Bad Reviews in the Digital Age: Here’s the only way to handle them

There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing a new review for your business and finding out it’s more criticism than kudos. At first review, a bad review feels like a gut punch — you start questioning what you could have done differently and where things went wrong. Nowadays, it feels harder to handle when you know it’s posted for the public to see. Life was a little easier when negative testimonials were strictly a thing of surprise phone calls and emails.

Hopefully, you can find solace in the truth that everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. Sometimes they are justified, whereas other times, it’s just a troll attempting to elicit a response. Either way, bad reviews are part of running a business and it’s important to shift your mindset to see them as a learning experience rather than an attack on your brand. 

Here’s what you can do the next time you’re staring at the screen, wondering whether you should just close up shop and find a new job. (Hint: No, you really shouldn’t!)

Wait, then respond.

With all of these emotions are brewing, you may be inclined to respond right away as a knee-jerk reaction. However, this is the last thing you want to do as it will only escalate the situation. Instead, let yourself settle down and wait until those gut-churning feelings have dissipated. You need to have your rational mind about you in order to respond tactfully.

When you return to your keyboard, draft up a professional response that addresses the reviewer directly. Keep it short and offer to jump on a phone call to make amends and provide a solution. Pointing fingers and acting defensively will only make you come across as unprofessional, without clearing up anything.

The key is to take the conversation offline so you can be open and transparent without publishing the whole backstory for all to see. Once you can handle it behind the scenes, you can let the bad review stay on your site (as long as it’s authentic — the impact will pass and will eventually be crowded out by positive reviews!

Confront inauthentic reviews.

Perhaps the only thing more upsetting than receiving a genuine bad review is getting a fake one. After all, it tarnishes your online reputation despite the fact that it has nothing to do with you! You don’t want potential clients to think any of it is true, so it can cause a bit of panic to see that your brand has been trolled.

Your first step in addressing an inauthentic review is to craft a simple response that asserts the falsity of their claims and makes it clear that you’ve never associated with the reviewer. Then, take it up with the review site. Most platforms allow you to dispute the validity of a review and, while a time-consuming process, it’s well worth it to remove false criticism from your page.

Counteract the negativity.

While it’s tempting to just delete the bad reviews and live your best life, it’s not in good ethical practice to do so. It comes across as insincere and disingenuous, which is why some review sites won’t even let you delete a review without going through the aforementioned dispute process.

Ultimately, transparency should be a core tenet of your business and review sites are no exception. Instead of worrying about the bad reviews, focus on building up your reputation with more positive ones. Be intentional about it by building it into your post-event correspondence and, if necessary, reach out to previous clients to ask for feedback. Not only will this drown out the negativity, but you’ll also earn some great testimonials that you may consider publishing on your website.

Handling negative reviews with grace requires a careful balance of respecting the reviewer and protecting your brand. Keep your communications professional and, when a review particularly resonates with you, use it as a learning lesson to improve your operations. Other than that, let it be water off a duck’s back and move forward with your business — no review is worth the stress!

Elizabeth Sheils is the co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, the first software platform to bring together wedding planners, couples, and vendors into one system for managing and paying contracts and invoices. Elizabeth is also a lead wedding planner with award-winning firm Bridal Bliss, where she manages the Seattle team. She was recently recognized by Special Events in its Top 25 Event Pros to Watch series.

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