How to Respond to a Bad Google Review (Example Included)

By Breanna Carey

Guest Experience

Receiving a bad review can create the feeling of a pit in the middle of your stomach. Even though it can be tough to read how you’ve disappointed a guest, behind each bad Google review is a human hoping to be heard. 

It’s much easier to rage behind a keyboard than to engage in conflict in person or even over the phone. Sure, you might feel a bit blindsided seeing a review notification pop up in your inbox, wondering to yourself ‘How do I respond to a bad Google review’? 

When it comes to handling a negative review, it’s all in how you respond. While tackling one-star ratings can be stressful and time-consuming, you’ll find a few tips to help with drafting a well-thought-out reply.

How you choose to respond to an unhappy customer can either instill or remove confidence for readers that you care about your guest’s experience. You may have heard the saying, ‘people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ Always think about the feeling you want to leave people with as you respond to reviews.

Why respond to negative Google reviews 

For every person who clicks to read your reviews, your tone will influence the reader’s perception of your company, so it’s important to tailor your response to the reviewer’s specific concerns. 

Keep in mind that while a bad review may be coming from one disgruntled guest, you’re not actually replying to a single person, you’re writing for an audience of thousands. 

As a tour operator, your goal in responding to a bad Google review is to be helpful, provide context and demonstrate class as you deliver a thoughtful reply. Future travelers will see that you’ve taken the time to draft a considerate and timely response, which, if they’re considering booking with you, play in your favour.

Responding with compassion when faced with an upset guest says a lot about your character as a business owner. Sure, no one wants to deal with a bad review online, but it’s an opportunity to show your future readers how much a positive guest experience matters to you. 

According to Tripadvisor, “the vast majority (89%) of users said a thoughtful response to a negative review improved their impression of a business and 90% of respondents said that seeing polite and respectful responses to reviews makes them believe the owner truly cares.”

So, when faced with a bad review, are you argumentative and dismissive or compassionate and professional?

Man sitting outside with sunset behind him reading reviews on phone

How to respond to negative reviews 

Whether you believe you deserve a bad review or not, if you find yourself facing a customer complaint, the worst decision is to avoid responding to it. Even if you feel the written assessment is far from the truth, a prompt response is key for diffusing the situation. 

In a Harvard Business Review study, managing responses to bad reviews can actually lead to more bookings in the future. No matter who or what is at fault (*side-eyes COVID-19*) one of the best things you can do is take responsibility for the situation. 

Your online reputation is essential for people considering your business. By actively asking customers for feedback you give future customers the impression that you’re always aiming to provide the best experience possible. As a tour operator, you should be committed to creating an amazing experience for all of your guests. 

One benefit of promptly responding to negative feedback is that you dissuade future unhappy customers from slapping you with a scathing review. People tend to avoid confrontation when there’s an audience and a record of it online. 

Lengthy responses can actually validate a customer’s negative experience, so keep your response to a bad review short and to the point. Be candid, empathetic and non-combative in how you respond to a customer complaint. 

How NOT to respond to a bad review 

When responding to a one-star review, aim to keep things civil and kind. Avoid a detailed response refuting your guest’s point or blaming the negative experience on something they did. Coming up with a well-worded response to critical feedback is the hardest part of managing a bad Google review. 

Let’s say a customer outright states that they are not willing to give you any further business because of a bad experience and recommends others do the same. Ouch! It’s easier to discredit a one-star rating and write it off as a guest with an axe to grind, but this can be seen as an opportunity to get them back on your side. 

And while a bad review isn’t the type of feedback anyone wants to receive, it’s an invitation to learn from your customers. Starting with a big bite of humble pie, focus on what is within your control and draft a response with a solution front-of-mind. 

While, coming up with a good response to a bad review is no easy task, here are some things to leave out as your reply:

  1. Calling out the guest or telling them they are wrong. They are describing their personal experience, which is fair and valid. 
  2. Using negative language or offensive terms that might make the guest feel worse.
  3. Assume they had an opportunity to bring this to your attention at an earlier time. 
  4. Fail to provide a counter that aligns with how you do business and reinforces what you can offer them now that you know you made a mistake.
Frustrated man sitting at desk with laptop and holding his head in despair

8 tips for responding to a bad Google review

Before you type an emotionally driven reply, just breathe and take some time away from the screen. Focus your response to be apologetic, addressing the issue and zeroing in on trying to make things right going forward.

1. Focus on what you can do

It can be unnerving to read how someone feels wronged by their experience with your business and leave you wondering how to respond. When replying to a bad Google review, readers will be assessing whether you listen to your unhappy guest. 

More importantly, they’ll take notice of how you handle yourself amid chaos. Always choose to take the high road in your response and be kind in your reply. 

2. Be empathetic 

Ensure you respond directly to their concerns in your reply. Aim to diffuse the situation by expressing your sympathy with what caused them to be upset enough to leave a review. 

It’s important you recognize that this guest didn’t have the kind of experience they expected and your reply shows you empathize with their perspective. 

3. Address the situation quickly

When replying to a bad Google review, a timely response is key – ideally within 24 hours. As much as it can take some serious mental energy to draft a thoughtful reply, you need to reply quickly. 

Guests who feel heard and reciprocated can become your biggest evangelists. Stay focused on your primary focus, – guest satisfaction. This allows you to regain some control of the outcome, especially if you’re committed to offering a solution.

4. Acknowledge your guest’s frustration

Address the specific issue your customer has touched on in their negative review. Avoid inflaming an already upset guest who leaves you a one-star review by ‘making your case’. Rolling up your proverbial sleeves might lead to a drop in bookings if readers see that you’re hot-headed when faced with a complaint. 

If travelers get the sense that you’re argumentative and stubborn, they’ll choose to support businesses they feel they can trust, instead. The value of replying to a negative review is to demonstrate that you’re paying attention and care about your guests.

Woman sitting at outdoor cafe with a laptop

5. Apologize and focus on the solution

Just say you’re sorry. Even if their reason for being disappointed is not entirely your fault, the experience didn’t live up to what they anticipated. Try starting with a statement like ‘We’re so sorry to learn ________did not live up to your expectations.’ 

If it’s possible, you can invite the reviewer to continue the conversation by email or offline, offering to connect by phone. People tend to let their guard down a bit over a call/in person and you might be able to arrive at a solution faster by humanizing your reply. 

6. Thank them for their review

Feedback is valuable – both the bad and the good. Thanking guests for reviewing your business, even if it’s not all roses demonstrates professionalism and a willingness to improve. 

You can reply with something like “Thank you for taking the time to share a review. We’d love to try and make this right. If you’d like to connect further by phone or email, we’ll work with you to try and find a solution. Thanks again for bringing this issue to our attention.” And if the reviewer continues to engage aggressively online, readers will have context to help frame the conversation.  

7. Take action by offering to make amends

Provide assurance that you’ll offer the type of experience they’d expect if they are willing to give you another try. You can also ask ‘what could I do better next time to earn your business?’ Over email or direct message, invite them to tell you what you could have done better and be open to hearing that there might be room for improvement. 

Remaining calm in the face of a less-than-ideal review can actually heighten the chance of guests choosing to book, even if your reviews are less than 5 stars. They’ll consider your attention to detail and value of customer service ahead over worrying whether you’ll be able to solve or smooth things over with this one person. 

8. Follow up

An initial response is great especially if you leave a name, contact email and phone number for the guest to make the next move. This shows you’re not simply responding to save face, but actually care about the outcome. 

Make a point of following up with the reviewer over email. It speaks volumes about customer service and indicates that you’re on top of things as well. While no business owner likes to be told they’re not delivering, a one-star review may offer some ideas for improvements. 

close up of a person swiping through reviews on their phone

Examples for responding to a bad Google review 

Here’s an example for how to reply to a one-star Google review:

Negative Review Response Template 

Hi [first name],

Thank you for taking the time to leave us a review. Your feedback is important and we rely on hearing from our guests to ensure we’re doing a great job. 

[ACKNOWLEDGE] As you shared in your review, this was not the case for you [APOLOGIZE] and for this, we do apologize. [EMPATHIZE] Our customers are the heart of our business and . [ADDRESS] We understand you’re feeling disappointed about [specific issue] given [what happened]. 

Please know we’d like to make this right for you. [ACTION] We’ve sent you an email and if you’d like to chat further, we do hope you will give us another opportunity to earn your business. 

Thank you, again, [optional first name] for taking the time to share a review with us.”

Then, cap off your response with your name and role within the business along with an email and business phone number. Not all guests will take you up on your offer to smooth things over, but readers of the review will take your solutions-oriented nature into account. Plus, a well-worded response to a bad Google review can actually increase the likelihood of people booking with you. 

Man at work responding to reviews on his laptop

Moving on from a negative review 

Remember – a single bad review does not define your business. It’s how you address and respond to negative feedback that instills confidence in future guests wanting to book. Address guest complaints with a calm attitude and a cool head.

And, if you’re still reeling from reading a gut-punching review, we’ve got a little something to brighten your day with this artist’s interpretation of hilarious bad reviews with illustrated National Park posters on her Instagram channel Subpar Parks

Your response to a bad Google review is more for your future audience than a single person. In fact, many travelers give more clout to companies who have reviews that aren’t 5 stars across the board. 

Even if the one-star review brings your Google review rating down temporarily, it’s a great reason to encourage more positive reviews and respond to them. 

Focus on training your guides, especially if you’re looking for how to encourage TripAdvisor reviews, while encouraging guests to share positive reviews on multiple sites. Guests are more likely to give positive reviews when they do have an amazing experience they feel excited about. 

When trying to determine how to ask for customer feedback, asking for positive reviews is as simple as making it part of your post-booking email process. As part of initiating the feedback loop between you and your guests, ensure you also respond to positive reviews, making it more inspiring for people to have compelling reasons to book with you.  

The next time you receive a bad Google review, remember that you can handle this.

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