5 Steps When a Bad Review Strikes

As a startup or small business, not all press is good press—especially when it’s on a top tier review site. If you see a negative review on a site like, "Yelp," as an entrepreneur, it can be heart breaking. This is especially true if it doesn’t regard an, “incident,” where there was a clear disagreement and it takes you by total surprise. Maybe it’s a complaint about your food’s quality, the registration troubles of, a special event, how quickly a package arrived, (even when you have no control over USPS), or the quality of your services. However, getting mad or sticking your head in the sand isn’t going to help. It’s time to take action.

What you do depends on the review, whether it’s abusive, and if it’s possible to salvage the situation. When you created your startup business model, you should have considered outlining the protocol for dealing with reviews in the digital era—but it’s not too late to add it now. Your business model is a work in progress, and inputting new information and steps to take in the case of obstacles as they occur, is welcome.

Rip off Report

So what’s your first step? Start here:


1. Assess the “approachability” of the user

Many review sites are anonymous, but it may be possible to post a public reply to the reviewer, (they’ll be notified of it), or message them directly. However, if they seem off-kilter, overly aggressive or abusive, it’s best to let the review site managers handle it. In extreme cases, you may be able to have an abusive review removed. If you think the post qualified as removable, this is the easiest and fastest approach—follow the protocol of the review website.


2. When you know about the incident

Oftentimes, a negative review doesn’t come as a surprise. Maybe you were there for the incident or heard about it from your employees. Regardless of who’s, “at fault,” this is your chance to make things right. Apologize for the negative experience as a public reply, offer to make things right if there’s an obvious solution, or otherwise ask the poster what you can do to smooth things over. A lot of the time, an angry reviewer just wants to feel heard and they might have a big change of heart.


3. When it’s out of the blue

If one of your employees, (or yourself!) gets called out publicly, make sure you get the other side of the story first. This isn’t to build your defense, though, but simply to make sure your managerial skills are on point. Next, follow the same steps in number two. A professional, public reply is best so that others can see you’re reasonable and put customer satisfaction first.


4. Don’t argue

It’s natural to want to defend your business, especially in public, but what seems like a reasonable argument to you will come off as petty and unprofessional. Plus, remember: People want to be heard, especially under-represented people according to The Guardian. You’re not listening if you’re arguing. As a business owner, your job is to make the customer happy—sometimes this means showing humility and grace.


5. Bury the evidence

No matter how the negative review, “ends,” it’s always better to bury them below positive reviews. Make sure the positive reviews are genuine and you don’t pay for them or write them yourself. You can entice your customers to write honest reviews by offering freebies or discounts, but you can’t tell them what kind of reviews to write. Most people won’t look beyond the first few reviews, so it doesn’t take much legwork to bury ones you’d rather put to rest.


Word of mouth has always been a popular way of promoting business. In today’s world, it still rings true, but it’s digital. Review sites can be your worst enemy or dearest partner. Make sure you manage them well.