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What to do if a client threatens you with a “bad review”

Stay calm and sound like the pro you are
Table of ContentsUpdated Aug 18, 2014

A few days ago, the phone rang at 10am.

“Reliable! This is Lou,” my wife and business partner, Lou, said.

(We run a design / marketing agency, but recently started Reliable: our new PSD to HTML & WordPress company).

She took the call per usual. The guy had a lot of questions, and she had answers.

But then, the call took a “weird” twist…

The guy had some pretty wacky demands.

He basically wanted us to ditch the process we use and follow his orders. He wanted to be on Skype video calls through different stages of the project, and he wanted a huge amount of work done in a crazy-short amount of time.

Imagine if a client wanted to watch over your shoulder and comment live via Skype as you crafted their design…

Obviously that wasn’t going to fly.

Lou handled it like a pro though. She politely told him about how we work and why that wasn’t such a good idea.

Normally, even people who come off as harsh melt when they talk to Lou. She’s a sweetheart.

But that didn’t happen here. In fact, things got even “weirder”…

Mr. Prospect, we’ll call him, then got pretty hostile. He even started insulting Lou, shouting things like…

“You sound half asleep! What’s wrong with you!”


“You have marbles in your mouth or something? I feel like I’m pulling teeth here just to get you to answer questions!”

Still, Lou stayed calm (amazingly – I would’ve blown my lid at this point), and tried to steer the convo back in a positive direction.

That wasn’t going to happen though. And that’s when Mr. Prospect…

… Threatened us with a “bad review”!

Have you ever been in this situation? Maybe it happened with a client – the relationship went sour, and they threatened to spread the word about how “awful” you are?

“Bad reviews” left in the right place can be a pretty scary thing to encounter. It’s a bit tougher with digital businesses – as there aren’t really “Yelps” for those kinds of companies – but there are plenty of forums and more that rank really well in the search engines.

And if someone Googles “[your business name] reviews”, it could easily show up and turn away potential clients.

Especially considering that recent polls suggest that as many as 85% or more of consumers seek out reviews before trying out a new business or product.

But never fear! Because here’s a game plan that’ll stop the negative effect of negative reviews, right in their tracks.

Step One: Stay Alert

If you suspect a client or prospect might try to harm your name, for a week or so search “[your business name] + reviews” a couple times a day.

Most of the time if someone says they’ll leave a bad review – it’s just hot air. But by staying alert, you can tackle the review the moment it goes live should they actually post it.

Step Two: Respond (Note: Proceed with caution!)

Next, if you see the review go live, respond to it. But DON’T do it from a reactionary, fear-based place! Instead, gather yourself, and compose something that makes you look like a total champ.

You are NOT leaving this response for the bad client! You’re really leaving it for the potential new clients who might stumble upon it.

For Mr. Prospect in the story above, I’d probably write something like this…

Dear Mr. Prospect,

I’m sorry you had a bad experience with us.

Unfortunately, you had some demands which our firm wasn’t prepared to accommodate. While we understand that limitations can be frustrating, we ask that you please try to keep your temper under control in the future.

The young woman you spoke with was pretty shaken up for the next hour or so after speaking with you. The hostility and insults you directed at her were very uncalled for. Unfortunately, because of this, even if we could meet your demands I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to work with you.

With that said, I’m sorry again that you felt you had a bad experience, and wish you the best of luck.

In addition, if you’d like to discuss this further, we’d be happy to. Please email [email protected] to schedule a time.


Please do this with care though. If you don’t feel you could handle it tactfully and calmly – then DON’T respond! Instead, just skip to Step 3. Also, even if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong – find a way to tactfully apologize. It makes businesses look really bad when they respond rudely to negative reviews.

Acknowledge what the person said, and then politely state your side of the story, and then offer a way to make amends. In this email, I apologized, alerted readers that this guy obviously has temper issues, and then offered to make amends through setting up a time to talk.

With that said…

Even in this scenario I’d be wary about posting my response. Sometimes it’s better to just take the advice of Step 3 and let it go. Respond if you feel you must, but do it with caution!

Step Three: Send in Reinforcements!

Next, contact a handful of your best clients and explain what happened. They know you, and they know you’d never do the things the hot-tempered negative-reviewer described.

As your loyal customers, they’ll be happy to post positive reviews on your behalf on the same website.

Basically, you’re trying to drown out the negative review with a swarm of positive ones. Keep this up over time until that negative review is pushed 20,000 leagues down under.

Now before I sign off, I have to address something…

If you’re getting threatened with “bad reviews” or complaints on the regular, there’s a good chance it’s not the customer. Or it’s not only the customer. It might be time to self-reflect and see what you could be doing better.

Especially if everyone is angrily giving you the same feedback. That could be a glaring hot red flag that you might need to work on yourself.

It’s easy to write off criticism, but true growth comes when we face the uncomfortable, absorb it, learn from it, and move on. I’ve made tons of mistakes with customers, and acknowledging it and growing from it was never easy.

Even to this day I make mistakes. As much as it sucks – I get better and better because of it every time.

On the other hand – if you make your clients happy 95% of the time, then this disclaimer isn’t for you. Keep on keepin’ on and being your awesome self 😉 If you feel this disclaimer is for you – don’t fret it. You can always improve and start fresh. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or anything – just that you have some customer service issues to sort out 😉

What are your thoughts? Has this ever happened to you? Inspired to share something? Tell me about it in the comments.

Till then,

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Written by David Tendrich

Staff at

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

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  1. Thomas Stinson says:

    I have a design company, I did a lot of work for this one guy who is a challenging customer like yours, has a soft ego and know-it-all personality. Over 20+ hours on a promise of payment and he never paid… one day he gets a negative review, and he texts me thinking I did it, which I didn’t, so without any investigation sends me a text saying “I can post bad reviews too…”, it took me a bit to figure out what the heck he was talking about.

    I’m like… you’re the one that cheated me bud, I can’t imagine what you would say, you’d have to make something negative up that’s a lie, and you’d be the one that ended up suffering.. A. for losing your integrity and honesty and B. I do reputation repair for a living bub… not a good idea to poke a beehive that wasn’t even bothering you and was just going to take the loss of you cheating me.

  2. I find it counter-intuitive to inject good reviews for your business on some website. People are smart enough to tell apart genuine responses from ones requested by the business owner. They may be your real customers writing you the reviews and they may really be satisfied with doing business with you, but people are going to notice. You’ll end doing worse because no one trusts a business that is “trying to drown out negative reviews”.
    I completely agree with step 2.
    Step 3 however, not much!

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Mekh,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I have to disagree with you though, and here’s why.

      First: No one has to write you a review because you ask. It’s still voluntary. It’s still their own genuine thoughts and experiences. You’re simply making the opportunity to leave a review easier and more accessible.

      If a business owner writes 10 reviews him / herself, then yes, that tends to look pretty fishy unless they’ve got some serious writing chops. That can breed distrust. But if 10 unique people with their own experiences write from their own hearts and minds, well, that’s what review sites are there for.

      Second: People believe other people more than they believe you when on review sites. Even if you write an immaculate response to the bad review explaining what happened, people will suspect you of lying. After all, you’re biased. You’re not a credible source on the experience because you want people to think of you highly so you get their business.

      Reviews from your customers are FAR more important than your responses. You have to show with hard evidence that your business is awesome. In this case, hard evidence is a mountain of positive reviews compared to the pebble of one bad review.

      Finally, you have to remember: We’re dealing with a DISingenuine, manipulative, crazy review in the first place. If left unattended, it could cripple your business – all because someone with a chip on their shoulder decided today was the day to unfairly take their anger out on some innocent, hard-working soul.

      All of this is a response to that. I’d do everything in my power to flush out that FAKE bad review with REAL, genuine, positive ones. I’d want people to know the REAL story of my business.

      Wouldn’t you?

      To each his own though 🙂


  3. I’ve faced this problem at least twice in my freelancing career over the last seven years. First time it happened was when I was just starting out, I was quite 17, quite inexperienced and my client bullied me into doing $3000 worth of work for $150, I was getting the work from a job posting site and reviews were a big deal, I had to do it. Next time it happened sometime around 2 years ago, but I was much wiser and had the client sign a contract explaining the terms of the work beforehand, which saved me from a lot of headache. Live and learn!

  4. Guy 2cooldesign says:

    Hi, you want to share funny customers… here is mine, Yesterday 19Aug. I had a phone call.
    Now to give you some background, I run a ‘ONLINE’ tshirt printing business, it is run from a flat and although my website seems like i have a big factory with staff and seem like and act like i’m the no:1 tshirt printing business in the country. I can not let people walk into my private home(we rent a backyard flat)… So i got a phone call. Where you based, so i explained and the person then said i want to come over, I replied, We are an ‘ONLINE ONLY’ business, so i can meet with you.. Then he just said well you don’t want business and put the phone down in my ear… Rude idiot ! So a minute later, i phoned back to see, maybe it was cut off. He replied, how can i feel your shirts online, You don’t want my business i’ll go somewhere else? what a f.&*%ing idiot.. I sell hundereds of shirts to people around the country and will even go out my way to meet up, provided he told me what he wanted, as i can’t waste my time on big thinkers who just want to explain their idea to me in flesh.. you get these clients… Be careful of them… They just want to waste your time actually… Get to the point of what they want from you, if they un-decided , then they just fishing around for prices or just wasting time, wanting to ‘talk’ about their big idea, insted of placing an order and physically going through with their big idea…

    in the past i also, got fooled, by a client who wanted to meet with me to ‘discuss’ his plan for printing shirts, drove 40km or so (35miles) to meet up, talk talk talk, then nothing… didn’t hear from this person again…

    So i tell people, I’m a ONLINE ONLY business and please email me your requirements, if they serious they will supply you with the right details and you can tell a good lead from a fisher, someone who just wants to find out and not actually place an order…

    In my business, it’s easy to figure out, time wasters from genuine orders.. A time waster, doesn’t have all the info, is still thinking and not sure of what they want.. A person who wants to place an orders, knows exactly what they need. Have their logos ready, know the colour of shirts and has sizes of shirts ready to lace an order..

    I’ve been running my own online business for a while and come a day when i can get walk in customers, when i have my own office space, i will be making it big time, for now, calling my company an online only business is cool with me ! and The odd client who wants a face to face meeting must just deal with the fact that ordering online is the new thing these days…

  5. Love your blog – you often write about the topics others fear even to mention. But such problem exists for may designers and it’s great we can discuss solutions together. I think that a good technical specs before the project start is one of the best measures against such troubles. Then at least you will be able to prove you’ve done the work. And when discussing everything in detail before starting the work, there’s a chance you would understand the client is Weird or rude or have unreal demands

    1. I have a question im a escort in ft.collins and this man wanted to see me he threatened me with a bad review so now I need help getting what he wrote about me is not true I don’t want him lying im good to who I choose to see help me o don’t want this bad review

  6. jerome tanibata says:

    This is why I love this blog, you guys cover such relevant topics when it comes to doing business!! Thanks for writing this article. Very useful and sound advice. Happily, I haven’t needed to use it but it helps to have the knowledge to do so if the need arises.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Jerome, Thanks for the kind words! We’re glad you’re enjoying the blog! Best of luck in all.

  7. Great post! I love your disclaimer at the end as well. We can definitely grow from customer feedback, but it’s also good to know how to respond if needed.

  8. I just want to say that I am a new customer with Reliable (in fact you guys are working on my project as we speak) and have had nothing but a positive experience with Lou. Even through some miscommunication along the way, she has been nothing but professional and gratious. No design process will be perfect, but Lou has been extremely responsive and detailed throughout and I appreciate that.

    1. Lou Levit says:

      Thanks Davida! 🙂

      Glad to hear you’re happy!