How to Handle a Bad Review

Betty was a brand-new server at the “Cake and Shake Shack.” She was bubbly, efficient and really quick on her rollerblades, especially when taking big trays of cakes and shakes to the cars who ordered them. One day, Betty ran a cake and shake out to Mr. Keyboard Warrior and his girlfriend. She smiled, flirted just a tiny bit with Mr. Warrior, and gave a wink to his girlfriend when she handed over her soy-kale-smoothie. When she rolled back inside, after pocketing the tiny tip she received, she went on to her next car delivery. Everything seemed fine. Mr. Warrior and the girlfriend drove away, eating cake and sipping shake.  Two days later, after an intense fight and subsequent break up with his girlfriend, Mr. Keyboard Warrior took to his computer to complain about Betty, her attitude, and the outrageous and inappropriate flirting she did, causing the untimely breakup between he and his girlfriend. He said the cake was dry, the shake had spinach, not kale…and he would NEVER return to the Cake and Shake Shack. One Star.

As ridiculous as that sounds, stranger things have occurred to prompt a one-star review of a small business.  In this blog, we’ll talk about how to handle a bad online review, and how to improve your overall star-ranking on Google and Yelp.


You got a bad review, now what?


How to respond to a bad review:

Maybe you discovered that Betty not only winked at Mr. Warrior’s girlfriend, maybe she slipped Mr. Warrior her phone number and said: “Call me, maybe?” On the other hand, maybe Mr. Warrior’s girlfriend is simply insecure and there was no actual flirtation. The bottom line? You need to do something about that one-star review and you should start by replying to the review online.

  • Lead with an apology

    • Simply say “I’m sorry” but be careful not to admit any wrongdoing. Something as simple as: “I’m sorry you had a bad experience.” You don’t have to admit that Ed, in the shake department, needs additional training on the difference between kale and spinach. Keep it simple.
    • Even if the customer was incredibly rude, and you don’t owe them an apology, still apologize – it will make you and your business look better. Always take the high road.
  • Offer a contact person to talk to

    • Sometimes people just want to vent – give them the main number and a person (maybe you) to talk to about the issue.
    • In actuality, only about 5% of the people who are given a person to talk to will make the call.
  • Talk about how you’ll make it right or do better next time

    • We do not suggest a free meal or a refund in your response online – it may spur more bad reviews from people who are looking for discount or free product.
    • A simple statement about how you are working to improve customer service, or the experience for your customers goes a long way in saving your image from a negative review.
  • Be professional

    • It’s very tempting at times to slap back, or to point out the reviewer’s faults – like Mr. Warrior was horribly rude and barely tipped Betty. Refrain. Remain positive and professional, keeping in mind that others will read your response and you want to be viewed as a complete professional, worthy of their business.


How to fix a bad review you didn’t deserve:

Not every review is legitimate. Sometimes you’ll get a review that isn’t from one of your customers, or you’ll get a bad review from a disgruntled employee. Here are a few suggestions for what you can do if you received a bad review you did not deserve:

  • Contact Google or Yelp

    • Ask to have the negative review removed and tell them why.
  • Contact the customer

    • Ask the customer to remove their poor rating…if you have access to their contact information.
      • Make sure you remain polite and never threaten a customer.
    • Listen to the customer, maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they were confused at where they ate. Sometimes simply explaining to them (politely and professionally) will be enough to get them to remove their review.


What if Google or Yelp won’t remove a bad review you didn’t deserve:

If you’ve tried everything and can’t get rid of that one-star review, all you can do is respond to the review professionally. For instance, if Mr. Warrior’s comment included something about how bad the pizza was – you can respond that you don’t sell pizza, just delicious cakes and shakes and you would be more than happy to have him come check out your full menu.

Keep in mind that anyone looking at your listing on Google, will read the replies.  Most customers ignore a low review if they can see that you have tried to please the customer, or that the review was posted in error.


How to get a higher star-rating on Google and Yelp:

Okay, you’ve gotten a bad review, rather you deserved it or not. You have responded appropriately – now how do you get a higher star-rating? You guessed it!  You’ll need to ask for good reviews. 70% of customers who have had a positive experience will post a review when asked. Here are some other tips to increase your ratings:


  • Ask for reviews from happy customers

  • Head off complaints before they complain online

    • Stay aware and if Betty accidently spills cake all over Mr. Potter – apologize and try to make it right by replacing the cake. Try to make the customer happy.
    • Ask them about their experience: were they pleased with their shake? Did you have the cake flavors they were looking for? Try to problem-solve while your customer is still at your place of business.
  • Caution:

    • Don’t ever offer freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews – it may be illegal in some cases, and both Google and Yelp will flag that type of activity.
  • Thank those who post a good review

    • Always respond to every review. If the review is positive, thank the person sincerely.



Tomorrow we are offering a class on How to Deal with Difficult Customers!

It’s FREE to attend!  Here’s how to sign up:





The Review Rabbit Hole:

If you are on your lunch break – or at home, trying to relax, here is a hilarious look at some responses to negative online reviews. We DO NOT suggest you use any of these responses in your own reviews (remember the part about being professional?) …But there are others, like you, who have survived (and maybe even laughed) at a bad review.  Here are some examples – strictly for entertainment purposes.



For additional information on how to handle a bad review, or for some good ideas on how to increase your star-rating online, please contact us at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – Serving Paris area:  Lamar, Hunt, Hopkins, Delta, and Red River counties.