Customer Threatening Bad Review: Now What?

A number of years ago I got an email first thing one morning. The subject line read: customer threatening bad review. Is this extortion? 

Remember the days when online reviews weren’t even a thing? It’s so easy to reminisce about how much easier things were back then. Sure, there were some challenges, but nothing that comes close to the mind-numbing paralysis caused by the anxiety that is now a daily reality. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion drenched in worries about the dreaded one-star review. 

The words customer threatening bad review might as well have been flashing in massive red bold letters. 

That sinking stomach sensation came over me almost immediately. My hands shook as I quickly replied to the email from my superior. I mean, isn’t this basically extortion? Whether you’re a business owner trying to protect what you’ve built or an employee trying to keep your position, it sure can feel that way.

So, is this extortion? 

In short, yes, though it’s related more closely to blackmail. I think we generally associate extortion and blackmail with the most serious life issues. But, this is your livelihood which I would say is pretty serious. It’s no longer a matter of dealing with one unreasonable or irate customer at your ‘counter’. Nowadays, that one person can go on a personal world-wide-web crusade and affect the opinions of people neither of you has ever met.

Why do reviews matter?

Here are some statistics to ponder. These are the times in which we now live and there is little to nothing we can do to change that. So, the next best thing we can do is to have a full understanding of these facts and stats and make a plan from there. 

Customers read reviews to help make purchasing decisions!

According to Spiegel Research Center, approximately 95% of customers read reviews before buying anything. 

Testimonial Engine states that 72% of customers will not make a purchase until reading reviews. 

These are big stats! I know I read reviews before making purchases. Especially big ones! Reviews always help me feel more secure about the money I’m about to spend. 

Online reviews can make a massive difference in revenue.

Harvard Business Review found that for every one-star increase that a business receives on Yelp, results in a 5-9% increase in revenue.

Womply conducted an in-depth analysis of transactions and online review data for more than 200,000 U.S. small businesses in every state and across dozens of industries, including restaurants, salons, auto shops, medical and dental offices, retailers, and more. 

“This study found that if a business has more than nine current reviews, they earn 52% more revenue than the average. If a business has more than 25 current reviews, that increases to 108%.”  

These stats are nothing to sneeze at! They show a direct and immediate impact on revenue which means that we need to be paying attention to how they affect the way we conduct our business from day to day. 

How to protect our business from the Customer threatening a bad review

Here’s some straightforward truth. You can’t avoid every negative review or reviewer. There will always be people who, regardless of whether they have the right to, lash out in anger. They will make you and your business their own personal virtual punching bag. For the sake of time, I’ll avoid picking apart the various psychological factors that contribute to this. But it could be fun for another time. 

It can be extremely challenging to keep our heads clear when we’re dealing with what essentially feels like a shakedown. But that’s exactly what we need to do in order to handle these things properly. 

Create an action plan in advance! Customer threatening bad review

A clear and thought out plan will provide a path for you to walk when your head isn’t as clear as it is when all is going according to, well, your first plan. 

It is best to make this action plan ahead of time. When your head is clear and not dealing with the looming and heavy threat as it happens in real-time. If you’re able to remain clear-headed as it’s happening, you’re a superhero. If your head goes in a million directions at once when threatened as mine does, read on. 

Some things to include in your plan:

Most of this is common sense, though not everyone is born with an innate ability for conflict management. But I think some of the best advice that can be offered is to take some time to think about how you want to be treated when you feel you’ve been wronged.

Listen carefully and completely

Ask the customer to tell you exactly what happened and let them tell you in whatever way they need to. This can be upsetting if you’ve got someone inches from your face or screaming in ever-changing octaves over the phone. Just allow them to get it out. Sometimes that’s all people need. Stay calm and reserve your personal judgment. 

Acknowledge the perceived wrongdoing. 

Notice I said ‘perceived’. Even if you don’t feel like you’re necessarily in the wrong. I know. This one is difficult. But what it accomplishes can’t be denied. It keeps the line of communication open which you need in order to make things right. This does not mean you’re admitting guilt. So, swallow that pride. Be the bigger person. You can punch the bags at the gym later. 

Be clear about your desire and willingness to figure out a solution. 

Most people become more reasonable once they feel they’ve truly been heard. We like it when someone is genuinely trying to help us and we all recognize when it happens. This applies to even the most ‘crusty’ among us. 

Follow through with the agreed-upon solution. 

Once the situation and people involved have calmed down, be sure you follow through on the agreed-upon terms. Make sure the customer is aware of your effort. Depending on the situation, it doesn’t hurt to get their personal information (if they’re willing to offer that to you) and let them know you’ve done what you said you would. 


But just in case you missed the first opportunity to ‘right the wrong’, read on…

It matters how you respond to the actual negative review.

How you respond to a bad review is important. I once read a negative review of a law practice. The review was one thing. The main issue was that the reviewer hadn’t received a call back from the practice which they were upset about. It may have been better had the ‘accused’ left it alone. Instead of acknowledging the problem, the lawyer responded by telling the reviewer that he didn’t know what had happened but that he had just secured a ridiculously high settlement for another client. This is not verbatim. But this leads me to the next important point. 

It doesn’t matter what the review says, but how it is perceived by the reader. 

Most people are generally reasonable and have the ability to discern whether a reviewer is conveying a genuine experience or just angry and wanting to punish someone. This is really great news for business owners! It means the following:

You still have a chance to make an impression with a ‘review connoisseur’.

This isn’t necessary for every single bad review. As mentioned above, readers are able to decide for themselves and some reviews make it very clear just what (or who) the problem is with. But, if you feel like responding will make a difference, the very best way to do this is to respond with acknowledgment and empathy. Let them know this isn’t how you wanted their experience to go and invite them to contact you directly so that you can try to make it right. 

We can’t control the reviews we get but we can absolutely control how we respond to them! 

This sounds cliche, I know, but it’s true. 

Put the work in ahead of time. You may save yourself that terrible heart-stopping moment of opening your email and seeing the subject line read Customer Threatening Bad Review.


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