Embrace the Hate

Why Bad Reviews Are Good for Business

A client once showed us a cold email, wondering if they should sign their company up for the service. The email claimed they could remove negative reviews from Google for just $300 a month.

What a steal, right?

Well, “steal” wouldn’t be too far off. After doing a little research, we found that this company had recently rebranded, most likely because, under its previous name, it had a ton of complaints and an F from the Better Business Bureau. Maybe they should focus more on their own online reputation before offering to help others.

But that got us thinking, is a negative online review really such a terrible thing? Should it keep a business owner up at night or make them shell out thousands of dollars just to hide a few bad Google reviews among many more positive ones?

Pepsi can with previous logo. Photo by Martin  Péchy: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-pepsi-can-1292294/

The answer is hell no. Having some bad reviews isn’t a death knell for your reputation. In fact, it can even work in your favor. Getting a sour online review isn’t fun, but how you respond to negative feedback goes a long way toward reaffirming trust in your products or services.

Let’s explore why your attitude toward negative online reviews shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Even more importantly, let’s cover how to use them to improve your online reputation.

Respond to Both the Good and the Bad Online Reviews

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, responding to customer reviews is crucial for maintaining a strong online presence. Responding to a positive review shows appreciation for the customer. It also reinforces the positive experience they had with the business. These things lead to customer loyalty.

On the flip side, responding to negative reviews is as important, if not more so, than responding to compliments. You need to show that your business may not be perfect, but that you’re willing to address any less-than-stellar customer experience.

Remember: You’re not just talking to the reviewer; you’re showing anyone who reads it that you have the confidence and poise to respond with professionalism. This doesn’t mean you bend over backward to apologize to an unhappy patron. You can calmly explain your side of the story in a way that takes the high road. This can diffuse the situation and even lead to the customer changing their attitude and giving your business a second chance.

Ignoring or dismissing customers’ concerns – even if they say they’ll never do business with you again – is a bad look for your brand. Even if the reviewer comes across as a rude jackass, you need to take the high road, less for that reviewer than for people who’ll subsequently read the comment and see how you handled it.

Group of co-workers working on brand refresh for their company

What About Trolls?

You’ve probably heard the advice, “Don’t feed the trolls.” This applies across lots of online platforms, and customer reviews are no exception.

It’s up to whoever handles customer complaints to recognize the difference between real feedback and trolling. Trolls have nothing to contribute. It’s possible they aren’t even customers of your business. They just like spreading negativity, and by engaging them, the trolls win. You’re not obligated to respond to comments that are belligerent, bigoted, or spam. Report, remove, and ban the commenter. Leaving them up just invites more.

Pepsi can with previous logo. Photo by Martin  Péchy: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-pepsi-can-1292294/

There’s a big difference between a troll and an angry customer with real feedback. Try to imagine how you’d respond if these reviews happened in real life. If a customer was upset inside your store, you’d calmly and professionally address their concern. If someone came in yelling and swearing, you’d give them the boot. Same goes for online interactions.

Using Negative Reviews to Your Advantage

One company that embraced its negative reviews and turned them into a successful campaign is Domino’s Pizza. In 2009, Domino’s paid closer attention to the numerous negative reviews regarding the quality of its pizza. Instead of shying away from criticism, Domino’s decided to listen and take action.

They launched an ad campaign featuring real customer complaints (“cardboard crust,” “sauce tastes like ketchup”) and images of their unappetizing-looking pizza. These ads were followed by a message from the company’s CEO, Patrick Doyle, explaining that Domino’s had heard their customers’ complaints and had completely revamped their recipe.

The campaign was a huge success, with Dominos experiencing double-digit sales growth for three consecutive quarters. This is a testament to the fact that taking negative feedback seriously and implementing changes can lead to significant improvements and positive outcomes for businesses.

Should You Respond to a Negative Review With Humor?

Some brands like to take a creative approach to negative feedback. Showing a sense of humor can be a great move … if it fits your brand personality and is executed well. But if you can’t pull it off well, it could come across as overly sarcastic and dismissive.

One recent example of a brand being strategic and clever about complaints is Oatly’s “fckoatly” campaign. Fckoatly.com uses a strong, fun design to highlight years’ worth of complaints, boycotts, and Twitter outrage. While most companies would try to bury these complaints as far down as possible, Oatly seized these opportunities to dispel misconceptions and to show their history of hearing and addressing complaints. (And if you can’t appreciate what they’ve done with fckoatly.com, you can visit fckfckoatly.com).

This is a bold and brilliant example of how brands can use humor to respond to negative customer feedback. By taking control of the conversation, Oatly created a successful marketing strategy that drove sales and increased awareness.

If you don’t have the resources – or the comedic delivery – of Oatly, your response to a negative review could come off as sarcastic and dismissive. Your best bet then is to default to professionalism over humor.


Don’t Hide the Hate

Of course, you want the vast majority of your reviews to be positive. But that doesn’t mean hiding the bad ones or writing fake positive ones. Instead, be proactive in getting more reviews and increasing authentic positive feedback.

Send follow-up emails, asking customers how their experience was. Link to your Google reviews or Facebook reviews so that they can easily share their own pleasant experience. People are far more likely to spread negative word of mouth than positive personal recommendations, so don’t be afraid to give satisfied customers a little nudge. It’s an easy, automated task that any company from a major brand to a local business can add to its marketing efforts.

It’s tempting to want to hide negative reviews and project perfection. But a healthier and more realistic approach is to use negative feedback as a powerful tool. Whether you choose to respond with humor or professionalism is up to you. Just make sure it’s a strategic decision that keeps your brand personality in mind.

Customers trust online reviews. Use both positive and negative reviews to show potential customers that your business may not be perfect (what business is?) but that you’re willing to listen to customers and constantly improve.