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What to Do with Negative Client Feedback

For business owners, receiving negative feedback is one of the most disheartening experiences. It can cause you to question everything, from the people on your team to the decision to even start a business in the first place. 

However, seasoned entrepreneurs know that criticism is the secret to building a better company. There’s a reason suggestion boxes exist! The whole point of a business is to keep a steady flow of happy customers, and the only way to do that is to listen to them. 

But negative feedback can trigger an emotional reaction, so it’s vital to handle it appropriately and address the situation respectfully. Everybody gets bad reviews from time to time, so we asked industry leaders to share how they handle unhappy clients.

Take a breather before responding.

The typical knee-jerk reaction to poor feedback isn’t a professional one, so it’s wise to give yourself time to process your emotions before responding. Otherwise, you may end up writing something you regret.

“Before you do anything when receiving negative client feedback, step back and take a deep breath,” encourages Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. “Never, I repeat, never, respond when you are upset!”

When it feels like a hard pill to swallow, Steve Feinberg of Bunn DJ Company – San Diego offers a gentle reminder that criticism isn’t meant to be taken personally. “Remember, the client is upset because they didn’t get what was expected,” he assures. “By acknowledging their disappointment, you open the door to a constructive resolution.”

Your business won’t suffer if a bad review goes left unanswered for a few hours (or even a few days), so don’t rush into responding when you’re still feeling the heat!

Clarify the dispute first.

An informed response is a great response, so do some digging to figure out what went wrong before writing back. “Try to understand if this negative feedback has to do with a poorly executed job or a couple that asked too much of you,” suggests Monika Kreinberg of Furever Us – Wedding Pet Care

Kreinberg continues, adding, “If you were not present and one of your employees was, the best thing would be to ask them. Then, ask other vendors that were there once you know what happened.”

Gaining clarity on the situation helps you avoid jumping to conclusions and ensures that your client feels heard and understood when you respond.

Apologize (even if you’re not at fault).

Saying sorry goes a long way in appeasing unhappy clients, so always lead with an apology—even if it’s not your fault. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the client experience from start to finish, so you must hold yourself accountable.

“Always address the client by their name and apologize for the negative experience,” states Jaclyn Watson of Jaclyn Watson Events. “Often, a heartfelt apology is all they need. If an apology is not good enough, then it’s time to figure out what they are looking for and if you can fix or improve the problem.”

There’s plenty to discuss, but don’t dive into solutions or explanations before you get a chance to apologize!

Respond in a timely manner.

If you receive negative client feedback from an offboarding questionnaire or a post-event email, a quick response can usually get ahead of a bad online review. 

But “if they've already left a bad review, respond to it in brevity without countering each point,” recommends Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners. “You should also be responding to positive reviews, so a reply to a bad one does not appear defensive.”

While you may be tempted to simply delete a bad review and forget about it, it ultimately serves you better to reply and open up a dialogue.

“By responding thoughtfully, you show that you care about your clients,” asserts Betsy Scott of Hudson Valley Weddings at The Hill. “And it helps your local SEO with Google.”

Sam Nelson of EVL Events elaborates, urging business owners to “always, always respond to negative reviews. Address if you had a conversation with the client and how you resolved matters, or if there was a miscommunication, explain the situation.”

If possible, try to take the conversation out of the public eye by sharing an email address to discuss the issue privately.

View it as a valuable lesson.

When you start viewing negative feedback as an opportunity to improve, you’ll find new ways to grow your business and enhance your client experience. 

“Always understand that there is something to be learned from feedback,” says Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates. “Take it with humility and find a way to grow from it.  Do not get defensive; tell them the steps you will take to correct it in the future.”

Jenna Noelle of Jenna Noelle Creative agrees, noting, “Negative feedback is one of the most painful aspects of being a business owner, but it's also a great opportunity. It shows the holes in your system where you need to improve your workflow, communication, or client vetting. It teaches you how to deal with difficult clients moving forward. It surely doesn't feel like it at the time, but negative reviews can actually help your business.”

Although criticism can deliver a heavy emotional blow, let it serve as motivation to make your business the best it can be—in other words, turn those lemons into lemonade!

Adjust your operations accordingly.

Learning lessons are meaningless if you don’t apply them in your business. So take the insights you gain from client feedback and turn your sights to your business’s systems and processes. How can you make sure an unsatisfactory situation never happens again?

“Most client disappointment stems from less than clear communication,” explains Peter Mitsaelides of Brooklake Country Club & Events. “If any areas of service aren’t clear in your contract, amend and highlight them for future clients. You might even want a checklist to review with clients, so there is complete understanding.”

If the issue involved your team, meet with them to recap and discuss the client’s feedback. Work together to find a solution, updating any internal workflows as needed.

Let it go and move forward.

Dwelling on negative feedback does no good, as it only holds you back from making progress on improvements. As The Garter Girl’s Julianne Smith assures, “The best thing you can do with negative feedback is to “care but not carry.” Learn what you’re supposed to learn from it and move on. You don’t want to ignore the negative feedback, but you also don’t want to obsess over it.”

And if you’re worried about what others will think about a bad review, turn your focus on building an arsenal of positive ones!

“Consider how often you've read a sea of good reviews with just a few bad ones interspersed that you gave no credence to and happily moved forward with that product or business,” Noelle reminds. “You're going to be okay!”

Navigating client feedback with grace is a practice you’ll get better at with time, so work on your responses and remember that a client’s opinions are never worth taking personally! 


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