How to Handle Bad Reviews

The events industry is service-driven, and our businesses live and die by our reputations. Bad reviews are magnified in this era of social media, and of course customers are far more likely to post their disappointments than their praises. Negative commentary is inevitable no matter how hard you try to please; however, you can minimize its impact through simple planning.

Make a pre-emptive strike

You may not realize it, but most bad reviews are preventable through proactive follow up. Contact your clients after their events and seek their feedback. When something goes wrong, contact gives clients the opportunity to voice frustration or disappointment directly to you, and you the chance to weigh in and potentially correct something that needs to be addressed without delay.

Sometimes, though, no matter how hard you try, a bad review will still slip through.

Take a deep breath

First, make it your inviolable policy that you will never respond immediately to a bad review. Make yourself wait an hour or even a day. A cooling off period ensures that you don’t respond defensively. Besides, you may check your reviews hourly, but most of your prospective clients do not. You have time, so use it to calm down and craft a professional response.

Shannon Tarrant, founder of Wedding Venue Map, advises thoroughly processing said review before acting. “The first step is to really dissect the review and try to understand the customer’s point of view. While we may disagree, their perception and feelings are valid.”

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Verify the review

Before you do anything, get a bit of research out of the way. Confirm that the review is from a real client about a real event. If necessary, contact your staff or other involved vendors for their accounts of what happened. Look at the contracts to see what was promised.

Craft a professional response

Once you have the big picture, design your response to show that you are grateful that the reviewer brought the issue to your attention. Indicate that you will investigate. If appropriate, apologize for the error, or at least acknowledge the client’s feelings about the situation. You might provide a simple, emotion-free explanation if it is something that should be shared in public, or you might generically reassure your client that you are dealing with the issue so it can be avoided in the future.

Kristy Rice of Momental Designs says that a well thought-out response is better than none at all. “We make it a point to comment on all reviews (both negative and positive), and will give our perspective if any statements are made that are less than positive, that way anyone reading the review hears both sides and can see our efforts to return the communication.”

Invite further communication

In your response, try to direct further conversation away from the review site and back to you personally. Offer to meet to discuss the concern, or at least make time for a phone call. You don’t want to engage in a long public back-and-forth over a review, so try to bring the involved parties back to the table to work out feelings or further actions together.

Mary Angelini, owner of Key Moment Films says this is especially important to document to eliminate any misunderstandings and help solve the issue. “If they expressed their discrepancy over the phone or in person, you want to get it in writing to make sure you have clearly understood the problem, and also that you can logically attempt to solve the problem. Ask them to shoot you an email with the detail needed to remedy the situation, or send them a recap email to ensure everyone is on the same page.”

Avoid emotion

Aside from sympathy and respect, keep emotion out of your response. Don’t hurl back insults or “clarify” that the reviewer is a raging pain. Take the high road and be a professional.

Fraudulent claims or fake reviews

If a review is grossly inaccurate, completely false, or in some way predatory, contact the site that carries the review and dispute. Most will remove comments that have no basis in reality and that cross the line between opinion and persecution.

Realize that consumers have become much more perceptive since the beginning of the online era. One bad review won’t destroy your business. In fact, many reviewers look for a balance of stunning comments and an occasional minor concern addressed professionally. By following these tips, you will survive your next bad review and may even avoid a new gray hair (or two)! 

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Meghan Ely

President, OFD Consulting, Richmond, VA

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Photo: Melody Smith Portraits