How to Respond to a Negative Yelp! Review: A True Story


Well, nothing makes for a good blog subject like a true story! So, if this has happened to you, then you’re not alone – we received a surprise negative review and in the spirit of transparency and directness, I think how we handled this (and are handling this) could be of help to you.

The reality is that you can’t make everyone happy, and some people are going to share their feelings and/or experience online with unsolicited reviews on Google, Facebook, Better Business Bureau, and here, So, let’s start at the beginning: you find out you got a negative review. What to do?

We may start by going to our page link:

Now, here’s what was left for the world to see:

scathing Yelp Review with 2 stars

Ouch! If you’re like any of us, it’s actually quite painful to read a negative review about you personally and your company. This isn’t just a could-have-been-better-handled comment – this is a wholesale, defamatory entrée, topped with made-to-order ad hominem attack sauce and a side order of salted, verbal carcinogen. If your reaction is anything like mine, you feel a mixture of mental and emotional pain. And, you want to tell your side of the story to almost anyone who will listen… “I’m not really this bad! I don’t know where this came from… it’s not like that!”

Here, we did respond (and we recommend below that you do so as well – see below), but how you respond is going to make a world of difference, both for yourself and for your customer base, let alone the customer who left the review.

Good news: it’s not the end of the world. It’s just one review. At Yelp’s own admission, “hundreds of millions of reviews are posted on Yelp” so, rest assured, life will go on even after a negative review. Decide that your peace of mind is more valuable than one person’s opinion. So, let’s read on.

STEP ONE: Claim Your Profile

If you haven’t claimed your business or organization’s profile, you need to start there. Simply go to and start with “Yelp for Business” at the upper right hand corner and then click on “Claim your business”. Follow the wizard after searching for your business name. If you’re incorporated, chances are that already knows you. Good News: there’s no charge for claiming your profile and it’s really pretty easy to do.

STEP TWO: Review Assessment (Breathe Deeply and Get a Friend)

So, jumping ahead…. Once you’ve claimed your business, go back and re-read the review. Pause… strong suggestion: have a friend read the review with you, someone who might not have the same heightened emotional response. We think it would help to talk this over with someone first before you respond. How you respond is going to make a big difference in how the web community (pretty much everyone) takes in your review.

Most seasoned consumers understand that there’s an unstated rule that, on average, people leave more bad reviews than good reviews. For some reason, people who are angry are more motivated than people who are happy. Perhaps angry customers may feel powerless and want to lash back. And, Yelp, and Google and Facebook and TripAdvisor and so many others, make it very easy to leave any review. Good customers might simply be satisfied with, well, just being satisfied. One could say that “good news” is no news, but that doesn’t help in the virtual world where appearances are everything.

You start by being honest with yourself and the business. We suggest you and your friend (or could be a coworker) talk over the review and ask yourself good questions, such as the following:

  • Was there any truth in the review?
  • What was right about the review?
  • What was wrong about the review?
  • What could I learn from the review?
  • What would be a correct, factual and non-emotive response to the review?

Sit with these questions and answers. Wait more than 24 hours. You want to get honest with yourself here, but playing fair means being fair towards yourself as well. You might want to do as we did – we at Cornerstone had a brief staff meeting about this and I (yes, I am the same “Sean” as reported above!) reviewed departmental email communications from both the Customer Service and Project Management areas. I wanted to see for myself what was *actually* said; I wanted to see for myself when and how we interacted with the client, and whether we made any mistakes.

I strongly suggest giving all this a few days to settle in, allowing both emotions and possible responses to distill, to settle down. The answer will be there waiting for you – let the answer come to you.

STEP THREE: Respond but Not Attack

You have options. Let’s explore them:

(a) The review might actually violate’s policies. That means that you could ask directly to take down the review. Here is the simple URL link to’s Content Guidelines: If you feel that the review you received violates any of the guidelines surrounding Relevance, Inappropriate Content, Conflicts of Interest, Privacy, Promotional Content (or also Self-Promotional Reviewing), then you may have grounds to request an internal audit by Yelp of the review and possible removal. If you have, for instance, a former employee talking smack on Yelp about your business, that’s a clear transgression of Yelp’s Content Guideline policies. You can ask Yelp to take it down (note: it doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time).

(b) Work things out directly with the Reviewer. You could call or write the reviewer (calling is best) and ask the reviewer to take down the review. In other words, work it out directly. Face the storm. Deal with it. The best way to address a bad review is, well, to address it. “Is there anything we could do to resolve this?” or “What would it take for us to work things out?” Sometimes, just owning up to any confusion might be enough to get someone to withdraw their negative assessment that might have been unwisely made, late at night and in haste.

In our instance, the reviewer made it clear that not only was she ever going to use us again for direct mail and mailing services, she didn’t want to speak with us again (i.e. I was literally ordered out of the building). However, I drafted an immediate written response, and consistent with my comments above, I let what I wrote sit for two days before sending. Here is the letter that we sent in response to this review:

(c) Leave a Short Response. Look, makes it pretty clear – you can’t change a review for any reason. In their own words: “Your trust is our top concern, so businesses can’t pay to alter or remove their reviews.” However, you can respond directly online. When you log into your Yelp business account, you’ll see your menu of options on the left hand side. And, there is the review section towards the bottom.

Please note that Yelp will make you upload a photo of yourself. Why? Probably to put the burden of transparency on the business for some reason. This seems rather unfair (it “is what it is”) because reviewers are not required to do likewise. Here’s the message below from Yelp about this. It takes usually just a day to get approval (we were approved in 12 hours).

Our advice is to leave a short but direct response. Avoid the storytelling – this is a poor venue for mud slinging and verbal warfare. Avoid capital letters and exclamation points. Keep the high ground. Just remember, it’s not the end of the world… “hundreds of millions of reviews are posted on Yelp”. On our side, I found nothing wrong with our internal, non-profit mailing Project Management SOPs, and, I didn’t find that the Customer Service area had said anything improper.

This is our response to the negative review:

Meghan, we understood clearly that you are unhappy and we were sorry to hear this. Although we have worked your organization since 2019, you’ve called it quits with us. An internal Kaizen review, however, with all areas uncovered nothing irregular; and, you already received a same-week letter from us regarding this. In my letter, I asked kindly that your review be taken down. We’ve waited 30 days but this negative review unfortunately remains.

You didn’t mention that I handed the check back to you and offered that it could be sent when more convenient. Your comment that payment would be mailed was also not able to be corroborated.

Cornerstone advanced for you over $4,000 in services, printing and postage because we were asked to get a job out quickly, at your request. The production area worked overtime to do this (no extra charge). Yet we received no request from you to adjust credit terms. This project wasn’t even estimated until December 14th – rather late for a year-end appeal.

Our Terms and Conditions for payment are, and always have been, “Due Upon Receipt”. Every page of each estimate we send states “TERMS – DUE ON RECEIPT”. In 2019, your organization was given a 5-page document that explained our standard Terms and Conditions detailing how we work. An invoice was also sent the week before you were told someone would stop by to pick up a check. No surprises here.

After our Kaizen review, our only change was to upgrade the Terms and Conditions on our website with a link at the top of the landing page (ref: Our review found that five people across three departments had all followed internal SOPs properly.

These negative comments were not only hurtful to staff members who worked in the spirit of goodwill to help you, they were also hyperbolic, containing out-of-context fragments with needless emotive loading. Before being ordered out, you told me “never have I had to pay for a service immediately after ordering that service!”. I can share with everyone that during the same week, the company van was fixed and we picked up office donuts; neither Main Street Auto or Dunkin’ Donuts in New Paltz gave us 30 to 60 day credit terms. Had you really needed 30 – 60 days for some unique reason, we could have arranged that. I only wish you had asked.

Yelp told me that my word count was 2,661 words. Yelp gives you almost 5,000ct characters to respond, and I used up half of them. And, yes, it still sounds like I’m rather pissed off, too. I did say not to attack, right? (Ahem… do as I say and not as I do.) Clearly, I also broke my own rule about keeping this short and sweet, and I’m sorry… I’m human too. (Yes, I’m still hurt.)

(d) Respond with New Positive Reviews. Here is a tactic that most people don’t think of: you minimize the negative review by getting at least a handful of positive Yelp reviews. This can be easily done, but have a “Get 5 Reviews Today” goal and try to have fun with it. Also, over the next month, when you have a positive interaction with a client, ask them at that time to leave a positive review. It doesn’t just have to be on Google or Facebook, but include Here’s what we just started asking people in follow-up emails after we make 21-Day Post Project release follow-up calls from our Customer Service area:

A favor: Could you please take one minute and go to our profile page and leave a review? It’s simple to do: Many thanks in advance.

At Cornerstone, we started these follow-up calls in 2023. A customer service representative checks in 21 days after a project was completed to see how things went. Perhaps it helped fix things upstream vs. downstream, but largely, we received back important feedback. There were some rough edges (from past employees’ handling of customer work) and in some cases I got an earful. We’ve now started asking people to leave reviews (hopefully positive) and we recommend you do the same. Now, as of 2024, you can see that we added as one of the places that our customer service team members ask customers to go for leaving reviews.

STEP FOUR: Flood your profile with a Lot of Positive Reviews

Hey, here’s a way to get a lot of positive reviews quickly. Ask Cornerstone to send out a yellow First-Class Mail postcard with your clients’ name and addresses, asking each recipient to leave you a (positive) review. We actually now offer this service and it costs $1.00 per FCM card.


We took quite a while developing this content and we hope you found this helpful. Certainly, if you would consider allowing us to send out 200+ postcards to support your profile, we think you’d make that back in short order.

In closing we want to show you what happens if you don’t respond cleanly both as a commenter or as a Advertiser. Here’s an example of how the mishandling of Yelp reviews can go wrong for both sides, because once you get lawyers involved, everyone is already losing:

Washington couple sued for $112,000 after leaving one-star reviews