5 Steps for Handling Negative Online Reviews

5 Essential Steps for Handling Negative Online Reviews

As a hospitality professional, no doubt you’re well-versed in handling complaints (listen, empathize, offer a solution, etc.), but as more and more consumers take to cyberspace to air their grievances, are you equipped to handle it? Sure, crowd-sourced reviews are nothing new, but COVID has only served to add fuel to the fire.

That’s because the entire process of planning a wedding has been turned on its ear, from virtual tours and video chats to interactive online planning tools. The ever-changing COVID landscape has prompted the downsizing, postponement, or outright cancellation of weddings that have been in the works for over a year – or more. That can lead to unhappy clients taking to The Knot or Wedding Wire – and increasingly, Google and Facebook – to post negative reviews.

So how should you handle those reviews in order to safeguard your carefully developed reputation and digital presence? Here are some tips rooted to the current crisis, but certainly applicable at all times.

DON’T Take It Personally

Although it can be tempting to lash out in defense of your product or service, it’s important not to take negative reviews to heart. A negative review may have little to do with you, and there are people out there who will never be satisfied. Case in point: A visitor to Stonehenge in August of 2020 left a one-star review on Tripadvisor, reporting that it was “SUCH a boring site. The rocks have no meaning behind them, it doesn’t matter how they got there.”


According to a study by global market research firm TNS NIPO, fewer than 25 percent submit negative reviews out of vengeance; 30 percent post negative online reviews simply to vent.

DO Respond Promptly

Cyberspace never sleeps. It’s important to respond quickly to negative reviews before they escalate – and before more potential clients read the review. A prompt response shows the customer that you value their feedback, and can actually strengthen an established relationship: A whopping 95 percent of consumers say they will return to the business if their issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.


Most reviewers (70 percent) are looking for a response, and all of these complainants state that they have already sought satisfaction through traditional customer service channels. Of those, 53 percent expect to get a response from the business within one week.


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DON’T Neglect the Positive Reviews

Even if positive reviews don’t necessitate a response, it’s good practice (and good manners!) to at least acknowledge them once in a while with a simple “thank you.” Why? First, you want to show your customers that their satisfaction matters, and that you appreciate that they took the time to leave a positive review. Second, you don’t want to give customers the impression that leaving a bad review is the only way to get your company to engage.


According to Search Engine Journal, 78 percent of consumers feel that a business cares more about their customers when they respond to reviews (positive and negative) than when they do not.

DO Take It Outside

No we’re not talking fisticuffs on the meticulously manicured ceremony lawn, but rather offline. While it’s important to initially address the customer’s concern publicly, Facebook and Yelp are not the place to play he said/she said. Apologize, then ask the customer to contact you privately via direct message. Your willingness to meet the challenge head-on shows potential customers that your apology isn’t just for the sake of appearances.


Of those seeking a response to their negative online review, only 38 percent receive one.


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DON’T Forget to Ask Customers to Write a Review

You may be wondering: Is it okay to ask for a review? The answer is a resounding “yes!” A positive review is a great way to turn a happy customer into an online advocate, but there are some caveats. Here are three tips to asking for (and getting) online reviews.

  • Make it easy. Let customers know you are listed on review sites and provide them with the details. Consider adding your venue’s review sites to the back of your business card – not only will it serve as a reminder when the customer gets home, but it increases the likelihood that they will mention you by name.
  • Ask in person. A personal request at the appropriate time makes all the difference. Most people (85 percent!) write reviews for altruistic reasons, so that should be the basis for your request. Let them know that their unbiased review gives potential clients a true perspective on your business and helps them make informed decisions. (This is not the time to mention the sales contest your manager just rolled out.)
  • Leverage happy moments. Look for touchpoints in the buyer’s journey to figure out when to ask. For example, following up a compliment with a request for a review is a natural next step. If it’s not appropriate to make the request at the height of customer satisfaction (say, at the altar right after they proclaim, “I do!”), follow up with a handwritten personal note after the event. And be sure to check a site’s terms of service and review guidelines. While Yelp makes it clear that soliciting reviews is a violation of their rules, Google and Tripadvisor go so far as to provide free tools for companies to proactively reach out to consumers.


77 percent of consumers would be willing to leave an online review if asked.

As wedding research and planning moves increasingly to an online platform, proactively reaching out to customers for feedback becomes that much more important. The warm handshake has given way to the distant virtual wave, and finding ways to connect on a personal level requires some creative problem-solving.

It may seem like a daunting task, particularly if you haven’t taken steps to manage online reviews prior to this, but it’s never too late to start. Consider drafting customizable responses to common scenarios so that you can devote more time to unusually harsh or time-sensitive criticism.


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