More threads by Garrett Sussman

Mar 15, 2016
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How To Get Your Unhappy Customers To Change a Bad Review


"I found a rusty screw in my food."

A TripAdvisor customer shared her horror story. She went out for dinner with her boyfriend. She orders a baked potato. It comes out cold and hard. She sends it back discretely. Receives another baked potato. She takes a big bite and...


She bites down on a large rusty screw. Naturally, she decides to leave.


Can you blame her?

Her review is devastating. There's simply no way to come back from a review like this. There's no way to turn this around. It's just too much.

Or is it?

How do you turn negative reviews into positive reviews?

You focus on motive.

Customers write reviews for a reason. Understanding the motivation behind a customer's negative review is key. Motive shows you how to turn a negative review into a positive one. Turn an unhappy customer into a lifelong customer.

But only if you learn the rules.

Reviews follow a specific set of rules. It's the same set of rules governing social dynamics. That seems simple enough until you realize most people don't know the rules.

They think they do.

In fact, most people won't admit that they don't know the rules.

Organizations tend to respond to negative reviews in predictable irrational ways. A customer leaves a negative review about a rusty metal in their food. The restaurant in question ignores the review. Because what are you going to say? It's a humiliating and embarrassing mistake.

Or worse, the organization in question decides to respond.

They respond with empty phrases like "we're so sorry you had a bad experience" or "we were saddened to hear you were dissatisfied." They use staff proxies to pick fights with customers - yelling, arguing, complaining or whining.

Organizations make it all about them.

Angry customers want you to make it about them

They simply expect you to follow the rules. To look at their situation, intuit their motive and own the problem. Not to bargain, to save face, or to deny what's happening. They don't want you to stonewall them. They're not looking for criticism or condemnation.

They're looking for ownership.

If you're like most people, that's the last thing you want to do. Accepting the blame can come with terrible consequences. Job loss, lawsuits, fines.

Owning the problem is dangerous.

It doesn't have to be, if it's handled well. The first step, however, is to understand the reality of your situation. If you want to convert a negative review into a positive one, you'll need to accept a simple truth.

Some customers won't forgive you.

Some customers will hold you responsible for things you can't (or shouldn't fix). Some of the mistakes you make will create customer enemies. They'll look for ways to maximize the amount of damage they do to you and your organization.

Minimize the damage by prioritizing negative reviews

Negative reviews aren't created equal. Respond to the wrong negative review and you inflame the situation, motivating customers to make the problem worse.

Ignore negative reviews completely and the damage done to your business becomes permanent. Prospective customers read these reviews then decide to take their business elsewhere.

Which negative reviews do you respond to? The negative reviews with the right motives behind them.

1. Vengeful. These customers want to punish you. They're angry and they want to do as much damage to your business as possible. A scathing review is an easy, low-risk way to accomplish that. Typically, these customers aren't looking for justice or reconciliation. They're looking for destruction. Ragers, sadists and trolls are typically focused on vengeance.

2. Altruists. These reviewers are looking to share their honest feedback and experience with potential customers, giving them clear feedback they can use to make an informed decision. An altruists review can be either positive or negative.

3. Advice seekers. Something's gone wrong. This customer has had a bad experience with your business. They're using their review to ask for help or advice. Instead of coming to you directly, they approach other reviewers, customers (usually part of a community) to request help. This negative review is the most devastating because it allows a potential customer's imagination to run wild as they mentally try to fill in the blanks.

4. Doubters. A customer has signed on the dotted line. But they're feeling buyer's remorse. They're nervous, concerned they've made a mistake. A seemingly insignificant problem has ballooned in their mind to an insurmountable disaster. Their negative review is a form of catharsis, a way to relieve the cognitive dissonance that's fueling their doubt.

5. The Fearful. These customers are highly agreeable. They're terrified of conflict, so there's almost no chance they'll be open or honest with you. These customers will smile, tell you everything is fine, then post a demoralizing review (anonymously) when they get home. They're unfairly characterized as cowards, but it's more accurate to say they're conflict averse.

6. The Standard-bearer. This is a negative review from a loyal or engaged customer. They know exactly how things are supposed to be. They're unhappy that you've fallen short of your own standard or ideal and they're going to let you know. What makes this customer's negative review different from all the other types? This customer is looking for restoration. They want to you to fix the problem so they can continue to have a happy relationship with you.

Even more complicated, each of these attributes can be present in a single customer. You'll need to know who and what you're dealing with.

Now, how are you supposed to do that?


You look at their words. Your customer's review tells you who they are. Their goal isn't to hurt you directly by yelling at you. It's to hurt you indirectly by isolating you from other customers.

Read the rest of Andrew's post here.

He goes on to provide templates on how you could potentially get those different types of reviewers to change a bad review after you've solved their problem and provided great customer service.


Haha thanks, Linda! And there are some really useful email templates/ideas in the blog post as well.

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