Yikes! What to do with negative reviews


There’s no sugar coating it – bad reviews hurt. Receiving negative feedback can be challenging even for the most resilient, and if it’s in the public sphere it can be doubly hard. Nowadays the court of public opinion is everywhere. From social media, Yelp and Google business listings, to good old-fashioned word of mouth, discussing the various merits of businesses is second nature to many people. When it goes well, this can be fantastic and is a solid way to generate interest in your work. Glowing reviews can have a big impact on people’s decision to use your services. But yep, that’s right – the opposite is also true. A bad review, and the way you respond to it, is a crucial part of brand reputation.

So what should you do if you receive the dreaded negative review?

Take a deep breath…but respond quickly

Dog trainers often help clients understand that when a dog is stressed and over threshold, their capacity to think clearly is reduced. We’re no different. If you’ve received negative feedback and can feel it in your body – increased heart rate, agitation, churning stomach – take a moment before responding. If possible, engage in an activity that helps you feel calmer, whatever that may be for you. A walk with your dog, breathing exercises, a chat with a close friend or anything that prevents you from reacting while heightened (never a great idea!). Once you feel your equilibrium returning, plan a prompt response. Getting back to people quickly will help to deescalate the situation and will prevent you from agonizing over it too. Unless the feedback is abusive, it’s best to provide a response, especially if it’s on an online and public forum. This shows you take feedback seriously and allows you to share your perspective.

Is there any learning here?

At some stage in your business, you will encounter a tricky or unhappy customer. It’s impossible to keep everyone satisfied all of the time, and sometimes complaints really are unjustified and unreasonable. We know it’s easier said than done, but getting defensive can end up inflaming customers further as well as alienating new ones. Try to view the feedback objectively and empathetically. Is there some truth to their experience? How would you feel in their situation? Is there any learning or insight that can be used to improve your business? Perhaps a process change or clearer policies could prevent similar issues happening in the future. Do you need to revisit your ideal client avatar to ensure it’s a good fit right from the start? Or was it a simple mistake (we all make them)? Acknowledge the client’s experience and how they are feeling, and reinforce the standards and values you aspire to in your business. This can be as simple as:

‘We’re very sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy your recent experience with us. That’s certainly not the way we want you to feel after attending one of our classes. We’re committed to learning, improving and providing a high quality service, and really appreciate you taking the time to share this valuable feedback.’

Keep it short, and ideally offline

If you think the negative review is uncalled-for, it’s often best to simply say you’re sorry they didn’t enjoy their experience and that you hope they’ll give your services another chance (if you do hope that!). If you feel their feedback is justified, apologize and take responsibility, including ways you will mitigate against such issues in the future. Avoid long explanations or a back-and-forth with clients online. For complex problems, encourage clients to speak with you privately. If you have their contact details, let them know you will email or call them to chat further about their concerns. If you don’t, ask them to get in touch with you and provide your contact details. While it can feel like the scariest option (we totally get it!), often a phone call can be far more effective than an email exchange. 

Build your positive review bank

Don’t forget the positive ones! A healthy collection of positive reviews will easily outweigh the odd unfavorable one, and it’s just as important to acknowledge this feedback. Thank clients when they take the time to review your business, and when they send friends and family your way. Word of mouth reigns supreme in the dog training world. Invite clients to submit online reviews via direct requests and surveys. Seek out testimonials and case studies and use them to enrich your website