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The 9 Things You ALWAYS Do When Responding to 1 and 2 Star Reviews

As a business owner, one of the worst feelings is getting a 1 or 2-star rating and review from an upset customer.  Whenever one of these bad ratings comes through, it’s natural to go through a range of mixed emotions; from shock, to anger, to fear, to frustration, and back to anger again.  But very rarely is empathy brought into play, which is the ONE emotion that makes all the difference...

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

  1. What you write to one, you write to all.
  2. Always publicly respond to every single 1 and 2-star review.
  3. Punctuation, spelling, and spacing are very important.
  4. Never use template responses.
  5. Always address the customer directly, and look for a way to establish trust.
  6. Use empathy whenever possible.
  7. Reinforce your position as a trusted, reliable business in the nicest way possible.
  8. Never blame the customer or make them feel bad or inferior.
  9. Make your response personal by adding your name and contact info.

Written By Scott Brandley, Co-founder and CEO of Shopper Approved

The Impact of Negative Reviews on a Business

As a business owner, one of the worst feelings is getting a 1 or 2-star rating and review from an upset customer.  

Whenever one of these bad ratings comes through, it’s natural to go through a range of mixed emotions; from shock, to anger, to fear, to frustration, and back to anger again.  But very rarely is empathy brought into play, which is the ONE emotion that makes all the difference, in fact, it's key to knowing how to respond to negative reviews.

Empathy is transformational to your entire online review strategy, and here’s why.  It forces you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and experience their emotional journey - from the anticipation and excitement of getting their product to the sadness and frustration of something going wrong, to the hassle, anxiety, and stress of having to go through the process of solving the problem. 

Ironically, having an issue with order is something that each of us has personally and emotionally experienced at one time or another, yet it’s something that we tend to forget or disregard when we’re on the business end of the transaction.

With that in mind, here’s where most business owners miss the mark when it comes to reviews... 

Most business owners try to collect as many 4 and 5-star ratings and reviews as possible, which is great and very important; however, 1 and 2-star reviews are actually your most influential reviews, because they're the ones most customers look at - not because they want to see how bad your business is - but because they need justification for the decision they've already made to buy.  

In other words, they want to buy from you but they also want to protect themselves, so the fastest and easiest way for them to do that is to check your 1 and 2-star reviews to see how big of a perceived risk they're taking. This is why it's critical that you learn how to respond to negative reviews.

Your job is to resolve and remove customer concerns, risks, and fears by turning your 1 and 2-star reviews into your most powerful and influential sales assets.  If you do it correctly, you will get significantly more sales from your 1 and 2-star reviews than from any of your 5-star reviews.

Or in other words, your 5-star reviews bring potential customers in, but your 1 and 2-star reviews make the sale!

Since launching Shopper Approved over 10 years ago, I have personally read and analyzed countless reviews.  I’ve seen customer review management at its best, its worst, and everything in between, and in my experience, the most successful companies are the ones who really understand the importance of empathy and do whatever they can to step in the shoes of their upset customers and help them when transactions go awry. I am simply amazed at how many companies don't know how to respond to negative reviews. 

Obviously, behind the scenes, you need to proactively resolve whatever issues or problems your upset customers are having.  (If you’re not, then this article is pointless.) But, assuming that you’re doing everything you can to resolve your customer’s concerns, this article will teach you how to leverage your empathy and goodwill to build trust and credibility with new potential customers, and ultimately accelerate your business growth.

The reality is that it’s impossible for new potential customers to see what you’re doing behind the scenes to help customers that have left bad reviews unless you tell them what you’re doing by publicly commenting on those bad reviews.  Otherwise, they only see the worst part of the story - the part that comes from the upset customer who had a bad experience. How you respond to negative reviews like these can shift that perception. 

Your job as a business owner is to publicly share the GOOD part of the story - the part where you resolved the upset customer’s issue.  This is the ONE thing that makes ALL the difference, because it gives you the ability to help ensure that every customer experience has a happy ending, regardless of their rating.

What I’ve discovered is that there is an actual strategy involved in this process.  A lot of it has to do with how you publicly respond to your 1, 2, and even 3-star reviews.  Do it right, and your business will thrive for all the right reasons. Do it wrong, and you’ll be putting up a ‘closed’ sign on your front door.

Ultimately, your success is based on your ability to show other potential customers how you treat your existing customers.  It all has to do with how you compose your response. That being said...

A Lesson On How To Respond To Negative Reviews:  9 Things you should ALWAYS do to get the most out of your 1 and 2 Star Reviews in order to Build Trust and Maximize your Sales:

Tip #1 - What You Write to One, You Write to All.

This is extremely important! 

Always remember that whatever you write is internalized by every customer that reads your response as if you were writing it to them directly.

What this means is that if, for example, you say something negative, abrasive, confrontational, or point out that something was a customer's fault - even if you're completely justified - every single potential customer is going to read it as if you were being abrasive to them or pointing out their faults. 

In other words, you're never just writing a response to one customer - you are writing a response to every customer vicariously through that customer, so you have to be very careful how you write things and what you say.

Tip #2 - Always Publicly Respond to Every Single 1 and 2-Star Review.

This is something that most companies neglect to do, and not only is it a huge missed opportunity but not publicly responding can do significant harm to your brand.

Whenever you don’t respond to a bad review, it’s like seeing someone drowning in a river and not doing anything to help them.  The reason that your customers are leaving a 1 or 2-star review is that something went wrong with the transaction, and they need help fixing it (even if it’s after the fact, they still need closure).  

By taking the time to make a public comment, even if you’ve already tried to resolve their issue privately, you show every other customer that their concern is important to you and your business, which goes a long way in building trust.

Now, on the other hand, if you don’t publicly respond to negative reviews, and potential customers see a list of 1 and star ratings with no responses, they have no frame of reference to know if you’re a good company to work with or not, and so by default, they assume the worst and move on to one of your competitors.

In addition to responding to negative reviews, statistics show that responding to positive reviews also helps to increase customer engagement and sales.  

However, unlike bad reviews, when responding to positive reviews you want to be a little more selective.  Look for positive reviews with quality content so that you can; be more personal and engaging in your responses, resolve potential concerns, reinforce a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), or highlight a product feature or benefit that other customers can be educated by.

Just try not to respond to every single positive review, because that will actually end up hurting you by making you look like you’re trying too hard.  Ultimately, you need to find a balance.

Tip #3 - Punctuation, Spelling, and Spacing Are Very Important.

I know you might be in a hurry to respond and get back to work, but taking a few minutes to focus on the presentation - especially on a 1 or 2-star review is totally worth it.

People are very observant, and read a lot into proper spacing, spelling, and punctuation.  In fact, just at a glance, they can tell if you took time to really address their issue, or if you did a quick rush job just to get it off your plate.

Tip #4 – Never use template responses.

Always try to write personalized responses to each customer - even if you've answered a particular issue before.  It shows future customers that you care about each person individually and that they're not just a number.

If you find the same issue coming up repeatedly, that is a warning sign that you have a problem with a product or process that you need to investigate and try to fix.

Tip #5 - Always Address the Customer Directly, and Look for a Way to Establish Trust.

Using your customer’s first name makes your response feel much more personal and friendly.  

Also, see if there’s something from their comments or their review that you have in common with them that you can build on.  

For example, maybe they’re in Florida and you just went there on vacation, or maybe they bought a product that you really like, or maybe they mentioned they have a grandson and you have one too.  You don’t want to try too hard here, but it does go a long way - especially if it’s genuine. 

Tip #6 - Use Empathy Whenever Possible.

This is also very important!

You should always try to address your customer's concerns with empathy so they know that you're sincere and genuine in your response.  Remember to try and put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were in their position?” It will go a long way to help you in determining your course of action regarding their concern.

Tip #7 - Reinforce Your Position as a Trusted, Reliable Business in the Nicest Way Possible.

You should always try to instill confidence in your company to help offset and resolve their concern, but in a way that is informative and friendly.  This is important because it basically allows you to subtly promote your company to potential customers that are reading your reviews, but what you’re really doing is giving potential customers a justifiable reason to buy from you without being obvious.

Tip #8 - Never Blame the Customer or Make Them Feel Bad or Inferior.  Always Build Them up and Make Them Feel like Their Issue is Very Important - Even if You Might Want to Strangle Them!

This is very important but is often incredibly hard to do because at the moment you feel attacked or hurt that they gave you a low rating, so you want to hurt them back or blame them for whatever problem they're having.  Don't do it!

Instead, always try to take the high road, live the golden rule, give them the benefit of the doubt, and make them feel like their problem is very important to you because I guarantee you that it's very important to them.  This will pay off in spades for your company over time.

Tip #9 - Make Your Response Personal by Adding Your Name and Contact Info

If possible, always try to have the person writing the response to use their name, along with a way to contact them directly.  This makes your responses much more personal, and it gives the customer an outlet if they still have concerns. But more importantly, it's showing ALL of the potential customers that you care about them (vicariously through the person having the issue), which makes them more likely to trust you and buy from you.

Here are some Real World Examples…

To help you understand how these strategies can be used in real life, here are some examples based on actual reviews and public responses (some of the information, names, and products have been changed for anonymity purposes).  Below each example, I write what I would have personally written if I had written the response, and I also explain why I wrote that particular response...

How To Respond To Negative Reviews Example 1:

John G.
1 Star Overall Satisfaction Rating

"Couch cover ripped while installing due to poor stitching."

Public Response:

The couch cover was cut while opening the box,

we sent a replacement as a good customer service gesture.

thank you!


Here's my suggestion on a better way to respond...

Hi John,

I'm so sorry to hear that you had an issue with the couch cover you ordered. 

While we do our best to ensure that the couch covers we carry are made to the highest quality standards, on rare occasions, things like this can happen.

However, we want to make sure that you're completely satisfied, so we have gone ahead and sent you a replacement cover at no extra charge.  :-)

Thank you so much for reaching out, and please let us know if there's anything else we can do.


Scott Brandley


Here's the breakdown:  I used John's name to personalize it.  Then I used empathy so he knew I was sincerely sorry that he had an issue.  After that, I reinforced trust in both the product and the company, while still validating his concern.  Then I removed the part about him potentially cutting the couch cover and it is his fault because that creates contention and blame (which is a lose/lose).  Next, I shared with him my sincere desire to make it right by sending him a replacement couch cover. I then closed by thanking him for reaching out and signing my name (or whoever writes the reply) and providing my email address.

Also, notice how I spaced things out.  I used double spacing and very short paragraphs - never more than one or two sentences.  It makes it feel more organized and easier to read.

Here's why this response is so valuable:  Writing a response like this turns a 1-star review into solid gold, because you essentially take a legitimate concern, and completely turn it around - showing every single person that ever reads this review in the future that this company is one of the most kind, caring, considerate companies on the planet, and that they will go the extra mile to take care of their customers.  

This also shows new potential customers that the company will go out of its way to take care of them.  So, in other words - this 1-star review becomes a highly influential review, and will probably generate more new business for them than dozens of 5-star reviews. 
Think about it.  Ultimately, they have to send the customer a replacement anyway, so they might as well look like a knight in shining armor while they're doing it.

How To Respond To Negative Reviews Example 2:

Jennilyn S.

1 Star Overall Satisfaction Rating

"Shipping is excessive - other companies ship for free."

Public Response:


Yes, while other companies ship for free, they also charge more + tax, so the total cost thru our store = Best Price!

Thank you.


Here's my suggestion on a better way to respond...

Hi Jennilynn,

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your concern regarding our shipping rates.

I'm sure that there are other readers who may have this same concern, so maybe I can help to explain how we determine our shipping prices.

When it comes to shipping, there are really two options.  Companies can either discount their products and add shipping costs, or they can inflate their pricing to include shipping costs.

Early on in our business, we decided to try and keep our pricing low, so that we could be as transparent as possible.

While not every client likes to see a separate shipping charge, the reality is that shipping is a cost of doing business - whether it's hidden or not.

It's our hope that our customers appreciate our transparent low pricing + shipping model, more than if we inflated our prices to include shipping.

Fortunately, even with the shipping charge added, because of our great supplier relationships and high volume, our prices still tend to be the lowest online.

If you have any other questions, please let us know.

We're happy to assist you in any way we can.


Scott Brandley


Here's the breakdown:  I used Jennilynn’s name (I double-checked the spelling); thanked her for reaching out and expressed that she raised a good question that others might have as well.  Then, explained the story behind why the company charges shipping, and how it is more beneficial to customers.  After that, I expressed my sincerity and added my name and email.

Here's why this response is so valuable:  This is a perfect opportunity for this company to share why they charge shipping, and why it's actually better for their customers - turning a negative into a positive.  It also differentiates them from businesses that inflate their pricing to include shipping. I also reinforced the company by mentioning that they have great relationships and high volume through their suppliers, and how that makes them the low-cost leader. This is a great demonstration of how 


How To Respond To Negative Reviews Example 3:

Jack O.
1 Star Overall Satisfaction Rating


"This is my second order from you. My first one was lost between you and UPS. They said there was a problem with the shipping address. The order number was 342323. I know I gave the right shipping address, but I never received my original order. Hopefully, this one arrives at my house this time. Sorry, but I hate paying for something I never received."


Public Response:


Very sorry about that.  It seems as though there is a lot of package theft in your area.

We have sent a replacement, and shipment tracking confirms that it was delivered to you.

Thank you,

Customer Service 


Here's my suggestion on a better way to respond...

Hi Jack,

Those darn package thieves!  Have you watched those videos online where the owners actually catch them on video?  It's crazy that people would do that.

Anyway, no worries.  We've totally got you covered!

We have already gone ahead and sent you a replacement order, and have forwarded you the shipment tracking code so you can confirm the delivery.  :-)

Thank you so much for letting us know, and enjoy your new Bluetooth speakers!


Scott Brandley


Here's the breakdown:  I used Jack's name and then took a little different approach.  I empathize by relating to him how other people had experienced stolen packages and caught the thieves on video.  This one is more difficult to reinforce the brand or product with, so instead, I emphasized that I was on his side and that I had his back, and was sending him a replacement with tracking to alleviate his fears of missing the second package.  I then thanked him and added my salutations.

Here's why this response is so valuable:  This was a good opportunity to address what happens if a product doesn't get delivered or is stolen for some reason.  It allows new potential customers to see that the company has its back (by showing that they have Jack's back - remember Tip #1) which gives them peace of mind and confidence that this company will always deliver on its promises.

Now, just imagine if every one of your 1, 2, and even 3-star reviews had responses like these above - it would completely change how potential customers view your business! That's why you need to know how to respond to negative reviews.

Keep in mind that everything I'm saying involves a mind shift from a more traditional, defensive position, to what I call a 'hero' position.

If you can make the transition and ask yourself, "How can I become the hero, not only for this customer but for every potential customer in the future that’s going to read this?", every time you get a 1 or 2-star review, you'll be able to completely transform the way you look at bad reviews and start seeing them as one of your biggest sales opportunities.

It’s strategies for how to respond to negative reviews like these that make good companies great!

And the best part about it is that all you have to do is simply change how you position yourself and how you publicly respond to bad reviews.  Once you implement this strategy, it will literally change the way you do business forever.

Other articles on managing reviews and customer feedback:

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Scott Brandley is an expert in reviews, social proof, and behavioral design. He is the co-founder and CEO of Shopper Approved and Trust Guard, and has built over 40 different SaaS software products over his career. In 2006, one of Scott’s first software companies became the driving force behind StomperNet (one of the largest internet launches in history). Also in 2006, Scott launched Trust Guard, a website security company that has helped to actively protect thousands of businesses and hundreds of millions of consumers for over 17 years. In 2010, Scott launched Shopper Approved, an online ratings and reviews platform that quickly became one of the fastest growing, privately held companies in America, and has been featured nationally on the Inc. 500, the Utah 100, and the Utah Fast 50.

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