They Rated You 1-Star: Here's a 4-Step Process to Turn the Negative into a Positive.

Cassie Dong

You’ve worked hard to build a successful business. You have a great product or service, a switched on team and loads of happy customers. You receive amazing online reviews and glowing client testimonials.

Until one day you hear the words…

“Someone just left us a bad review online!!”

At first, it may not seem like a big deal, especially when most of your reviews are positive, but negative online reviews can have a massive impact on your business.

Review sites like Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor and Yelp provide a great way for customers to share their experiences – for better or for worse - for all to see!

Receiving negative online reviews can severely undermine your business. It can shake the foundations of your team, send ripples of doubt through your online community and turn away new business.

Research shows that over 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation and make their spending decisions accordingly.

It’s important to review your reviews every day and respond immediately.

There is a positive to be found in the negative.

A series of negative reviews can alert you to an important problem that needs addressing, while an isolated negative comment can actually provide a great marketing opportunity.

If you look at the customer’s negative review as great ‘feedback,’ you can set about making amends, while creating a positive impact on the customer and all who read the review and your response to it.

The following four-steps will help you respond positively to a negative online review.

Tweak the words to suit your particular business, values, product, service and situation and if handled well, you’ll be rewarded with a great outcome.

Step 1. Thank, acknowledge, ask, apologise and empathise.

Start by contacting the ‘reviewer’ as soon as possible.

Thank them for bringing the situation to your attention.  

“Thank you so much (name) for taking the time to leave us your review.”


“Thank you for providing your feedback and letting us know about this issue.”

Acknowledge the customers’ concerns, even if you believe they are unfounded. Remember they just want to be heard.

“We understand you are not happy with the service you received.”

Apologise and empathise that they had this experience. There is no need to apologise for the action until you investigate further and have all the facts.

“We’re really sorry you feel that way” or “We’re sorry to hear about your bad experience.”


“We would like to learn more about your specific situation and make things right.”


“We apologise that our service didn’t satisfy your expectations. Our customers’ happiness is always our highest priority.”

It is important to apologise publicly not only for the customer’s sake, but for all those who will read the review. They will see you have care and empathy and are dedicated to providing a high level of service.

See how well this manager at Stamford Plaza in Brisbane responded to a negative TripAdvisor review of the hotel. The guest gave a scathing review about their noisy room and the impolite staff and the manager responded in a very professional and empathic way.

Step 2: Explain the reason and resolution (if necessary) and create a positive spin.

If the problem was a resolvable issue then you can briefly explain it e.g.:

“Our booking system suffered a technical issue and we were unable to contact our valuable clients for two hours. The system has now been restored.”

That, along with an apology for any inconvenience may satisfy the customer.

If the reason is unknown, then you may need to continue.

Here’s where you can insert a little marketing into your response to the bad review and make it work in your favour. Remember to highlight your company values while continuing to acknowledge the customer’s concerns.

“We’re normally known for our exceptional attention to detail. We regret that on this occasion we missed the mark.”

or“What you experienced is really quite unusual. We have a high standard of quality and your purchase should never have been the exception.”

Here’s a dental practise that wrote a brilliant response to a client’s complaint, taking the opportunity to include a little business promotion along the way.

If your policy is to fix the problem immediately, then you may be able to handle it in a direct sentence or two.

“It’s quite rare for that to happen. We apologise sincerely. Please send your contact details so we can issue you with a full refund/credit.”

See how well (and swiftly) JetBlue Airways handled a complaint via Twitter from an unhappy customer.

Step 3: Invite them offline so you can find a solution.

It’s important to move the conversation offline as you don’t want it to blow out.

“I would really like to get to the bottom of this. Would you mind contacting me at (contact details)”


“My name is (name) and I am the (Owner/Manager.) I would like to find out more about this situation so I can prevent it happening again. Could you please contact me at (phone number/email.)”

or simply

“We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this further with you.”or if the issue has been resolved or they don’t want to connect...

“We hope you will call in again and give us the opportunity to provide you with exceptional service.”

It will depend on your protocol as to how to handle this step efficiently.

See how this car dealership was able to apologise and invite the customer to connect with them offline.

Step 4: Keep it simple, short and sweet

Hopefully, if you’ve done steps 1 to 3 well, the customer will be willing to speak calmly to gain a resolution.

When communicating privately, keep your response simple, short and sweet using some of the phrases in the above steps as your guide.

Don't go into too much explanation. Listen, but only until you have enough information to be able to take appropriate action.

You don’t want them to get all ‘fired up’ again and add more negative feedback.

4 important tips:

  1. Always use the customer’s name in all communication. It will help the feel important (as they should.)
  2. Don't include your business name or relevant search keywords in your online communication when dealing with a negative review. You want your potential customers to always find you for the right reasons!
  3. Three sentences for your whole reply is a good rule of thumb.
  4. Keep it ‘light’ where appropriate. Humour can often diffuse a situation.

We don’t recommend the following approach, but thought you’d appreciate how humourous and brave some people can be when responding!

Putting it all together

Managing your online reputation can take a lot of time, energy and resources and one bad review can undermine everything.

It can be a costly exercise if you get it wrong. Customers are hard to win back, potential customers even harder to win over and your reputation the hardest to repair.

At Content First, we can manage your negative online reviews while dramatically increasing your positive reviews through our Reputation Management Solution.

Your customer feedback (both positive and negative) can be 100% automated. This means negative reviews are channelled into a private customer feedback funnel, away from public view.

As well, we’ll create a steady stream of positive reviews to generate word of mouth, increase trust, get your business ranking higher and convert more visitors into leads

Apply now for a free proposal.

Cassie Dong

When she's not working (or catching flies with her chopsticks), you'll find her training hard at the local Crossfit gym, playing tennis, learning ballroom dancing or planning her next skiing trip. After 9 years in the digital marketing trade she is literally doing the job of 3 people. Catch her if you can!

Get a Proposal to
Propel your business growth

We’ll analyse your digital capabilities
Spy on your competitors
And present you with a KPI driven growth plan
get proposal
We can only take on limited clients, so apply for a free proposal today.