| May 8, 2023 | | 16 min read

Master the art of responding to negative reviews (Including templates)


Online reviews are critical to the success of a local business's reputation, and to providing excellent customer service. Over 93% of consumers say online business reviews will impact their purchasing decisions, and that the minimum rating they'll engage with is 3.3 stars (Podium).

Get FREE templates for responding to online reviews and give a boost to the online presence of any brand today.

How does a business respond online to negative customer reviews anyway? Do positive online reviews need to be responded to at all? How do you respond to a negative online review? All these questions and more are covered here so you can leverage your online reputation to grow your business.

Table of Contents

How to respond to online reviews [Video]

Responding to positive and negative reviews well is another critical piece in not only building a positive online presence but also in encouraging other consumers to leave their feedback and engage with your business.

This three-minute introduction video will offer some ideas for managing reviews online, both good and bad, and earning more business in the process.

By following these guidelines, you'll too be able to take charge of those reviews that a whopping 73 percent of consumers form their opinion on and earn more business in the process (BrightLocal).

Regardless of where the review is—be it Google, Yelp, Facebook, Bing, Foursquare, Amazon or a top directory—you can capitalize on a good review, and minimize the damage of a bad review. Let's see how!

Managing Negative Reviews

Negative reviews can be crippling to a local business—especially if the business has few reviews to begin with. Even worse? Negative reviews that go unresponded to.

Don't let those negative online reviews wounds fester. Dealing with negative reviews doesn't have to be hard, and it can even be leveraged as a marketing and branding opportunity.

Why respond to negative reviews?

Unfortunately, you can't just ignore a bad review until it goes away.  In fact, ignoring an unpleasant review can make things worse.


  • You're not just replying to just one reviewer. You're speaking to everyone who reads this review, including potential future customers.
  • Replying is your opportunity to make things right. If a customer brought a complaint to you in person, you would try to make it right. The same goes for online reviews—despite the impersonal nature of online reviews, it's not over just yet. You can turn this thing around!
  • Replying shows other readers you are not shady or neglectful to feedback, and have taken steps to ensure this problem won't happen to the next customer.

The best thing to do when you receive a bad review is to react quickly and strategically. Here's how every business owner should respond to negative reviews, and make the most out of a less-than-pleasant situation.

How to respond to negative reviews in 4 steps

Step 1: Apologize and sympathize with your customer.

Acknowledge the customer's concerns. Even if they are unfounded, show sympathy that they had a bad experience. “I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience.” Often when a customer is reaching out to post a negative review it's because they didn't reach the outcome they were hoping for when they first began their relationship with the business.

Whether the customer found a hair in their spaghetti, experienced a bad interaction with a staff member or reality didn't quite match up with the marketing images they browsed in advance online. It's your job as a responder to acknowledge that something did not go well, and you are jumping in to help resolve their issues.

Step 2: Insert a little marketing in your response to the negative review.

Explain what your customers usually experience. “We're normally known for our exceptional attention to detail, and we regret that we missed the mark.”

Not only will this signal to other consumers who may read the review, that the poster's experience is out of the norm, this type of response could create an opening to bring that dissatisfied customer back and have them experience what it's like to interact with the brand on a more positive note.

Step 3: Move the conversation offline.

Provide contact info to someone at the business so they can discuss the problem in person. “My name is [name] and I am the [Owner / Manager]. If you'd like to discuss this further, please contact me at [phone number/email].”

By moving the resolution offline, and out of the public eye you can reach a resolution privately without all the business's dirty laundry being aired out publicly for all to read.

You will also have the opportunity once the complaint is resolved to ask that the customer remove the negative review altogether. By requesting the negative review responses to be removed, you improve your overall review score and eliminate the chance that a new potential customer will come across the remarks and decide not to purchase with the business because of it.

Step 4: Keep your response simple, short, and sweet.

When responding to a bad review don't go into too much detail or ask any questions. This will prevent saying something that might cause the upset customer to add more negative feedback by replying to the bad customer review. Three sentences for your whole reply is a good rule of thumb.

The power of review responses (with examples)

The best thing you can hope for when responding to negative reviews is to have that unhappy consumer revise their initial review when their complaint is dealt with.

Here, this dealership is handling this scathing review in the best way possible.


Below, a customer updated his review to four stars after the general manager/sales manager contacted him and resolved the problem.


That just goes to show that you should never ignore any reviews—as each one presents a possibility for not only some good brand marketing, but also an opportunity for receiving more positive feedback after the customer's issues are resolved!

How to respond to negative reviews across different industries

Now, let's explore some tactics you can use to respond quickly to reviews in specific sectors.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews in the Fitness Industry

Fitness Negative review example

In this example, the respondent acknowledges the inconvenience to the client and efforts to move the conversation with the customer offline to resolve their negative impression of the business.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews in the Financial Industry

Financial Negative review example

The respondent does a great job of highlighting how the financial institution typically handles business in a professional and timely manner, they apologize to the client and offer to take the conversation offline to resolve the issue.

The respondent avoids using the business name or any keywords to make the review less likely to appear in a search for those terms.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews in the Legal Industry

Legal Negative review example

This detailed response for a law firm covers all the basic steps. The respondent highlights how the firm typically operates, they apologize and move to make take the conversation offline, thanking the reviewer for their feedback.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews in the Hospitality Industry

Hospitality negative review example

The respondent highlights their typical level of service and offers to follow up offline with the guest to find out more about their recent stay.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews for a Car Dealership

Dealership Negative review example

The respondent to this review for a car dealership takes great care to apologize for the reviewer's recent experience and they provide an example of the typical level of care for customer experience.

The respondent provides contact info to move the resolution offline and avoids using any keywords that could cause negative reviews to appear in search results for the dealership.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews for the Insurance Industry

Insurance Negative review example

This is a great example of how you can respond to a bad star rating with no detailed description of where the customer's experience went wrong. You can thank the customer for taking the time to leave a review and have them reach out to the business so they can find out more about what went wrong and effort to resolve it.

If the business is able to reach a resolution with the reviewer you can even request that they remove the bad star rating.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews for the Medical Industry (Doctors, Dentists, etc.)

It can be a sensitive topic when you're dealing with a negative review about someone's healthcare. The respondent in this example keeps the response concise while still apologizing and asking the negative reviewer to get in touch with them directly.

Can you remove negative reviews online?

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to have a great experience at your business, and you're inevitably going to get some negative reviews along the way. However, some reviewers can cross the line at times, and you may face situations where it's appropriate to try to remove reviews that are fake, or violate the guidelines of the platform they were left on.

Google guidelines

Google reviews are high-profile and can contribute to local SERP rankings. This makes them a highly valuable area to focus your review management efforts on. Since you don’t have the option of turning off reviews on Google, it’s best that you respond to all reviews published to your Google Business Profile, especially negative ones.

Here are some of the essential points from Google's review policies you should keep in mind when deciding whether a negative review is worth reporting:

  • Google can remove reviews that violate their policies due to them being spam, fake, off-topic, or illegal content.
  • Business owners can report reviews and have them removed by flagging them as inappropriate.
  • You cannot report a review simply because you disagree with it or don't like what's written.
  • Reporting a review prompts Google to decide whether it should be removed, and doesn't guarantee its removal.

Yelp guidelines

Yelp is an often-maligned review platform due to its strict anti-review-requesting policy and an algorithm that may hide positive while negative reviews show up. As a rule of thumb, Yelp doesn't remove reviews that express a personal opinion, even if it's negative.

However, there are a few exceptional circumstances when Yelp will agree to remove a review after a report's been submitted. Under Yelp's content guidelines, they'll only remove a review from a business account if they see that the review contains:

  • An apparent conflict of interest with the business
  • A lack of focus on the reviewer's own customer experience
  • Inappropriate content such as hate speech, lewd commentary, or threatening language
  • Private information about patrons or employees of the business

Facebook guidelines

The social element of Facebook reviews is strong. You need to be especially aware and careful with negative reviews here because dissatisfied customers can really take it to the next level by blasting your business to their friends. You may also get customers chiming in on specific negative Facebook reviews, which isn't possible on Google or Yelp. This makes it crucial that you closely monitor and actively respond on this highly-active social platform.

Facebook's Community Standards state that they will consider removing bad reviews if they contain:

  • Violence and criminal behavior
  • Violations of their safety policies
  • Objectionable content such as hate speech, violent or graphic content, etc.
  • Violations of integrity and authenticity policies
  • Violations of respecting intellectual property

In all other cases, Facebook recommends businesses respond to negative reviews promptly regardless of their authenticity while they assess their potential removal.

General guidelines for how to remove negative reviews

While each platform has its own rules and guidelines for removing negative reviews, you can follow these steps as a general blueprint of things to keep in mind when attempting to do so.

We'll also be using Google as an example of how to dispute these negative reviews.

Step 1. Evaluate the content of the review

There are a few routes you can take to attempt to remove a negative review. Things you need to determine first are:

  • Can the reviewer be persuaded to take down or change their review?
  • Is the review making malicious, false claims?
  • Does it violate any content guidelines for any of these platforms?

Step 2. Ask the reviewer to remove or change their review

Begin by contacting the reviewer offline to determine their concern. If you can fix the issue, try to do so and then ask them to modify the review (if you think now you can convert this to a positive review). Otherwise, ask them to remove it.

If you can identify and resolve their concerns, you may even be able to salvage the relationship and turn a negative review into a positive one with some superior customer service and a little luck!

Step 3. Flag the review if it violates content guidelines.

Content guidelines require platform users to play nice, which means that spam isn't tolerated, and users need to refrain from using sexually illicit language, hate speech, and other off-limits behaviors.

If you believe that a review has violated any of Google's guidelines, you can report it to their moderators through your business account.

If the review can be counted as slander and false, you can also fill out a form for a legal removal request on each respective platform. The requirements for these will vary for each platform and you may require help from a legal professional to complete them when necessary.

Step 4. Respond publicly if the review wasn't changed or removed

If you weren't able to resolve the issue with the customer or have the review removed, now's the time to respond to the review.

Negative reviews can feel like a personal attack, so following the above steps can actually provide a cooling-off period that'll help you avoid the mistake of writing a rapid emotional response.

Once you've exhausted the options in steps one and two, consider responding to the negative review.

Step 5. Monitor the review closely

Keep in mind that Google's review flagging process can take some time, so be sure to keep a close eye on it and ensure you don't leave the negative review hanging out there too long without a response.

If you feel the need to add a temporary placeholder response while you wait for Google's determination, add a brief, polite response. You can update it later if Google refuses to remove the review.

Step 6. Get more positive reviews to offset the negative reviews.

You may be able to remove some negative reviews, but for those that remain, the best course of action is to first respond appropriately, as outlined above, then surround it with glowing reviews about how amazing your business is.

In the case of Google, they don't prohibit asking for reviews, but their guidelines request that you ‘Don't discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit a positive review from potential customers.' This references review gating, which is the process of filtering candidates before asking them to leave you a review.

In any instance, asking customers for feedback is OK in general, as long as you don't filter the feedback you get.

Step 7. Monitor the status of the negative review

Google allows you to call to follow up on your flagged review status. To do so, go to your Google My Business home page. At the bottom of the menu on the left-hand side, there should be an option for support which you can click and check the status of your review.

Negative review response templates you can use

As we covered, responding to all of your online reviews and customer feedback is important for your business. It's time to take charge of your business's online reputation by skillfully responding to your negative reviews. While it may be time-consuming, it's worth it. Plus, with the right tactics and steps, it can be easily done at scale.

Here's just a sample of a few negative review response templates you can use for some common instances your clients may come across with their various review sites and platforms.

When you are responsible for the problem:

Dear [Reviewer Name],

We sincerely apologize for the issue you experienced with our [product/service]. At [Business Name], we aim to provide our customers with the best possible experience, but it seems like we clearly fell short.

We take your concerns seriously and would love to make things right. Please reach out to us at [Business's contact info], so we can find a way to resolve the matter as best as we can.

Thank you for your feedback and for bringing this to our attention. We're hopeful we can make things right and improve our services.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

When the problem is not your fault:

Dear [Reviewer Name],

Thanks for taking the time to provide valuable feedback, on your most recent experience with our [product/service]. We're sorry to hear things fell short of your expectations, but we also want to clarify that the issue you described is not within our control. This is due to [Explain why the issue is not your responsibility but don't shift the blame.]

However, we still appreciate your feedback and hope to provide you with a more positive experience in the near future. Please don't hesitate to contact us for any other questions or concerns.


[Your Name]

When the review is fake or malicious:

Dear [Reviewer Name],

We're sorry to hear you had a negative experience with our [product/service]. However, we have reason to believe that your review is fake or malicious. [Explain why you think the review is not genuine, e.g. suspicious activity on the account, no record of the reviewer in your customer database.]

We're more than happy to address any genuine concerns or issues you may have, but we only engage in dialogue that prompts the opportunity to rectify any negative experiences or improve our services.

Thank you for understanding.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

When the review is vague or unclear:

Dear [Reviewer Name],

Thank you for leaving us feedback on our [product/service]. We're sorry to hear you didn't have a positive experience, but based on the review you've written, we're a bit unclear about the issue at hand.

Please provide us with more information about what went wrong, and we'd be more than happy to see if there's anything we can do to make things right with you. We value your business and want to ensure you have the best possible experience with us.

Please don't hesitate to contact us at [Business's contact info] for any further feedback or concerns.


[Your Name]

When the review is about a specific employee:

Dear [Reviewer Name],

Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback with us. We're sorry to hear that you had a negative experience with [employee name], and want to assure you we take all complaints seriously—especially regarding employee conduct.

Please know that we will investigate the matter thoroughly and take the appropriate actions to address any issues that may have contributed to your negative experience.

If you have other feedback or concerns in the meantime, please contact us at [Business's contact info].

Best regards,

[Your Name]

Start offering reputation management to your clients

Offering review management to local businesses is also a great way to help your local businesses succeed online, and a great way to get into the marketing services game. We've made it easy for you to start helping businesses respond to their online reviews by providing these review response templates.

If you want to take the next step in offering reputation and review management services, be sure to check out our Reputation Management Software —a white-label reputation tool you can rebrand and sell to local businesses to empower them to take control of their online presence!

Frequently asked questions

How do you prevent negative reviews in the first place?

Preventing negative reviews starts with providing excellent customer service and a high-quality product or service. Your business should also encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews and address any issues or concerns proactively before they have the chance to leave negative reviews.

What should I avoid when responding to negative reviews?

While responding to negative reviews, keep your response professional and empathetic while avoiding getting defensive, making excuses, or attacking the reviewer. Your primary focus should be finding a solution to the issue raised by the customer.

About the Author

Filled to the brim with talent, Vendasta's Marketing Team is always looking for ways to create thought-provoking content, eye-catching media and data reports that can help you sell digital solutions to local businesses.

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