As an online marketer, one of my online habits (it’s weird, I know) includes reading reviews, particularly bad ones. For example, I get a kick out of bad reviews of books I enjoyed because there’s such a difference in perception. Did we even read the same book?!

Being in the online course business, I’m also particularly interested in online course reviews and how entrepreneurs deal with negative comments. In our social influence-fueled world, where reviews come on a five-point scale, this matters a lot, particularly when it comes to attracting new learners.


Read more: 6 Awesome tips to get more customer reviews for your online course [INFOGRAPHIC]


For example, we often see reviews from very dissatisfied customers. In fact, happy ones are less likely to leave a review. This is concerning because reviews offer the much-needed social proof that can convert site visitors into learners.

As an entrepreneur, you might be taken aback by this fact at first, as dealing with negative customer reviews isn’t exactly what you trained for. However, as long as you create anything, there will always be customer complaints to handle.

What makes the difference between a bad and a good situation for you is actually your response, which is the topic for today!

What to do when your course gets a bad review

Whatever you do, under any circumstances, even if you don’t remember anything else from this article, know this: don’t get defensive.

Usually, this is hard because it’s about your work and the hours and hours you poured into the content and design. I will admit that my own instinct is to defend my courses. However, I’ve learned that doing so not only makes me look bad it also makes me miss out on so much constructive feedback.

It’s actually counterintuitive to simply dismiss any less than positive comment. Defensiveness will only make you angrier because you’ll just start gathering more evidence about why this person is wrong, meaning that you won’t leave any space for growth. Moreover, your defensiveness might put other people off, and you never know who might stumble upon these exchanges between you and the reviewers.

Additionally, an angry learner doesn’t equal a former learner. If you take their complaints seriously and show a willingness to work with them, they might even turn into long-term clients because you handled this situation well.

So let’s see what are the eight things you need to do after getting a bad review:

  1. See things from the learner’s point of view

    All reviews are subjective, yet don’t be so quick to dismiss people’s claims. There’s no way to figure out who they are and their intentions based on a single review.

    Instead, treat their comments as feedback and go through their main points to see if there are any misunderstandings. You also have to be prepared to admit that they might be right about some things.

    Instead of assuming the worst, remember how you felt whenever you complained about a product (maybe even an online course?). Understand that people need to vent but that you can also find a solution, and a bad review is not the end of your online course.

  2. Dislike the behavior, not the person

    Whenever we have a bad day, we expect people to understand us. If others have had a bad day, they’re now insufferable learners. We make this fundamental attribution error pretty frequently. That’s why you might feel as if the negative review is the result of a person that’s chronically impossible to satisfy. However, in reality, you don’t know them and what they’re really like!

    That’s why you have reasons to dislike the behavior (especially rude comments), but not the person. That’s why my advice is to always refer to what the person does and not who the person is when you’re writing a reply. It’s the difference between saying “he left a bad review” and “he’s a difficult customer to deal with”.

    Even if they’re not responding in the same way, you’ll end up being the bigger person.

  3. Understand what they really want

    People don’t always complain for the sake of complaining. Maybe they just want an apology, or they feel like something in the course content or delivery was missing. The latter is something you can address right away and use as feedback to improve things in the future.


    Read more: 4 Ways of using the feedback you got for your online course


    Other people might want a solution, which is ideal since you can think of ways to fix things and get this over with!

    You also have to be prepared for refund requests. I know it’s not what you want, but it’s a quick solution that will solve the issue entirely most of the time. Then, you can move on to other tasks.

  4. Emotions first, solutions after

    Customer support specialists know that dissatisfied customers usually write angry rants on the spur of the moment. That’s why many customer support specialists insist on letting the customer vent a little and knowing how to resolve things tactfully.

    What they really need at first is validation and to have someone understand and empathize with them.

    If you jump in too quickly with a solution, they might not be ready yet to take up on your offer. However, if you show real concern and respect for the customer at first and then show ways to fix the issue, they’ll be more likely to reconsider their initial reaction.

  5. Respond in a timely manner

    OK, so this is a tricky one. On the one hand, it’s not OK to respond immediately as you need some time to reflect and write a thoughtful message, and on top of that, think of the best solution. On the other, leaving complaints to float around social media or grow old in your inbox for days isn’t good for business.

    Depending on your personal situation, it’s a good idea to take a break and don’t respond immediately. Instead, set a deadline for replying to the review in your calendar and make sure that you stick with it.


    Read more: How to skyrocket your productivity as a course entrepreneur


    Another good tip is to have a few “stock” answers ready and heavily personalize them based on the particular complaint. At least in this way, you’ll have a polite opening and maybe a closing statement that you didn’t write while being in a full-on “warrior” mindset.

  6. Get them to work with you

    Most of the time, people want to vent, but they also want a solution. Learners will feel noticed and even appreciated if you show openness to discuss the situation.

    Involve them! For example, if they don’t like something about your online courses, such as the layout or assignments, ask more questions about what you could do differently next time.


    Read more: What questions to ask learners when you need feedback on your online course


    If they feel invested enough, it probably means that they did stick with your course for quite a bit. They’ve probably also noticed some things that could help you fix the learning experience. Involvement can turn a dissatisfied learner into a happy, long-term one.

  7. Learn how to de-escalate

    We all know how often people share screenshots of private messages accompanied by long rants. That’s how minor incidents blow up for seemingly no reason. People also go to different venues to complain, which can mean bad reviews on the websites you advertise your courses.

    For a big company, this is just another little social media blip, but for a course entrepreneur, it might mean losing customers. Most of the time, defensiveness backfires and it’s you who gets hurt.

    So, if you’re in a public space (LMS group, social media), offer a polite answer with no passive-aggressive undertones. Try to address all of their concerns and acknowledge when you’re wrong. Most of all, try to take this to a private message or email to offer a solution, keeping in mind that private isn’t really that private anymore.


    Read more: 9 Tips on how to build a learning community using LMS tools


  8. Ask them to review again

    If you follow the above steps, you can actually turn a bad review into a more positive one.

    After the issue is resolved, or at least you feel that you arrived at a common understanding of the situation, you can ask them for a different review. Alternatively, they can edit the initial one.

    This works because you’ve already addressed the issue. In turn, people will feel more comfortable giving you something in exchange for going the extra mile.

    The worst that can happen is for them to say no, in which case you can simply accept this and move on.

Is a negative review really that bad?

No! It really depends on how you deal with the situation. Defensiveness and contempt are bad for business, whereas empathy and professionalism will take you far.

Plus, a negative review of your online courses can be an opportunity to gather feedback. All entrepreneurs, including many course creators, will deal with customer complaints once in a while, so it’s good to know how to de-escalate and manage these situations accordingly.

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