bad review responses

Bad Reviews and Bad Review Responses that Can Damn a Business

Bad reviews can stick out on your review sit listing like a sore thumb. Your bad owner response can be even more damaging to your company's reputation.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

For the most part, there’s no such thing as a single review that can chase people away from your business for good. There are always ways to bounce back from bad reviews, even if you get a lot of them.

For the most part.

Then there are those times when a review or review response is bad enough to chase a lot of people away regardless of what the remainder of the company’s review profile looks like. 

It’s useful to examine what can really send customers running for the hills.

That’s why I asked a few of our favorite experts for stories of the most damning things they’ve ever seen in a company’s review profile. Their responses helped me put together this nice “Reputation Management, You’re Doing it Wrong” list. 

Big Mistake #1: Assuming someone only matters if they're paying you

Once upon a time, Andrew Shotland of LocalSEOGuide had a flat tire. He drove to a tire shop. The owner said they were closed. 

Since his tire was completely flat, Andrew had no choice but to try to change the tire himself. The owner of the shop got really hostile. I guess he didn’t realize he was messing with a reputation management expert.

Andrew left him two reviews. Here’s one of them.

andrew shotland poor review

David Mihm of ThriveHive was his passenger that night, so he left one too.

david mihm poor review

Then, of course, there was the blog post itself. Which is the #4 result on my browser when I Google the business name.

While this auto care company managed to gather a few positive reviews in the meantime, there were always going to be some potential customers who read past them to see the way that the owner of this establishment treated two people who needed his services (and didn’t get them). 

Obviously many people moved on. This business owner’s driveway is emptier than ever now, because the business is now permanently closed.

Be careful what you wish for?

Big Mistake #2: Failing to treat existing customers like gold

The most damning reviews I see contain some variation on I’ve been a customer for 15 years, and here’s how they just treated me.

The reviewer probably isn’t a whiny type, not a ‘regular’, or one half of a bad mutual fit. No, that person is probably representative of the customer-base, or soon will be. If you disappoint your longtime, most-loyal customers, you’re in serious trouble.

Phil Rozek | Local Visibility System

Phil’s said this better than I could, and the point kind of speaks for itself. I know if I saw something like that in a review I, too, would run in the other direction. 

Big Mistake #3: Hateful behavior

I don’t think I have seen it all, but pretty close. Racial slurs, hate speech, sexually explicit images attached to reviews are quite common and business replies can also be threatening by replying with the customers full home address as a way of intimidating the reviewer. It’s a nasty, dirty world out there.

Tim Capper | Online Ownership

If you are a business owner, it’s certainly easy to understand why you’d freak out if someone used hate speech while writing a review. There are few things more reprehensible than racist, sexist, or bigoted behavior, and we’re all quite aware that it can lead to real world violence.


Someone else’s hate-speech review will never hurt your business, of course, but your response to it certainly can. Refrain from any such speech in your replies.

While you’re at it, resist the urge to “dox” the bad reviewer. It just makes you look crazy and frightening.

Instead, this is the one review you shouldn’t respond to at all. Let your loyal fans and customers swarm out of the woodwork to defend you instead.

Big Mistake #4: Threats and intimidation

Speaking of retaliation, Ben Fisher relays this disturbing story:

I had read one that was filled with hate, you get a feeling as to why the business get’s so many bad reviews. Emotion in a response I can understand, but downright fear mongering is horrid.  In this specific case the owner was saying he knew who the reviewer was and he was going to hunt him down and burn his home to the ground. Now that’s customer service!

All joking aside, this kind of response is never acceptable. Frankly, a business owner who makes a response like that could even end up arrested for making these kinds of threats.

One wonders whether the owner of that business thought the threats of violence would get a bunch of other people to come on out and see what he had to offer. It’s far more likely that all of his sane potential customers went running for the hills.

Big Mistake #5: Rancid responses

Responses don’t have to resort to violence and slurs to be all-around bad. Just check out this story from Cass Downton of Marie Haynes Consulting.

This made local news in a city I used to live in. The reviewer was using a Google profile with an alias, and left a polite, but negative, review of the student housing company they were renting an apartment from. Nothing about the review was particularly shocking or new—anyone who has rented student housing knows they generally all have similar issues, regardless of the rental company.

However, the business owner responded in a long-winded and derogatory way, publishing that reviewer’s full name and their personal email address, specifically saying that they hoped the reviewer would show up in Google searches as someone who is problematic.

The reviewer then shared this interaction on social media, and it resulted in dozens and dozens of 1-star reviews being left on various review platforms (including their GMB). Some were fake. Some were from people who likely would never have left a review but heard about the owner’s response and decided to share their negative experience, too.

Ultimately, the local news picked up the story and published it, and lawyers had to get involved to help clean up the mess the business created for itself.

Look, if a review makes you angry you’re entitled to your feelings. You just have to handle them like a real live grown-up.

Go take a long shower and cry. Drink a beer. Punch it out on the punching bag. Vent to your coworkers about the unfairness of it all. Take a full 24 hours to cool down if you have to.

When the moment comes to actually respond to the review, be professional. Retaliation is not okay. Releasing personal info (other than your own) is not okay. Freaking out is not okay.

Everyone gets that it’s hard to take criticism. We all hate it.

Your response to it can still bite you in the you-know-where.

I sure hate it, and it sure bit me in the you-know-where the one time I did not handle it like an adult.

I made the mistake once of venting on my personal Facebook about getting a lot of revision requests when, in the normal course of a normal year, I don’t get that many, or I get really light ones. 

I just try to work hard to never turn in anything that really needs much revision, and I was getting frustrated about suddenly being asked for a whole bunch of them (think ten a week over the course of a month from various individuals) when I really wasn’t doing anything different. I take a whole lot of pride in my work, and the sudden influx of requests stung. 

The post was mostly about how I was starting to feel like I was a crappy writer as a result. I never mentioned who was making the requests. I wasn’t responding directly to any review, and guess what?

I still lost a client over it because the post still got back to a client who assumed I was talking about her.

I was not in fact talking about her, but it didn’t matter. Damage done. She also felt I was being unprofessional, which, of course, I was.

Imagine how much more damage you’ll do if you respond this way directly beneath a piece of legitimate criticism, and for all the world to see.


Yep. I’d have been better off ranting about aliens. For real.

Big Mistake #6: Violating professional ethics

Gyi Tsakalakis specializes in helping attorneys market their business. Attorneys are, of course, held up to a high ethical standard. So are many other businesses.

When reviews reflect a failure to meet that ethical standard, a business is in big trouble.

Some of the worst examples include stealing client funds, inappropriate relationships with clients, and various violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct relating to client confidentiality. 

Just remember, you don’t have to be a lawyer, accountant, medical care facility or anyone else governed by a Board of Ethics to shoot yourself in the foot by acting in a dishonest way. Most people expect honesty out of most companies. Underhanded behavior will always come back to haunt you.

Big Mistake #7: Fake reviews

This story from Andy Crestodina is mostly just amusing (if demonstrative).

While showing someone how to manage reputation, I gave a 5-star review to my own company, thinking I could delete it. But that’s not possible. So it’s been sitting there for years, and, of course, I’m embarrassed by it.

Then, one day, I got a 1-star review by an account called ‘Local SEO Hacker’ that said, They review their own business!

I was horrified. But in a way, I respected it. It’s true!

Anyone can make a mistake! We all still love you, Andy.

That said, if you’re actually relying on fake reviews to market your business, cease, desist, stop, quit it, and nip it in the bud. People can tell. Even laypeople are getting better at figuring it out.

Meanwhile, local SEO professionals are making the removal of competitor fake-review spam a core part of their practice. That means if you’ve been relying on fake reviews one of them is probably coming for you, and soon.

Obviously, if you’re an SEO professional now you have a reminder that some review sites won’t let you remove your reviews, so don’t use them for demonstration purposes! 

Remember: Reputation management is about what happens offline as much as it is about what happens online

In the past I’ve said you can’t have a 5-star reputation if you’re not running a 5-star business.

These stories take that concept a bit further.

You can’t have a 5-star reputation if you are cruel.

You can’t have a 5-star reputation if you are rude. Or defensive. Or prone to overreaction.

Or psycho. By which I mean prone either to actual violence, or threats of violence.

You can’t have one if you’re dishonest in any way. 

Good business requires good people.

Still, there’s good news. As long as your business is still open, it’s not too late to learn from your mistakes. It’s not too late to apologize. 

Most of all, it’s never too late to do better.