Take Control of Your Company’s Online Presence

How to combat negative reviews of your business

A person writing an online review on a laptop

Do you avoid looking at online reviews of your business because you’re afraid you’ll find a one-star criticism from a disgruntled customer? Ignoring Google, Yelp and other review sites that feature your business is a bad idea, according to Liz Trotter, a partner with the consulting service Cleaning Business Builders. She advises her clients to take a deep breath and click on all customer comments—not just the good ones.

“This is what doing business these days is all about,” Trotter said, during an education session at ISSA North America 2018 in Dallas, TX.. “You’re not going to win against Google and Yelp, so get over it!”

The first step in taking control of your company’s online presence is regularly monitoring Google, Yelp, and other review sites, rather than looking at them every six months. Then respond to all the reviews, good and bad. As it’s not hard to respond to praise, Trotter focused her talk on responding to the poor reviews, which she categorized as honest and dishonest.

Prepare Your Apology

Despite our best intentions, we all make mistakes and customers will remind us with less-than-glowing reviews. If you realize your customer has a valid complaint, own up to your mistake. Send a TAT apology by email, Trotter said, explaining that TAT sands for thank, apologize, then thank again. For instance, you can thank customers for cleaning their building, apologize that you neglected to clean an area you had previously agreed to maintain, then thank them for allowing you to come in and perform the neglected service.

Apologies are powerful because they acknowledge that a customer’s complaints have been heard. The best time to write a TAT apology email is before you need it, Trotter said. You will not be emotional and can concentrate on writing.

Take time to write several apologies and save them as templates on your computer. That way when you need one, you can easily send it out without having to think too much in the heat of the moment.

Make an Offer

If you feel the situation warrants more than an apology, call the customer with an offer. Trotter recommended another acronym—OCA—to help you with the process. Offer something, like a free cleaning or a cleaning discount, check in after making the offer to gage if the customer is interested, then ask if the customer needs anything else. If you don’t get a response, email the offer, or explain it to the customer on his or her voicemail.

If the customer takes you up on the offer, there is a good chance her or she will use your services again, even without a discount.

If you don’t want to offer a discount or a complete free cleaning, other options include a free add-on service, such as a fridge cleaning, Trotter suggested. You also can offer a refund to dissatisfied customers in exchange for them removing or updating a bad review. As a last resort, perhaps for an especially poor review, you can offer to pay the customer to remove the review. Make sure to get the agreement in writing, Trotter advised.

Put Your Emotions in Check

But what about a customer who gives you a bad review for no apparent reason? It’s easy to feel betrayed by what feels like a spiteful attack. Trotter advises that you don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

“Most of the time people who give bad reviews that you feel are unfounded are not doing it to be malicious or to get free cleanings,” she said. “You need to step away from the situation emotionally and take steps to protect your reputation.”

Just as you would with a valid complaint, send a TAT apology and execute an OCA, both by phone and email. “Some people process better when they’re reading rather than listening, and vice versa,” Trotter said.

A Small Gift Goes a Long Way

It’s often helpful to offer less-than-satisfied customers a little perk to get them to reconsider your services. Trotter suggests a token gift that costs $25 or less, such as flowers, a fruit arrangement, or a plate of nut-free cookies or brownies. “The sweets work especially well with guys,” she said.

You can have the gift delivered to the customer’s workplace or home. You may also consider hand-delivering it if the complaint against your business was especially serious. “If you show up at a customer’s hone with a bouquet of flowers or a nice fruit arrangement, that will really make a big impact,” Trotter said.

Cultivate Positive Reviews

After defusing any negative reviews, the next step in improving your online reputation is garnering more positive reviews. Trotter recommended several tactics to help convince your customers to take time out of their busy lives to write a glowing review:

  • Create an evaluation card for your clients to fill out, so they have a template to follow when they write online reviews.
  • Announce that you are having a contest to gather positive reviews for your staff and encourage customers an incentive to write reviews, such as a small discount or gift.
  • If customers offer verbal praise or write a positive review on your website, send them a friendly text thanking them and asking them to put the comments on Google or Yelp.
  • Email a selfie video to you clients, asking them for positive reviews. “I’ve found I usually get a positive response from customers when I send them a personalized message,” Trotter said.


Kathleen Misovic

Kathleen Misovic

Associate Editor for CMM

Kathleen Misovic is associate editor for CMM. She can be reached at

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