How to Deal with Negative Google Reviews: A Playbook

Nov 3
min Read
Reputation Management

Recently I talked to the owner of a small business who was frustrated. The owner told me that they had several negative reviews. These reviews were dragging down their ranking on Google and consequently costing her and her business customers.

She didn’t know how to fix this problem but knew that it was costing her money.

At Kenect, we’ve done over 300 webinars on Google reviews, training businesses of all types from all over North America. The NUMBER ONE question we get asked during those seminars is this: what do I do when I get a negative review?

And so, keeping in mind the impact that negative reviews can have, and keeping in mind how common that question is, today we’re going to seek to answer it: what should you do when you get a negative review?

What are Google reviews?

Your customers, or really anyone with a Gmail address, can go to your Google My Business page and leave you a review and a star rating. These reviews can be just star ratings—they can be long or short. This is entirely up to the reviewer. You have no control over what reviews are left and you have no control over what they will write.

One important thing to note here: Google does NOT verify that they are actually your customers or clients. They simply have no way of knowing. Generally, this isn’t a problem. But sometimes you will have people who simply aren’t and have never been your clients leave you Google reviews.

How to Handle Negative Reviews

As I mentioned above, this is the most common question we get asked. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we get asked this question every single time. In this section we’ll try to answer this question in a sequential and simple way.

1) How common are bad reviews?

Our data indicates that about 1 in 50 reviews that businesses receive are negative. Law firms generally have a worse ratio than dealerships and other businesses. And certain types of businesses do particularly poorly, divorce and family law firms have a worse ratio generally and drag that average down. And this makes sense giving the sensitive and very personal nature of those proceedings.

Action Item: Go to your GMB page and determine your ratio for negative reviews. This will give you a starting point.

2) Avoiding Bad Reviews

There is on way to ‘avoid’ bad reviews completely. Some people just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and if they’re not leaving you a bad review, they’re leaving a bad review at the Mexican restaurant down the street or the yoga studio nearby. They are simply cranky and want to leave negative reviews. These happen and you can’t do much to avoid them. So, you’ll never be able to avoid them completely.

Having said that, most negative reviews are avoidable. A recent study found that the most common reason businesses received negative reviews was because of perceived ‘poor communication’ and a ‘lack of responsiveness.’ Simply put: people left bad reviews when they felt like the businesses did not communicate effectively or communicate enough.

Poor communication was by far the most common reason for negative reviews, not high prices, not bad service, not incompetence, or even lack of professionalism. The number one reason—and it wasn’t close—for negative reviews was some element of poor communication.

There are ways to mitigate this:

a)     Set proper expectations in your initial interactions with your customers and clients about communication. Should they expect you to respond after-hours? What communication method will you use? What happens if they can’t reach you? (Or you can’t reach them?)

b)     Use a texting platform to communicate instead of relying on phone calls or emails. Playing phone tag is a surefire way to frustrate a customer or client. There is nothing more maddening than trying to reach a business but they’re in meetings or on the phone and so you can’t. Then they try to reach you and you’re at work, in a meeting, at a kids sports practice or something other family activity. You simply can’t answer the phone in these situations. That’s why texting is better. You can always see and respond to text messages in mere seconds. Put simply: texting will decrease your negative reviews because it improves your communication.  

3)    What NOT to do when you get a bad review

You should not do the thing you most want to do: reply with anger and argue with them. Once you’ve received a negative review, resist the urge to reply back and put them in their place.

Replying and starting a public argument will only serve to embolden the person who left you the review AND it makes you look petty and unprofessional.

Don’t do it.

Remember that there is no good that will come from leaving an angry reply. The person who wrote the review is NOT going to suddenly realize they were wrong and change their ways. That just won’t happen. All you’re doing is getting into a public argument. And that’s a bad idea.

4) What you SHOULD do when you get a bad review

There are two things you should do every single time you get a bad review.

a) Figure out what happened. Go to the person or department the review is regarding and get to the bottom of it. Perhaps you’ll find that your business did mess up and there’s something you can improve upon.

b) Reply to the review with something like this: “I’m so sorry that happened. I can understand why you’d be frustrated. My name’s Jim and I’m an owner at the business. Please text our main phone number and I’ll respond directly. I’ll see if we can sort this out for you.”

The person is not likely to respond to you. But you have behaved professionally and competently. You will impress the people—the future customers—who read that review.

Now, it’s worth noting that even if you handle every negative review perfectly, it won’t do any good unless you have a process for getting positive reviews as well. If you aren’t actively getting positive reviews, no amount of handling negative reviews perfectly will matter.

Will Google Take Down a Negative Review?

The answer is…not very often.

Google will take down negative reviews occasionally, but it is rare. One study estimated that Google only takes down reviews about 4% of the time when asked. So, the likelihood is they won’t.

Google will take down reviews if they are threatening, harassing, racist, obscene or cross-the-line in some way. But if they just say your business is dishonest or that you are bad at your job, Google will not take that down.

Google will also take down reviews if they are obviously Spam.

The bottom line is this: don’t plan on Google taking down reviews that you don’t like, or feel are unfair. They simply won’t do it.

The Best Way to Combat Negative Reviews

You could handle negative reviews perfectly, respond to them perfectly, deal with them perfectly, and none of it will matter if you’re not actively getting positive reviews. The best way to deal with negative reviews is to get more positive reviews.

Go and aggressively get more positive reviews. That’s the only thing that will work for your business in the long run.

Get texting for your business