How To Make The Most Of A Bad Review

Nathan Mayfield, Vice President of ResNexus: Elevating industries, one business at a time, through service, innovation and education. 

No business likes a negative review. Not a single one. There is a tendency in likely all of us to get defensive and resist criticism, even if it is warranted. In fact, sometimes that makes it even worse. The plain truth is a poor review can heavily affect your business, and if you get enough of them, it might even put you out of business. 

Working in the hospitality industry for the past seven years, I have found that we can almost always take a bad situation like a negative review and change it to work toward our advantage. Like the old adage, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Here are some simple suggestions that can help businesses make the most of a bad review:

1. Practice the art of healthy disassociation.

By “dissociation,” I mean disconnecting. If you find yourself feeling waves of anger or frustration as you stare at a single star on your social media account, first and foremost try to take your emotion and ego out of it. Immediately shift into a “stay calm” mindset. If reading the review out loud, you can even lower your voice. It might sound strange, but you’ll find yourself calming down as you do so.

Separate yourself from negative feelings like defensiveness, embarrassment or annoyance. This is what I consider healthy disassociation. You don’t disengage or avoid the conversation — just the negativity of it.

One technique that I personally like to use is referred to as puppeteering. I imagine myself as the paragon of customer service. It is this persona who responds. For some reason, my persona is a lot like the old Spock from the classic Star Trek TV show series from the ’60s. Spock was always in control of his emotions, no matter how Captain Kirk acted. As the puppeteer, I find myself a safe distance from any of the heated emotions that I might otherwise feel.

2. Take the time to diagnose the problem.

Some customer interactions are cut and dry. You know immediately where it went wrong. Others are less obvious. Avoid the temptation to reach a hasty conclusion and quickly respond to a review. Especially when employees are involved or you yourself did not have direct contact or knowledge of the complaint. Like an investigator solving a crime, make sure to do a thorough investigation and have the facts on your side. 

3. Change your mindset: See it as a marketing opportunity.

Having a couple of bad reviews is not necessarily a bad thing. Online shopping behavior is to look at a couple of five-star reviews and then go digging for the dirt found in the one-star reviews. In my experience, it’s normal to have several poor reviews; this helps set more realistic expectations. When we change our mindset and see our responses to negative reviews as opportunities to speak to future customers, we disassociate from negative emotions and put ourselves back in the driver’s seat. 

That’s why it’s important to do your homework and diagnose the problem before you respond.

At the end of the day, you want to use your review response to do three things:

1. Provide greater context;

2. Provide proof the problem was an outlier or resolved;

3. Market to future customers. 

A couple of years ago I saw a great example of the marketing mindset at work in the response to a bad review for a vacation rental in Hawaii. The owner had glowing, well-written, five-star reviews from well over 100 satisfied guests saying he was “the host with the most.”

Then, I found an instance where a customer left a bad review complaining that the property wasn’t clean and the weather was bad. His response was polite, professional and positive, which helped me not only relate to him but also see the absurdity of the review. He said that though he was a great host, he was incapable of controlling the weather. He then made sure to market other activities for guests to do around the area even if the weather was less-than-ideal. In addition, he addressed that the guest had shown up before the agreed-upon check-in time as his staff was finishing the cleaning. 

After reading his response, I was sold, and I ended up staying there on my next family vacation.

Remember, it takes two to fight. If you come out swinging with emotionally driven personal attacks, you lose, even if you’re right. 

At the end of the day, what is more important than the bad review is how the business owner responds to the review. 

4. Get an impartial set of eyes to ensure your response is positive and professional.

Lastly, if you have a particularly strong emotional reaction to a bad review, show someone else your response before you send it. In theory, they should be impartial and be able to help you keep it professional and positive. Life is filled with examples of people who made poor decisions when angry. Don’t be one of them. In an age where customer reviews and their responses can go viral, take the time you need to calm down and regain your professionalism.


In conclusion, make sure to separate yourself emotionally from the negativity felt from a bad review. Take time to diagnose and fix the problem. Use the review response to market the resolution in a professional manner. 

The above-mentioned tips might seem like they take a lot of time. But in reality, they don’t. Adding 15 minutes to ensure a positive and professional response can save your business thousands of dollars in the future and reassure potential clients that doing business with you is worth their while. That’s a great return on investment for a few minutes of your time.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

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