How to Turn Bad Online Reviews Into Loyal Customers

Let’s get one thing straight. Negative reviews are not inherently a bad thing—but how you choose to respond matters. Let’s look at some facts:  

According to Spiegel Research Center, too many five-star reviews actually makes you seem too good to be true. Want to look authentic? An average of 4.0 - 4.7 stars is the sweet spot.

Many reviews (minus the absurd ones) give you information about how you can dazzle customers. Imagine having a business before the internet—you’d never get the same level of real, constant feedback from customers. Consider yourself lucky.  

Reviews give you a chance to prove to unhappy customers (and everyone reading your reviews) that you can fix your mistakes. This helps turn a bad experience into a good one, but it also goes a long way to impress prospects. According to data by Power Reviews, 82% of people will go out of their way to read your negative reviews.

Negative reviews aren’t necessarily bad, but here’s the thing: while you should accept or even welcome a few negative reviews, you can’t just let leave them unattended. Your ability to address issues your customers mention in reviews is the only way you can turn a bad experience into a good one. As we noted, people will read reviews, but they’ll especially read your negative reviews. Your quick, helpful responses help you repair a bad experience, but also give you an opportunity to publicly prove how awesome your service is.  

Let’s break down every step you should take when you get a negative or highly critical review. These steps will help you repair relationships, look great online, and reduce the impact negative reviews can have on your business.

Assessing a Negative Review

Bad reviews happen. You’ll get plenty of four-star reviews, a few 3 stars, and maybe even a few 1 or 2-star reviews. If you get a poor review, just take a breath. Remember that a single one-star review isn’t going to wreck your reputation, unless you don’t have that many reviews to begin with (we’ll share some tips on getting more reviews in a later section). Before you even respond, ask yourself a few questions:

Did You Earn It? – Based on what the review says, did you earn the poor review they gave you? What steps can you take to rectify the situation? What needs to happen at your business to make sure it never happens again?

Are You Splitting Hairs? – Say you got 2-star review but feel like you deserved a 3. You may not have failed, but some people have absurd expectations, and others may have just had a bad day; we all have them. You should always respond, but it’s important to remember in cases like these that some people (though they may not be rude) just have high expectations.

Is This Just a Jerk? Some people are jerks, no matter what you do. These so-called “Karens” will roast you for something absurd, for something you have no power over, or for no reason at all. Medical practices often get poor reviews due to insurance snags that have nothing to do with them. We even heard a story where a group from the anti-vax community flooded a pediatric practice with fake negative reviews, simply because of their firm’s pro-vaccine stance. But there are ways to deal with issues like these, even if you can’t win simply by responding.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews

So now you have a blemish on your reputation. It’s a tough blow to your confidence and you probably feel picked on. But remember, you can still fix this. Negative reviews aren’t bad unless you let them be. Once you know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to react.

Respond Quickly and Politely

The longer a negative review sits without a response, the more people see a stain on your reputation. So, don’t hesitate. Politely acknowledge negative reviews and try to fix the issue if you can. Depending on how well you take care of a customer, you can move them from upset to super excited about your company—some may even revise their review. Your goal is to make your brand appear engaging and responsive at all times. Your responses might be ignored. You might even get rude or sarcastic replies. Your goal is to start a productive dialog and show that you want to make things right. Reply politely and see if you can have a phone or text conversation with customers so you can offer a solution with a more personal touch.

Make It Right (If You Can)

If the customer is expecting a handout or otherwise unreasonable recompense, ask yourself: what is the value of this customer and what sort of damage will this review cause? In many cases, you can correct issues easily. But if a customer expects the moon but probably won’t return anyway, you’re probably wasting your time. Plus, you might be setting unrealistic standards for what you’ll be willing to provide in the future.

Don’t Worry About Jerks

Remember, there will always be cases where you can’t give a customer what they want, or where they’re one of those jerks we just talked about. The good news is that just by opening the lines of communication and trying to solve problems, you look good to prospects. As for those jerks who leave unreasonable reviews? They’ll look just as silly to your potential customers as they do to you. Highroad those clowns. Respond politely and move on. They’ll look like the bullies they are.

Stick Up For Yourself: Recognize Abuse and Report It

There are a few exceptions to the jerk policy mentioned above. Some people don’t know when to stop. If your business is being abused by someone, you don’t have to stand for it. Hate speech, sexual harassment, and false or abusive reviews violate policies on platforms like Google My Business. Use the tools built into the review platform to report abuse if it’s happening to your business. Platforms like Google won’t always respond immediately, but you should always take steps to curb abusive reviews on your business listings.

Learn From Your Mistakes

If you screwed up, or just fell short of a high bar, use that as an opportunity to improve. Take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. If you think it will help, let the reviewer know how you fixed issues. Make sure they know you’ll be happy to welcome them back and prove to them that you’ve learned and improved.

The steps above are great ways to salvage a bad experience and to prove to people who read your reviews that you actually give a damn. At best, you might create a fan out of someone who was initially disappointed. At worst, you might have some customer service issues to fix internally. Whatever the case may be, negative reviews can be a good thing, provided that you have enough positive ones to balance it out. But what if you don’t? Keep reading.

How to Fortify Your Brand With Great Reviews

Sure, negative reviews stink. But if you reinforce your brand with enough great ones, a bad one will barely make a dent. Remember, you should aim for an average above a 4.0-star rating, but a 5.0-average rating might actually be suspicious to your customers. A few negative reviews help you get in the sweet spot when you have enough great ones. Here’s how to get more.

Create a Review-Generation Strategy

We cover this topic in detail in another post, but for an effective review generation strategy you need to determine which platforms to focus on (Google, Facebook, Healthgrades, etc.), decide which customers to send review invites to, and then find a way to actually ask those people to leave you reviews. While this can be done manually, there are tools that make the process incredibly simple, which leads us to the next section.

Find a Review Solicitation Tool

You can have some success asking people to leave reviews in person, but for the most part, your customers might not remember to leave you a review by the time they get home. Plus, will your staff even remember to ask? To simplify the process of gathering and responding to reviews, it’s smart to use a platform like Swell. With Swell, you can automatically request reviews on platforms like Google, Facebook, Healthgrades, and many more. Since invites go out via text message, recipients are far more likely to leave you feedback.


Monitor and Respond

The right tool will not only help you generate reviews but give you an easy way to keep track of your review scores on the platforms of your choice. Your team should spend a few minutes a day keeping a pulse on your reviews and be ready to respond to negative reviews at any time. Platforms like Swell make it easy to respond to reviews in one screen. This means you can track your performance and get notifications when you get new reviews, so you can address issues all in one place.

Using Reviews to Grow

Great reviews aren’t just a way to defend against bad ones. They’re a part of an incredibly effective growth strategy that harnesses the power of engagement. With Swell, it’s actually pretty simple:


Discover – Learn from honest online reviews and surveys to improve customer service, your online reputation, and search ranking.

Connect – Create meaningful interactions and build trust through text, Facebook messenger, online chat, and more.

Grow – Use feedback to fuel a stronger online reputation and to get higher search rankings, so you can attract more business.


Reviews are just a part of the puzzle. If you want effective tools for engaging with customers and prospects, while also finding ways to be the best business on the block, Swell has everything you need baked into an incredibly easy-to-use app.


Want to learn more? Sign up for a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.