GUEST BLOG: Dealing with a Negative Review

What to do when you get a bad customer review
July 11, 2014

By Lance Trebesch, CEO,

Before firing off a response, take a deep breath and remind yourself not to take things personally.

I know this is a tall order for us entrepreneurs...when our businesses come under fire, we’re like a mama bear protecting her cub!  

However, setting the record straight does not include going toe-to-toe with your customers.

The minute you start slinging mud, you surrender any right to claim that your establishment or staff are professional.

Instead, establish a civil dialogue and address the customer’s concerns.

To show you what I mean, I’ll use snippets of a negative review I spotted recently on a popular review website and the business owner’s response. (In an effort to keep things anonymous as possible, I’ve made a few changes.)

The review:

“A complete disappointment. I had an X, which lacked all complexity and tasted like a weak extraction. She had an X and said it was just okay.

For what this place touts itself as, we might as well have been at X or X. And not to rag on them, but we're talking certain levels of expectation of quality. If you want to brand yourself as a boutique cafe, you better deliver...and X Coffee shop, my friends, did not.

The real reason I'm writing this, however, is to comment on the service. There's plenty of bad coffee in this town, but there's no excuse for bad attitudes. The barista looked like he was over it and pissed off that we came in near closing time. When he took our order he was impatient, snobbish, and stand-offish, which simply amounts to RUDE. Sorry dude, I know, life sucks. I wouldn't want to be forty-five, balding, and pressing espressos either…”

The owner’s response:

“I'm sorry to hear about your disappointing experience.  I like to take action based on feedback, which is what makes [this website] a great forum for both of us.

If you can help me narrow down the day and approximate time you visited, I can then cross reference it to our shift schedule and review the experience with the baristas you mention. (We have 2 "bald" baristas).

You are absolutely right to complain about our service based on what you've described, and I want to fix it.

….Finally, I would be very happy to refund your money or invite you back along with your girlfriend to try again another experience.  We are in fact known for great coffee, friendly baristas, and professional service.  As this was not what you saw, I want to do everything in my power to make it right for you.”

Why does this work?

  • It opens with a sincere apology and and sets a conciliatory, professional tone.

  • It demonstrates a proactive approach to addressing the real problem and a willingness to explore culpability.

  • The tone and belittling of the employee is barely referenced (the response would have been better if it had not mentioned it at all).  Remember, a customer being right and being a nice person are not mutually exclusive.

  • There is a genuine overture of goodwill.

Whether or not this particular customer changes their review, others will see and judge the tone of your response. Do not allow your business to be found wanting!

Lance Trebesch is CEO of and sits on the board of the BBB serving E. Washington, N. Idaho & Montana. He resides in Bozeman, Mont. The opinions reflected in this blog are those of the Mr. Trebesch and do not necessarily reflect the views of BBB serving E. Wash, N. Idaho & Montana.


ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2013, people turned to BBB more than 132 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB Serving E. Washington, N. Idaho & Montana, founded in 1912, is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America.  

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