Responding to Negative Reviews? A Guide for Turning Detractors into Brand Advocates

Imagine Joe’s Coffee Shop, a cafe struggling with negative reviews online. These reviews include complaints about long wait times and rude staff. When the owner Joe personally responded to a particularly angry 1-star review, apologizing sincerely and inviting the customer back for a free coffee and snack, something amazing happened. 

The customer was so impressed by Joe’s genuine response that she updated her review to 5 stars. She praised his customer service and started recommending Joe’s Coffee Shop to all her friends. Joe was able to turn a negative experience into a positive outcome, gaining a loyal customer and brand advocate.

Responding to negative reviews professionally and effectively can transform dissatisfied customers into brand advocates. In this article, we’ll explore how to handle negative feedback properly to recover trust, demonstrate you care, and create brand promoters.

The Importance of Responding

Responding to online reviews, especially negative ones, is crucial for any business.

49% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That means an unanswered negative review can have a major impact on potential customers. Here are some key reasons it’s vital to respond:

  • You show customers you care. By publicly addressing their concerns in a timely manner, you demonstrate that you value their feedback and are committed to making things right.
  • Resolving issues builds trust. Negative feedback allows you to get to the root of problems and take action to improve. Responding professionally gives you a chance to offer solutions, extend apologies, and mend relationships.
  • Unaddressed reviews linger. Without a response, a bad review represents your brand and leaves a lasting negative impression on site visitors. This impression can deter new customers and damage your reputation over time.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

It’s easy to make some common mistakes when responding to negative reviews that can make the situation worse. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Getting defensive or dismissive. This response will likely antagonize the customer further. Don’t deny responsibility or make excuses. Accept accountability for the negative experience.
  • Generic apologies like “We’re sorry for the inconvenience” often come across as insincere. Personalize your response and address their specific concerns.
  • Blaming the customer. Don’t imply they are wrong or at fault, even if you disagree with the complaint. Take ownership and focus on resolving the issue.
  • Arguing points publicly. Don’t try to prove the customer’s experience was incorrect. Offer to continue the dialogue privately to resolve the matter.

The key is maintaining a sincere, understanding tone and not letting emotions or ego drive your response. Acknowledge the reviewer’s grievances without judgment.

Adopt the Right Mindset

When responding to a negative review, it’s important to have the right mindset. Being defensive, dismissive, or combative will only make the situation worse. Instead, come from a place of empathy, openness, and accountability. View negative feedback as an opportunity for improvement, not a personal attack.

Use the review to showcase your kindness and empathy. Let the customer’s concerns be heard, and validate their feelings. Don’t try to argue points publicly or blame the reviewer. Accept responsibility for the customer’s dissatisfaction, even if the review seems exaggerated or unfair. Consider how a future customer would perceive your response. Does it demonstrate fairness, grace, and accountability?

The right mindset involves willingness to listen, learn, and make amends. View negative feedback as a gift rather than a grievance. This empathetic approach can turn critics into advocates.

Best Practice Examples

Here are some best practices for effectively responding to negative reviews:

  • Respond quickly. Don’t let too much time pass before replying to a negative review. A prompt response shows customers you are listening and ready to address their concerns.
  • Thank the reviewer. Even if the review is highly critical, thank the customer for taking the time to provide their feedback. This response shows appreciation for their perspective.
  • Apologize. Offer a sincere apology for the negative experience they had. Saying sorry goes a long way and shows you empathize with their dissatisfaction. Use phrases like “We’re very sorry this happened,” or “Please accept our sincere apologies.”
  • Address specific concerns. Don’t provide a generic response. Carefully read their review and respond to the particular issues they raise. If a customer complains about rude staff, unclean facilities, misleading advertising, etc., address those points specifically.
  • Offer solutions. Where possible, offer to make things right by providing refunds, credits, or solutions tailored to what went wrong. Outline your action plan to prevent the same problems recurring.
  • Invite to private dialogue. Suggest taking the conversation offline to have a direct dialogue addressing all their concerns in more depth. This approach can resolve issues faster and build rapport.

Following these best practices in crafting responses helps turn negative situations into positive outcomes with dissatisfied customers.

Turning Detractors into Promoters

When a customer leaves a negative review, it’s a prime opportunity for a business to go above and beyond to turn that detractor into a brand advocate. Here are some best practices for transforming dissatisfied customers into loyal promoters:

  • Make things right. If the complaint is valid, offer a resolution that exceeds their expectations. Provide refunds, discounts, free products or services to show you care and are serious about rectifying issues.
  • Follow up. Check in with the customer to see if the solution met their needs. Ask for feedback and input on how the process was handled.
  • Incentivize an updated review. If the customer is now satisfied, politely ask if they would consider revising their original negative review or leaving a new positive one describing the service recovery experience.
  • Provide excellent service recovery. Look for ways to surprise and wow the customer to create a positive memory of your brand, even if the initial experience was negative. This practice can turn dissatisfied customers into loyal promoters.

With persistence and care put into resolving negative feedback, brands stand to gain long-term advocates from detractors by transforming negative situations into positive outcomes.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways for effectively responding to negative reviews:

  • Always respond to negative feedback. This practice shows customers you care, provides an opportunity to resolve issues and regain trust, and prevents the review from lingering as an unaddressed complaint.
  • Adopt the right mindset. When responding to criticism, be empathetic, take accountability, and view complaints as opportunities for improvement. Avoid getting defensive or dismissing the feedback.
  • Craft great responses by addressing concerns, offering solutions, apologizing for the negative experience, and thanking the customer for taking the time to provide feedback. Provide specific examples or remedies tailored to the situation.

Look at negative reviews as a chance to turn dissatisfied customers into loyal brand advocates. Go above and beyond with service recovery, follow up for continued dialogue, and incentive updated feedback. With the right response, you can delight customers and earn their trust and loyalty.

Responding to Negative Reviews: The Truth

Responding effectively to negative reviews is crucial for turning dissatisfied customers into brand advocates. Taking the time to address complaints professionally with empathy and accountability, you can resolve issues, regain trust, and delight customers. Implementing best practices like responding quickly, apologizing sincerely, addressing concerns, and finding solutions allows you to convert negative feedback into positive outcomes and loyal promoters. With the right mindset and response tactics, you can transform bad reviews into future growth and happy customers.


Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.


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