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Handling complaints
6 min read

17 Ways To Handle Bad Reviews And Public Complaints

There’s a lot of heart and soul that goes into running your own business – so when negative feedback is given, it’s hard not to take it personally. Many seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you it’s part of the journey – and that, in fact, constructive criticism is crucial in refining your offering and operations.

However, there are those reviews that cut deep. The ones that stick with you. The ones that make you second guess yourself and your business. The ones that have been posted publicly for all to see – shaping opinion and potentially harming your hard-earned reputation.

So, how do you handle a public complaint? No-one wants to poke an angry bear, but to ignore it could have catastrophic consequences. And what if the complaint is a valid one? How do you acknowledge it proactively, while in the spotlight?

Here are some ways you can address complaints in a public forum, and – if handled effectively – can in fact turn disgruntled customers into loyal advocates.

1. Respond promptly. It’s important to monitor negative reviews of your business and be alerted as soon as possible, so you can handle them quickly and nip any issues in the bud. It also publicly demonstrates your commitment to resolving the issue.

Thankfully, there are tools you can use to alert you when your business is mentioned online, such as:

  • Setting up Google Alerts. Create a Google Alert for your business name, key employees and any specific keywords related to your industry or products/services. This way, you’ll receive email notifications whenever new content matching those terms appears online.
  • Use social media listening tools. Tools such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Mention will track mentions of your business across various social media platforms. These tools can help you identify and respond to negative reviews or comments promptly.
  • Set up review site notifications. Many review websites allow businesses to receive email notifications when new reviews are posted. Take advantage of this feature and ensure you’re aware of any new feedback (positive or negative).

You also need to be proactive in your monitoring, by:

  • Monitoring review websites. Regularly check popular review websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google My Business and industry-specific platforms for any new reviews or ratings of your business. Sign up for email notifications or utilise the website’s built-in monitoring features if available.
  • Monitoring online forums and discussion boards. Stay active on relevant online forums and discussion boards where customers might discuss your business. Regularly search for mentions of your business name or relevant keywords to identify any negative feedback or complaints.
  • Monitoring your business’s social media accounts. Regularly review comments, direct messages and mentions on your business’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Respond promptly to any negative comments or reviews and address them publicly or privately, as appropriate.
  • Monitoring mentions on local business directories. Regularly review local business directories such as Yell, Gumtree and Nextdoor.

2. Listen attentively. Take time to read through the complaint in detail to ensure you fully grasp the grievances. This will ensure your response hits the mark and doesn’t frustrate the customer further, which could escalate things for all to see.

If the complaint has moved from a public forum to a phone conversation (for example), listen actively to the customer’s concerns. Give them your full attention and avoid interrupting. Let them express their thoughts and emotions without judgement.

3. Take a breath. A knee-jerk public reply written in anger or frustration could be more damaging than the complaint itself. Take a deep breath, then…

4. Assess the situation. Evaluate the nature and severity of the negative review. If it’s a minor issue that can be quickly resolved or clarified, responding publicly can demonstrate your commitment to addressing customer concerns and show transparency.

5. Apologise sincerely. Show empathy and apologise for any inconvenience or negative experience the customer has had. Even if the complaint seems unreasonable, a genuine apology demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.

6. Personalise the response. Tailor your response to the individual customer. Address them by name and refer to their specific concerns. This personal touch shows that you value their feedback and are committed to resolving the problem.

7. Investigate the issue. Gather all the necessary information about the complaint. Review any relevant records, transactions or interactions with the customer to gain a clear understanding of the situation.

8. Respond privately for sensitive issues/take the conversion offline. If the negative review involves sensitive customer information, personal experiences or requires a more in-depth conversation, it’s best to respond privately. In cases where a public response is necessary, encourage them to contact you directly through private channels to ensure a more personalised and effective resolution. This allows for a more detailed discussion of the complaint without exposing private information to the public, while also showing members of the forum that you’ve listened to the complaint and are looking to resolve the issue. It also avoids any public back-and-forth discussions that could escalate and bruise your brand further.

9. Respond publicly for constructive feedback. If the negative review includes constructive feedback or highlights an issue that others may have experienced, responding publicly can be beneficial. It allows you to address the concern openly, show that you value customer feedback and demonstrate your commitment to improving your products/services.

10. Be mindful of the platform. Consider the platform where the negative review is posted. On some review websites or social media platforms, responding publicly is the norm and expected. However, if the review is posted on a personal blog or a forum where privacy is respected, it may be more appropriate to reach out privately.

“A bad review may spoil your breakfast, but you shouldn’t allow it to spoil your lunch.” 

Kingsley Amis Author

11. Maintain professionalism. Regardless of whether you respond publicly or privately, always maintain a professional and courteous tone. Avoid getting defensive or engaging in arguments. Respond with empathy, address the customer’s concerns and offer a solution or a way to further discuss the issue. Responding with respect and politeness helps defuse tension and shows your commitment to providing excellent customer service.

12. Offer a solution. Based on your investigation, propose a solution that addresses the customer’s concerns. If appropriate, provide alternatives or options that could satisfy their needs. Be open to negotiation and try to find a mutually beneficial resolution.

13. Implement the solution. Once an agreement has been reached, take immediate action to rectify the problem. Communicate the steps you’re taking to resolve the issue and ensure it doesn’t occur again in the future.

14. Follow up and learn. After the complaint has been resolved, follow up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction and ask for feedback on the resolution process. Negative reviews can provide valuable insights into areas where your business can improve, so make sure to use them as an opportunity to learn, make necessary changes and communicate those improvements to your customers.


Moving forward…


15. Encourage customers to provide feedback directly. Actively encourage customers to provide feedback directly to you through your website, email or other communication channels. By providing a dedicated feedback mechanism, you can address any issues internally before they become public complaints.

16. Track and analyse trends. Keep track of recurring complaints or negative feedback themes to identify patterns and areas for improvement within your business. This data can help you make informed decisions and take proactive steps to prevent similar issues in the future. (Having a CRM in place will help with record keeping.)

17. Try not to take it personally. Easier said than done! But see all feedback – good and bad! – as stepping stones to refining your business offering and operations. Also consider it as an opportunity for your customer service skills to shine.

Also, you can’t keep everyone happy. No matter how good your product or service is, there will always be someone with an opinion who prefers to voice it in a public forum rather than getting in touch directly. That’s the nature of putting yourself out there as a business owner. It’s not a pleasant part of the process, but it’s inevitable that people will voice their opinions in any form they choose.

What matters most is a level-headed response to these scenarios. And let’s give the wider public credit – most people can tell when a review is slightly over the top or perhaps a bit too harsh. Readers will respect your efforts to acknowledge the feedback and liaise directly with the customer to come to a solution.

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Jenny Lambert

Jenny Lambert is a freelance writer, interiors blogger and Etsy shop owner with extensive experience working in marketing, digital and publishing roles.

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