How to Respond to a Bad Review

About a week ago, the Clarity staff went on a little weekend beach retreat. We noticed a little French bakery had gotten some amazing Yelp reviews, so we decided to give them a try for breakfast.

While waiting for our breakfast sandwiches, we all noticed a little Plexiglas box hanging on the wall. Inside, was a heavily highlighted customer review that had been posted to the bakery’s Facebook account.

The reviewer mentioned that her boyfriend had been to the bakery several times in the past and loved it, but this time, they were both disappointed. The pastry had been burned on the bottom and the sandwiches had very little meat on them.

The review was a negative one—and it was very long—but it wasn’t scathing. In fact, the only thing that could be considered offensive was her question at how the bakery could have been in business for so long if the owner had only been a citizen since 2001. So we were surprised to see that, beneath the review, the bakery owners included several shocking quotes, including this one:

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“Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

Needless to say, we were floored. It’s one thing to not agree with a customer who reports a bad experience. It’s quite another matter to post the review in a public location and then insult the poor lady’s intelligence.

Why This Was the Wrong Response

Sadly, many business owners simply don’t know how to respond to a bad review, much to their detriment. The next day, I went out to the hotel balcony and came up with no less than five reasons why the bakery owner’s response was the wrong one.

1. It makes the bakery owner look like a jerk.

Publicly posting (and insulting) a bad review says more about the bakery than it does about the reviewer. Of the four people in our group, not one of us thought the business was at all defensible in this situation. (In fact, it made us all a little uncomfortable.) It not only makes the business owner look unsympathetic and snooty, but it sets a disturbing precedence for the type of customer service one can expect here.

2. It trivializes, demeans, and dismisses the customer’s (legitimate) concerns.

This wasn’t a simple case of someone just not liking a baguette. The customer involved was complaining about a burned pastry (something a master French baker should know not to do) and a pathetic amount of meat on a sandwich. She had every right to complain about such an order. Displaying the review in such a sarcastic manner shows that the bakery didn’t take her opinion seriously.

3. It may poison new customers’ first impressions.

After seeing this little “shame box,” we almost wanted to cancel our order. What if our pastries came out just as burned? What if our sandwiches didn’t have enough of something and they refused to correct it? And even if our orders came out perfectly, do we really want to patronize a business that treats its customers this way?

4. It doesn’t address the customer’s core concerns.

We don’t know what type of response was made on Facebook when this review was first posted, but from what we could see, no attempt was made to explain, excuse, or apologize for the burned, unappealing food. Look at this from the customer’s perspective: even if she is not aware that she is being called a fool inside this bakery, why would she make any attempt to give them another shot (or another dime) if she doesn’t think the problem is being addressed?

5. It shamed and insulted the customer.

This last point is so basic, it shouldn’t even have to be said. Insulting a customer’s intelligence in a public forum is hurtful, and hurting other people’s feelings is wrong. I can’t speak for the French educational system, but I learned this in kindergarten.


5 Steps to Handling a Negative Review

The key to keeping your head above water isn’t in never receiving a negative review, it’s in how to respond to them.

So what could this bakery (or your own business) do to properly respond to a bad review? This 5-step process will help ensure that you treat every bad review with tact and respect.

1. Apologize.

This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Do it immediately, honestly, and (if the review was made public) publicly. Even a simple “we’re sorry you were unsatisfied” is better than nothing.

2. Educate.

If the customer was misinformed in some way or unfamiliar with your product, politely explain or address the issue. The key here is not to go on the defensive. In the right context (and with the right amount of tact), providing an excuse for the behavior can show the customer that you are aware of what led up to the problem…and therefore aware of how to fix it. If the customer was simply misinformed about your product or service, you have the chance to set the record straight (again, tactfully).

3. Address it.

Speaking to your staff, updating your policies, switching suppliers, or simply offering to look into a situation shows that you are proactive and willing to take responsibility. People want to know that their concerns are recognized and treated seriously.

4. Compensate.

Whenever possible, offer the user another chance to get it right. Redo the service, give them a gift card or some other gift, or (if tensions are very high and you think the relationship cannot be salvaged) offer to pay for a visit to a competitor. This one tip can often save you from losing a customer.

5. Vow to improve.

Just like your home, no business is ever “done” growing. Make a commitment to examine your practices every so often and look for ways to make your people, process, or product better. Negative reviews are never fun, but they are extremely useful. Being able to identify the problems with your business will only spur you on to bigger and better things.



In any business, there will always be occasions when people aren’t satisfied with your product or service. But the important thing is not to let it get you down. As long as the good reviews vastly outweigh the bad (and as long as business keeps growing), you’re probably doing something right. So listen to the majority, and stay polite to the “haters.” (And don’t forget to thank the positive reviewers as well.)

Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. We leave bad reviews all the time (but only if the company really needs to hear it).

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