Defining Your Business Principles – Handling Bad Reviews

Defining Your Business Principles – Handling Bad Reviews

Hypothetical:  What would you do if you knew a really bad online review was coming your way, but you could stop it by giving the money back to your customer?  Is it worth the $130?  Now what if I told you that your business did nothing wrong in the situation, and and actually went above and beyond to help this customer…would you still give the money back to avoid that nasty review?

An undesirable review can tell us much needed information about our business, which we wouldn’t know otherwise.  Sometimes it’s just an anomaly… we all make mistakes, so we fix them which makes our businesses better. Other times, an online review comes in filled with untruths, anger, and bad intentions.

The amount of great articles online about how to handle bad reviews is quite vast.  There is advice out the wazoo on how, why, and when to respond to the negative review.   A hotel in London fined their customer $150 for writing a bad review (we don’t suggest doing this!).  Bad reviews are not easy to swallow, but a recent situation at our bike tour business spurred many different emotions and thought.

read the “Unscrupulous Merchant” review here

Ya see, we were threatened with a bad review from a customer who missed their tour due to not booking a Hyline fast ferry (we are on an island for those who aren’t familiar with Nantucket) ahead of time. Then missed their re-booked tour later that day.  Our bike tour team went out of their way to accommodate them but we do not give refunds in this situation.  They knew they could not receive a refund due to our policy, they knew they had arrived 30 minutes after the tour departure time, so they resorted to lite blackmail…refund us or receive a bad review online!


My initial thought was to avoid a bad review at all cost.  After 6 seasons of giving bike tours we have had great success.  We focus on the customer experience from the moment we come in contact with them to the personal thank you email we write to each group days after the tour.  One of the advantages of being a very small business is that we can really get to know our customer well.  Here’s are current track record on Trip Advisor…

256 Excellent
7 Very Good
1 Average
0 Poor
1 Terrible

Our first “TERRIBLE” review, that stung…no wait, it actually hurt.  It hurt because it just wasn’t true, because it didn’t talk about how we tried to help them and went out of our way to get them on two wheels with us.   I can’t describe it any other way other than it just hurt.

When the review titled “Unscrupulous Merchant” appeared that morning, we were ready to respond.  As a friend said after I ran the story by her, “Stick to the high road, there’s lots of room.”  That’s what we did, our response was empathetic, nice, but also stayed true in standing by our policy.  We wrote the review with this in mind…

“Assume every customer is going to read our response, let’s make it professional and kind”

During our initial discussion we quickly went over everything we did and did not do, and confirmed between the four of us (that’s our entire team) that there was nothing more that could have been done.  The conversation quickly moved into

“What kind of business do we want to be?”

“Are we willing to stick to our principles?”

The Unscrupulous Merchant review made us stronger.  It forced us to dig deep into our values and decide if $130 was worth selling ourselves out to avoid a bad review.  We have no problem owning up to a mistake and fixing it accordingly, that’s great business practice.  But in this case, we decided to stick to our principles, and our integrity.  And then that moment came, it hit me hard so I said it out loud to the team, “We will not be extorted, if this type of review hurts our business to the point where we can’t go on, then so be it.”  The customer will probably contest the charge to their credit card company, so we still may lose that $130.  Even with that in mind, we could not succumb to their threat.

One review out of hundreds will not make or break a company, but at that moment we had to decide on who we were as a business and how did we want to run it.  This one review bonded us together and forced us to have discussions we may have not had otherwise.  So thank you to the writer of the Unscrupulous Merchant, you made our team stronger and our business better.

Give me some feedback here folks.

What are you thoughts on how we handled it?  Have you had a similar situation, if so what did you do?  And more importantly, what principles help your business get through tough times?

5 thoughts on “Defining Your Business Principles – Handling Bad Reviews

  1. I think you did the right thing. It seems today that so many people are accustomed to being treated as though they are “above the rules,” and I feel feeding into that lessens us as a society. As the mother of a 6-year-old who is currently (ALWAYS) testing boundaries, I truly appreciate the person (or, in this case, business) who stands their ground and holds true to their rules and their principles even when it isn’t the easiest thing to do.

    1. Thank you Dawn for your comment and for taking the time out of your day to read this. Might sound strange or disingenuous but I’m so glad this “unscrupulous” review came in, it really helped our team think through “the customer is always right” mentality and our business ethics. Of course it would have been great if they customer had made it on time, but turning a negative into a positive and productive experience made it worth it. Thanks again!

  2. Kudos to you. I am also in a service type of business and I value the negative feedback- when it’s in comparison to the overwhelming positive feedback. If everyone is happy all the time then you’re doing something wrong. Incidents like these keep you on your toes and give you perspective.
    Two years ago we brought our family to tour with you and we often talk fondly about the experience. We long to come back and see you again. Our experience from start to finish was professional and memorable and that’s why we are still talking about it.

  3. We are taught in most business’s the customer is always right. I have never bought into that, in fact, I don’t teach that. However, the customer is always the customer. I have 300,000 to , 400,000 customers a year. 99 .99 % are great at letting us take care of any problem that comes up. .01% just don’t know or haven’t practiced telling there story correctly or leave certain important facts out. I think all of you did the right thing. Honesty and facing problems head on is always the best and most believeable way. Tough decision, yes, but, best to be open and you will be more trustworthy.

  4. Great response by you and your team Jason. It’s a sad thing when someone’s own negligence and inability to keep appointments causes them to lash out and take it out on the service they neglected. You should bill them double. I’m sure there’s a restaurant over here they demanded a free meal from because it was unsatisfactory , even though all the plates were clean.

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