How to Protect Your Reputation From Negative Reviews

We cannot account for every possibility. With the added human element, that we are dealing with people having a complex set of wants, needs, and emotions not to mention the stresses that may be on their shoulders, if you are in business long enough, things will go wrong. 

Negative reviews are inevitable. 

It’s one thing to work to prevent them (and you should), but you need to be prepared for if (when) you receive one.

Will that negative review damage your brand’s reputation or merely be a minor negative footnote?

For the past 20+ years I have seen and worked with small business owners who still try. They develop and implement customer service policies to cover everything they see which could possibly go wrong. They continually  train and work with employees to the nth degree on how to handle customers to eliminate the situation from arising. 

The concern is that it creates a false sense of security.

If you fail to prepare to handle a negative review thinking you will not receive one, what happens when you do?

The customer is always right mentality shows up

When things do go wrong, all of the attention paid to preventing it is moot. Unless prepared to handle it, panic sets in for the business owner. They are left scrambling to ‘make it right’ to prevent a negative review being left.

‘The customer is always right’ becomes their mantra. Business owners offer refunds, upgrade purchases, add in ‘extras’ – they’ll do whatever it takes – even if they know the customer has no basis for complaining and at almost any cost.

Negative reviews stop 40% of buyers from wanting to use a business ~

From a customer service standpoint, business owners become forced to placate rather than doing what they feel is fair or justified when unprepared. 

While that could eliminate the bad review, it earns them a reputation for that as well. We all know brands who accept returns on everything for any reason. Yes, we are more apt to buy when there is a lenient return policy or the business will do anything for an unhappy customer, yet as the business, it could cost you more in the long term.

It’s not a reputation you want. 

So how do you, as a small business owner, manage the threat of a negative review being posted or minimize the impact when it is?

Proactively dealing with negative reviews

A single negative review stands out when there a few if any positive reviews. You may have an amazing reputation with a decade of satisfied customers but all people will see is the glaring 1 star review. 

And it creates the sense of panic mentioned above as evident by this post on Facebook:

An example on Facebook of how a single negative review can harm a brand's reputation and the stress or panic it causes for the small business owner

While what is said in a review has a significant impact on a brand’s reputation, what stands out immediately is the ‘rating’ or score. Even before reading the reviews, consumers see the rating. If it’s low enough, human behavior kicks in and they likely won’t read the reviews. 

A single negative review, even an unfounded one, can have a significant impact on a brand’s reputation.

If it’s a brand’s only review, they are looking at a ‘1 star’ rating. If the brand had 9 previous ‘5 star’ reviews, the impact would be far less damaging. The overall rating would still be 4.5 stars. High enough that a potential customer would still trust the brand without reading. If they do read, they can weigh the 9 against the 1 for themselves.

It takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review. ~

“There are a lot of different credibility points that you can put on your website. Things like clear contact information or awards won. But the best thing you can present is testimonials or reviews from your existing customers. These are genuine comments from real people who have used your products or services.” ~ Mitch, Bold Eye Media

Adding positive reviews AFTER the fact is too late.

A shrewd consumer will also be able to see that all of your positive reviews are dated shortly after the negative one. That is a potential red flag. It looks like you are trying to cover up or bury it – which is exactly what you are doing.

It will also take time. Until there are enough positive ones, the negative one will stand out. 

Get the positive reviews first. Ask for them!

People are quick to post negative reviews. It’s a way to ‘get back’ at a brand, it’s seen as a way to get customer service, and it feels good to vent. They ‘get’ something for their effort. 

Getting positive ones generally requires asking. People have little to gain from leaving a positive review (and it’s unethical, and possibly illegal, to compensate for them).   

The best way to get unsolicited positive reviews – establish a strong personal relationship between them and your brand. People love supporting and promoting friends.

  • Start at the point of sale, product delivery, or invoicing.

The single best time to ask for a review is now. You know your customer is happy, the sales process is fresh in their mind, their excitement over their new purchase is at its highest. 

The review, if received at this point, provides two critical things:

    1. A focus on the sales experience over the product or service. Your brand stands out. Your staff stands out. It can counter later, less favorable reviews about your staff or the service received. 
    2. It’s emotionally (positively) charged. That positive emotion/energy will come through in the writing. While it can be a powerful motivator for others. It can also serve as a balance for a negative review left early on in the process.
  • Follow up shortly after the sale, product delivery, or invoice payment.

The sale is still fresh in their minds and they have had a chance to use the product or service. The chance for a favorable review is still high and now it will likely focus on your service or product as much as your brand and the sales process.

This can be via email, a postcard, a text message or a combination of them depending on your consumer’s demographic and preferred communication method.

  • Make it easy

If you want someone to do something for you, make it easy for them. ~ Richard Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics

When you send that postcard, email, text, or whatever method you chose to ask for the review, do not just ask. Provide a link, a QR code – anything – that will make it easy for them to leave the review. 

The easier it is, the more likely you’ll get the review. This is more important if you want the review left on a specific site.

36% of consumers prefer to leave a review when asked on the business website, 32% would leave a review on Google

If they prefer to leave the review on Google and you want/need it on Facebook, making it easy to leave the review makes it more likely they’ll leave it where you want. 

A word of caution, however. Don’t restrict it.

  • Give them choices.

While you may want or need the reviews on Facebook, your consumer may prefer to leave it elsewhere. They may not even use Facebook. 

No matter how easy you make leaving the positive review, it doesn’t guarantee it will be left. It’s better to have one somewhere than none at all.

Providing a choice also offers the possibility that they leave reviews in several places. (Heck, why not ask them to do that?)

Your goal is first to get the reviews, then worry about where they are posted.

A perfect example of this being done correctly:

South Tacoma Honda not only followed up, they asked for a review, gave us choices, AND gave directions to make it easy. While the links weren’t helpful on a postcard, they could use this as part of an email campaign with no additional effort. 

A perfect example of how to obtain positive reviews to protect a reputation from negative ones.

South Tacoma Honda's post card is a perfect example of A perfect example of how to obtain positive reviews to protect a reputation from negative ones.

And when you get those positive reviews..

Acknowledge them! Every review site now offers the brand a place to respond to reviews. You need to monitor for reviews left and take the time to reply. 

This both serves to let the customer now you saw the review you requested and thank them for it, it lets those who see it know you listen to you customers. 

Ignoring a positive review online is no different than someone walking into your business, telling you they appreciate your service, and then being ignored.

It’s rude. 

Beyond review sites

Not everyone takes to review sites to leave negative remarks. Social media sites (aside from Facebook) may not offer a formal place for reviews, but they offer a very visible way to voice one’s complaints. They work better at attracting the attention of the brand than review sites and the entire conversation is public. Ideal if the person posting the comment is looking for something from the brand or to ‘call them’ out.

As with review sites, it is imperative to create a positive reputation on each social media platform your customer might use and monitor for both positive and negative posts. 

How do you protect your reputation?

Be proactive, minimize the impact of a negative review. If the negative review has a limited impact, it mitigates the threat too. 

Updated 2019 December 05

Original publish date 2015 March 19

2 replies
  1. John Locke
    John Locke says:

    Hi Robert. Another great article. It is very important to give people options for reviewing your business and hitting them up at the right time. Ideally, we are researching where the customers may have an account, and presenting that as an option. Sending them a request when they are at the peak of happiness about the project also helps. Wait too long, and the enthusiasm fades, ask too quickly and you seem rushed and impatient.

    It looks like you can have a landing page with review options, and though I’ve seen this before, this is a great reminder of something I should probably add to my own site.

    Reviews are a huge part of Local SEO, and every business should have a plan for collecting and responding to them.

    • Robert Nissenbaum
      Robert Nissenbaum says:

      Thank you John. Having previously owned a local retail business I know first hand about the review value for purchases. The Local SEO value of them was new to me.

      I think the biggest thing that I see is businesses NOT having a way to monitor them or who simply don’t respond.



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