Sounds logical, right? Well, when your business or service takes a hammering in an online review it can be difficult to agree with the sentiment.

To paraphrase from the Social Network, ‘the internet is written in ink’ and what goes online stays online. Forever (well at least until civilisation gets destroyed by an asteroid or something, but you probably won’t really care at that point…).

So bad reviews are… well… bad… but…

The good news is that it is completely possible to take a negative review, flip the whole thing on its head and show your business in a positive light. In fact, in some cases those negative reviewers can become your biggest champions.

Here’s how!

1. Don’t Panic!

Fans of Douglas Adams will know that the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has the words ‘Don’t Panic’ written on the front in big friendly letters. It’s good advice and the first mantra you should recite when you see a negative review online.

It can be hard to do.

We naturally have a strong emotional attachment to our own business/website and when someone writes something bad about it, it’s a bit like someone telling a new mother that she has an ugly baby.

So, if you find a negative review, take a deep breath, make yourself a nice cup of tea and keep yourself calm. It’s not the end of the world as I will explain.

2. Don’t Do Any Of The Following

The following things are not good ideas….

Asking the review site/forum to remove the review

Unless there is a genuine reason why the review should be removed (proper defamation etc) then there is no point wasting your time asking the review site to take down the customer’s review. Why should they?

The whole point of a review site is to provide genuine opinion and feedback, both positive and negative and if the review site only showcased positive opinion then it would soon lose the trust of its visitors. They do not exist to advertise your site.

The same applies to bloggers.

Launching a negative SEO attack

I have come across several panicking business owners in web forums asking for the help of dodgy SEOs to demote offending reviews by conducting negative SEO campaigns against the review page/site. This is not a good idea and will not work.

Most review sites will have strong trust/authority and you are not going to make a jot of difference. It might even backfire and move the review up a couple of positions in the SERPS!

Starting a flame war

The reason I put ‘Don’t Panic’ as point 1 is that the worst thing you can do when you read a negative review is to immediately go on the attack, writing a similarly strongly worded response. Attack is not always the best form of defence!

Even if you think the original review was unjustified, all this will show to anyone who reads both the review and your response in the future is that, as a business, you don’t listen to your customers. And that is business cardinal sin number 1!

3. Identify the problem

So you have read the review, you are calm and are ready to start turning a negative into a positive.

The first thing you should do is read the review again. Then read it a third time for good measure.

You need to identify exactly what went wrong with the customer’s experience and why they were so unhappy that they decided to go public. Often it may be a sequence, i.e. bad initial experience then poor customer service, so take some notes and make sure you have covered everything that they mention in the review.

4. Identify the solution

What is it that will make the reviewer satisfied that you have dealt with their concerns and have listened to them as a customer. Is it a refund? An apology? A discount voucher for a future purchase?

Different problems will require different solutions, so put on your best customer service hat and try and figure out what it is that will resolve their issues (I saw a good example of this recently on Blue Hat Marketing). And only then…

5. Engage with the reviewer

In an ideal world you will be able to do this in as personal and non public a way as possible. If you can identify the reviewer as a previous customer and have their telephone number then pick up the phone.

tip: Before calling, drop them an email saying something like the following: –

‘Dear Mr Jones,

It has come to my attention that you have had a bad experience with our Company.

I am very sorry to hear this and can assure you that we take any issues with our service very seriously and will do all we can to resolve the matter to your satisfaction.

I would like to call you personally to discuss this and was wondering if there would be a time convenient to yourself? Alternatively if you would prefer to correspond by email then just let me know.

Apologies again for the issues you have had and I hope to hear from you soon.


Yours sincerely,


The last thing you want to do is catch them at a bad time and make things worse!

6. Listen… and make them happy!

You should already have a good indication of what went wrong and have identified solutions to the problems, so make the call/email, but…

Make sure you listen to what the customer has to say! They may have additional concerns that they didn’t mention in the original review so be prepared to tackle these issues as well as addressing their original problems.

Be prepared to go above and beyond, bend over backwards, sideways and any other ways possible – it will pay off.

7. And only when they are happy…

Ask them if they would consider either removing their negative review, or updating it to show that ‘all was well that ended well’ and that you really are a nice, friendly, caring Company with a great service after all.

Sometimes in fact you will actually be better served by an update as opposed to a removal as this will show that you do listen to your customers and more importantly, that you will take action to ensure that their concerns are dealt with to their satisfaction.

A good example of this is Matt Woodward’s post on his experience with Raven Tools. Things were going badly, but in the end they put things right and what was initially a very damning review ends with a positive endorsement of the Company.

8. If you have tried all of the above, but…

There will be times when you are either unable to identify the customer, or they will just refuse to engage with you. On these occasions if it is possible to leave a reply to their original review then this is probably your best option.

Explain that you have tried to resolve their problems, take them very seriously and can assure that it is not a reflection of the service usually offered by your Company. We all make mistakes, so show that your business has real people behind it and that you are genuinely upset that one of your customers has had a bad experience.

If you don’t have a way to respond and have genuinely tried all you can to communicate with the reviewer then you could possibly contact the review site at this stage and ask them to consider removing the review.

9. Learn from the review!

There’s no point going through all of the above, just for another bad review to pop up the next day. If there is a glitch in your product, or your customer service process then look at how it can be addressed so it doesn’t happen again in the future!

A quick recap…

  1. Don’t Panic
  2. Don’t Do Anything Silly
  3. Identify The Problem(s)
  4. Identify The Solution(s)
  5. Engage The Reviewer
  6. Make Them Happy!
  7. Ask Them To Remove/Update The Review
  8. If The Above Fails Use Your Right Of Reply
  9. Learn From Your Mistakes!

With a bit of good old fashioned customer service you can turn that negative customer experience into a positive one and improve your businesses’ product/service in the process!

Following the steps above will prove that you are a business that genuinely cares about it’s customers and can turn even your harshest critics into your biggest champions.

As always, if you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them below!

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

James H. - November 18, 2013

Great spot-on advice! I definitely like that you mention to follow up with their replies to their original comments. Sometimes people mention more bad things that happened to them once they know someone got back to them. It’s certainly wise never to take your eye off the ball there.

Also, most people never write a negative review until they feel like they’ve been ignored from their attempts to communicate with your company initially. That’s why having social media channels proves useful for these kinds of things before people feel the only other option would be to warn others by leaving a negative comment about you on a review site.

    David McSweeney - November 18, 2013

    Thanks James. Yep, social media channels are a good way to stay in touch with your customers/clients and hopefully keep those that feel they have to ‘go public’ to a minimum.

Brandon Bear - November 19, 2013

Smart — it probably pays off to get the customer happy before asking for them to take down or change the review.

I’m pretty sure online reputation management is going to be one of the biggest upcoming markets… there’s just too much at stake for any medium-large company that one negative review could mean thousands in lost sales.

Actually, on top of that, even small businesses can be crushed by bad yelp reviews (regardless of if they are real or fake)… so I think this is a solid guide to at least fixing any of the legit bad reviews.

    David McSweeney - November 21, 2013

    agreed, reputation management will be/is big business.

Cole Wiebe - November 19, 2013

Hi David,

I believe that most people that read reviews are reasonable people and understand that is impossible to please all the people, all of the time.

If I’m evaluating a piece of software, as an example, I will often enter keywords like “xyz app rip-off” in addition to those to locate hopefully balanced reviews and comments. If I see dozens of posts from angry purchasers, that’s a red flag. But if I see one or two, and the problem was handled very professionally, it actually builds my trust that the company will do right by me. As your title suggests, negatives can become big positives.

– Cole

    David McSweeney - November 21, 2013

    That’s it – obviously if there is nothing but negative reviews everywhere then it’s probably best to avoid the Company/product, but in general every Company will get complaints, it’s how they are dealt with that matters most.

Ashish - November 26, 2013

Great points! I agree with all your tips to turn or avoid negative reviewers. The thing is we don’t need to be panic and always be polite. And finally identifying the their issues and solving the problems will be a great idea to make them stop negative reviews.

The post is really helpful,

Thanks for the share.

Kathryn Dilligard - December 1, 2013

it’s hard not to have negative reviews no matter how good your company is. You’ll just have to be aware of the criticisms to know the area that needs improvement.

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