Become Your Own Rumpelstiltskin: Spinnin’ Crappy Online Reviews Into a Better Business

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My mom once told me:

“Matt, there are people on this earth who just don’t want to be happy.”

As my mom often is, she was right. As business owners, we have to be ready to deal with these people when they unleash their wrath on our business online. However, it’s critical to understand this is not the only type of person who leaves negative reviews online.

In my experience, there are two types of people who leave negative reviews online:

  • Rational, reasonable people who simply did not have a good experience with your business.
  • Jerks.

Let’s look at how to identify and then deal with reviews from these two very different types of reviewers.

Negative Reviews From Jerks


These people may or may not have a legitimate reason to leave a negative review about your business, and you know what? It doesn’t matter. You could have literally broken your back to help them, and they will still fuss online, because they are miserable people and complaining about things online is the one thing they take pleasure in.

Quick Tips For Identifying Reviews From Jerks:

  • Whether it’s Yelp, Google, or another site, click through to the reviewer’s profile and check out their other reviews. Jerks have nothing good to say about anything, and they love spending their time complaining online. Their profile will likely be full of negative reviews.
  • Jerks don’t have the ability to reflect rationally on what happened and point out things that went right in addition to things that they didn’t like. You won’t find any positive sentiment in jerk’s reviews.
  • Look for lots of extreme statements in all caps, such as: I HOPE THIS BUSINESS GOES UP IN FLAMES AND EVERYONE DIES!!! Jerk reviewers are very dramatic and sadistic.

I don’t think it’s necessary to give an example of a review from a jerk, use the steps above and you’ll spot ’em in no time. However, I do have some best practices for responding.

Best Practices For Responding to Jerk Reviewers

Regardless of the content of the review, respond with a generic, but genuine message. DO NOT address specific points of concern raised by the jerk, this won’t get you anywhere. I recommend something like:

Thank you very much for your feedback. We are sorry we were unable to meet your expectations, and hope that you will give us the opportunity to make it up to you. If there is anything that we can do to help, please feel free to contact us.

If the jerk responds to your response, DO NOT respond again. It will almost certainly be another nasty message, and the jerk is just sitting around waiting for you to fight back: this is what jerks live for! Don’t give them the satisfaction. Future viewers will understand that the reviewer is a jerk and appreciate that you did the right thing.

Negative Reviews from Rational, Reasonable, People

As business owners, we must understand that these types of reviewers are our friends, not our enemies. We must put our egos aside and learn from their comments. Reviews from these people can be so freakin’ valuable if we allow ourselves to see the criticism as a positive rather than a negative.

Quick tips for identifying reviews from rational, reasonable people:

  • Whether it’s Yelp, Google, or another site, click through to the reviewer’s profile and check out their other reviews. Rational people typically have a mix of both positive and negative reviews.
  • If there are any positive comments mixed in with the negatives in the review, you are most likely dealing with a rational person.
  • Look for phrases like “I was disappointed with…” and “I felt that the service was…”. Rational people speak rationally about things that bother them.

For example, let’s look at a G+ Local review of Aspen Dental left by one “Elanna T“.

Elanna is a perfect example of a rational, reasonable person leaving a negative review that is rich with actionable areas of improvement.

Elenna begins:

Unfortunately, I cannot give this place a good review. I’ve never reviewed on Google+ before but felt I needed to share my experience. But before I get into the negative, I will have to say that the front desk and the dental hygienists were very pleasant and nice to work with. Overall, very good customer service both in person and over the phone.

Now, you can tell from the opening sentences that this is no jerk. In fact, Elanna actually takes the time to point out the positives in her experience; her interaction with the front desk employees and the hygienists. If I owned Aspen Dental, I would’ve learned two things right off the bat; Elanna is no jerk, and my front desk employees and hygienists kick butt. Nice!

Next, Elanna gets into the negatives, but check out how useful her comments are:

Unfortunately, Dr. Nishimura seemed a little cold and lacking empathy.

Now, don’t get offended, Dr. Nishimura. Surely you’re not the first medical professional to be accused of lacking empathy. The fact is that this very reasonable patient picked up on it. My advice is this: Look inward. Put your ego in a safe, lock it, and chuck it into the sea. Try to identify ways that you can more effectively display empathy to your patients. Treating your patients with empathy makes your business better!

Elanna continues:

After I was done, the amount I paid was more than what they quoted me. I was told this was due to a cavity being larger than expected and that they found another one and ended up filling that one as well. They did not tell me this while doing the work.

This is another great piece of feedback. Dentistry is complex stuff, and I’m sure pricing mistakes happen frequently. However, if I were the owner of Aspen Dental, I would look at how my medical staff was communicating with my staff members who are responsible for billing the work. There is almost certainly potential here for improving communication between the staff members. Improving communication makes your business better!

Elanna marches on:

…then, because they gave me so many shots, I got an infection in my cheek and had to go back in for a prescription for an antibiotic. I didn’t have to pay for this extra visit and the Dr. called me a few days later to make sure the infection was healing. I appreciated this but it should not have happened in the first place.

We all make mistakes at our jobs, and when medical professionals make mistakes, the consequences and backlash can be intense. This feedback is so valuable because it forces you and your team to revisit a mistake which very well may have been forgotten, providing an opportunity for you to put corrective measures in place.

It also provides positive reinforcement; Elanna notes that she appreciated the complimentary visit, and the follow-up call from the doctor.

Elanna finishes up:

Yes, the TVs and goodie bags are nice but are not worth the exorbitant prices. Seems to me they are focused more on their pocket books and having bells and whistles than empathetic client care. If you don’t mind paying almost twice as much for the same care because of the TVs and free samples of travel hand sanitizer and toothpaste, then you’ll be fine with Aspen Dental. But if you are like me and are on a tight budget, go somewhere else!

Again, this is reasonable criticism from a rational person. With this last bit of feedback, if you’re the owner of Aspen Dental you might actually be thinking “Wow, my plan worked. I want customers who don’t mind spending more for perks”. Or you might be thinking “Ok, maybe I should look at how I can cut back on extras in order to help save my patients money”. Either way, this is very valuable, actionable feedback. Additionally, Elanna mentions empathy again, clearly an area that requires improvement.

Best Practices For Responding to Rational, Reasonable Reviewers

Address their concerns quickly, specifically, and head-on. Don’t make excuses for your mistakes. Instead, own them and tell the reviewer the steps you are taking to ensure that they do not happen again. Here is how I would respond to Elanna if I were Dr. Nishimura:

Elanna, thank you so much for taking the time to review our practice. While we are deeply regretful that we were not able to meet your expectations, we appreciate your feedback because it allows us to improve. Specifically, we are in the process of improving our internal communications so that billing confusion like you experienced no longer happens. Regarding the infection, I feel simply awful about that, and have already taken preventative measures to ensure that it does not happen again. Personally, while I always feel that I empathize well with patients, I am working on ways to better display that empathy. Again, thank you for your feedback. If there is anything that we can do to be of service, please do reach out.

Reach out to them offline as well. Unlike jerks, who rational people will identify as such, these people have the power to influence the perception of your business. Make things right with them in whatever way you can.

The Gist

Your business will eventually be reviewed by a jerk, if not several. Don’t let them get to you, and don’t give them the pleasure of an online sparring match. However, your business will most likely also get negative reviews from rational, reasonable people, who simply had a poor experience with your business.

Don’t let your ego get in the way of using negative reviews from good people to help you make changes that make your business better!


Image Credits

  • Rumpelstiltskin image courtesy of:
  • “Mean People Suck” image courtesy of:
Matt Green
Hi, I'm Matt. I like to help businesses wade through the often stormy sea that is digital marketing. If you liked the words I wrote... Read Full Bio
Matt Green
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  • Dealing with the jerks and their negative reviews is the toughest part. First of all, they are doing it for the sake of amusement. As mentioned in the article, all they want to do is have a good verbal fight. Giving a honest feedback has the least priority on their cards!

    It is good to not respond to them. The strategy given here is impressive. Leave a message and don’t respond again to the nasty comments that they leave. One must try and avoid a fight at any cost!

    And regarding reasonable and rational reviewers, they are actually boon for us! They, with their reviews are actually helping us to improve! We should listen to them and work on the suggestions made by them promptly.


  • Hey Matt

    Reputation has become a big part of the picture in search and wider the web for businesses small and large. Reputation was always important offline so this is not surprising but the way that reputation is presented online does not always match up with the real world perception of the business. Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that unhappy people (and jerks) are much more likely to leave reviews than satisfied or even really impressed customers yet these people will give good, solid offline referrals when asked (hence the imbalance).

    Businesses have got to take stock of what is out there and what is being said and this provides a really solid way to deal with those impossible to please folks but also the honest people you do sometimes let down. Feedback is highly important for businesses that want to keep people happy (and retain their businesses). We all come across those people (customers in the business world) that you can’t win with or keep happy. The people you break your back for but it is still not good enough and folks know that so the single, measured response to those people is oh so important. It makes you measured and sensible one and the more they bite back (especially if they are insulting) the better you end up looking. I think Jay Z said it best:

    “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools
    Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who”

    Beyond dealing with the bad businesses have to find a way to encourage happy customers to leave reviews in all the relevant places (places which will be unique to each business / location etc). For most businesses bad reviews may come from less than a single percent of customers but paint a pretty awful picture of the business online so balancing this out and making bad review the minority is important. This can feel like a herculean task but it often requires reviews from a tiny percentage of customers so it really does not have to be too difficult a task. I always enjoy the penny-drop moment when folks ask us ‘how do we get good reviews’ and we reply ‘you simply have to ask!’

    I encourage any business we work with to start a brand search on Google and look at the suggestions – in many cases one of the suggestions will be for the brand + reviews and the results of these searches can often be a scary place. This does though give you a solid place to start considering where you need to be looking. Then, creating a simple page on your site with links to all of your review locations gives customers a simple way to find where they can leave reviews.

    Bolt a simple customer service email on to this asking folks how they found the service and follow up on the really glowing ones with a request to review at X, Y or Z and soon you can create a simple process to stimulate the flow of honest good reviews to drown out the jerks! Better still – couple that with a solid response strategy like this and soon you will make reviews work for you.

    I like the thinking that all customers should be taken from Awareness to Advocacy – lets tell them we are here, get them to do what we want and then get them to tell their friends (or the online world) how great we are. Nail that and you are on your way!

    Great article and loving the inclusion of Rumpelstiltskin 🙂