Commentary: 5 ways to deal with negative online reviews

By Kent Campbell,

A new dining establishment just received a scathing online review from a restaurant critic or worse — a  food blogger. Adrenaline courses through the owner's veins as he contemplates this brazen affront to his integrity.

We've heard all the horror stories of restaurant owners trying to deal with the consequences of negative online reviews — whether critical comments about poor service, food or staff — which can damage a restaurant's reputation and hinder sales for years.

But don't panic. Take a deep breath and address the issue using these five tips.

Don't respond online: It is possible that any additional comments on the review site will just strengthen the link in the eyes of search engines. By defending yourself online, you may be drawing more attention to the negative.

Don't call your attorney: Or at least think about it first. Your attorney may file a complaint which tends to find its way online, get indexed on Google, and then pops up as a link in Google's search results – it can worsen the problem if handled incorrectly.

Don't share the bad news: Restaurant owners usually want to talk about the bad review with their teams or worse ... online, asking "Can you believe this guy?"

That's the opposite of containing the problem. You share the bad news, which is the same as spreading the negative sentiment. Make your best call, but you don't want it to end up on an employee's Facebook page.

Do call the reviewer (if you can get a hold of his number) and speak calmly. Don't send an email. If you do, the email may be reposted online.

Do try to get the reviewer to retract the comment. If you are able to get a hold of her by phone, offer to fix the problem and see if she's willing to retract the comment once you do. You'll be saving yourself the cost of an Internet reputation expert to push the review further down in Google's search results.

Kent Campbell is founder and chief strategist of 

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Jason Iseman
    It's important to not respond online because it will help promote the link, but it's also not good if you don't respond as it appears as though you are avoiding the issue. It's a tough call, but I think it's better to respond so it shows you are aware of the issue and addressing it.
  • Kevin Hoult
    In my experience, there are a couple of different approaches to coping with bad online reviews.

    The approach outlined in this writing could be compared to the pre-social media model many of us used when resolving consumer complaints - isolate, mediate, obviate. The old strategy was centered on quietly solving the problem and keeping the situation from becoming public.

    While an effective strategy in its day, I find myself wondering if this approach is the best approach today, with significant differences in consumer expectations and communication opportunities.

    There used to be a saying about why it was a bad idea to get on the wrong side of the press, back when the press mattered: "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel!"

    Consumers now have the ability to get their ink for free (blogs, twitter, etc.) and publish around the globe at the speed of light. How do we respond when every customer "buys their ink by the barrel?"

    I feel that the approach outlined above is profoundly ill advised in today's marketplace - here's why.

    Good news and bad news have one thing in common - they're both news! That's the one thing today's consumers demand above all else - information.

    I ask my clients to embrace bad reviews, repeat the bad review on their own facebook page (before the disgruntled customer does), tweet the bad review and take any other action needed share the bad review - in public! Use the opposite of the old approach - get the bad news out there!

    Then show the world what a great company you are by resolving the concern in public, for the whole world to see. Yes - the search engines will find that bad review - and your response, in every case. You have been given an opportunity to market yourself, step up to the challenge and show the world you're really a pretty nice company.

    Why in goodness name would I suggest such a thing?

    Because your prospects and your happy customers would like to know how you handle yourself when something goes wrong and that bad review is just the opportunity to do that.

    Remember, if you were to simply publicize that you are a great company that cares about your customers, the average prospect says "ho-hum, that's what you all say..."

    But when you are given the opportunity to resolve a customer complaint, with the digital world as your audience, you show the world that you really are a great company that cares about its customers. You can't buy that kind of publicity at any price.

    You might even go further, this pizza shop owner puts his most negative reviews on staff t-shirts!
  • Kelly Donner
    Kevin Hoult, I'm in agreement with you.
    Being active in one's online reputation is key, a timely POSITIVE response is a must, corrective action has to be taken and others must see you take that extra step to correct or resolve an issues. To me doing nothing is the worst thing and then you see a bad review that is months if not years old with no corrective course taken.

    Online reviews are everywhere, a pizzeria owner can lose or gain customers based on the reviews the they get. Take Control of you online rep!
  • Dr Harlan Stueven
    I have to agree with the comments posted below. I think a negative comment left hanging becomes almost an admission of truth. Granted, there are some comments not worthy of response but a well written response to a negative comment is better than none. It shows management cares and is willing to address problems. DrStueven,
  • Steven Allard
    Why not respond online? Sure you will give it more traction, but you will give your point of view...polite, professional and courteous of course!
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