This week’s guest post is by Robin Heppell of Funeral Futurist, a funeral home consulting business. Robin presented at OGR’s Fall Forum on the hazards of the Internet and how online reviews can benefit and harm your firm. This week’s post* delves more extensively into this topic. Read below for Robin’s tips for handling negative online reviews.

How did you feel when you saw your first negative online review? Mad, irritated, concerned?

I have had a couple of clients who found themselves in this position. After talking through it, we put a plan together to make the most out of the situation.

badreviews2Before we talk about the plan, I want to debunk some bad advice. Some people say not to respond to negative reviews because those reviews will be the first ones people see when they visit your Yelp or Google page. The problem with this strategy is that people are going to find poor reviews anyway, and if left unanswered, the complaint has more power.

I recommend responding to every negative review – but you can’t just blurt something out – you have to make sure that you have a methodical plan.

Here is my 3 step plan for dealing with negative reviews. 

  1. Investigate If It Is Legitimate.

Ask yourself if this is a legitimate complaint. Investigate the situation and if you or your staff are responsible, own up to it. Create a system or process for your business to make sure that the mistake doesn’t happen again. If you are at fault, contact the person off-line, solve the problem, and then respond online as a follow-up.

If you are unsure if the review is legitimate, proceed to step two.

Always extend the olive branch2. Give the Olive Branch Response.

Compose a very professional response to the accusations, reassuring them that their experience isn’t the way you or your funeral home has conducted business for X number of years in your town. Then ask leading and open-ended questions. Ask them for the date or even the name of the deceased so you can look into the matter further, resolve any specific problem, and take action to ensure that this type of experience doesn’t happen again.

The reason why I recommend this type of response is that it shows anyone who reads the complaint that you care.

Next steps —

If he/she responds in a non-hostile manner, follow up with your staff and then respond back to the complainant saying that you have taken the necessary steps so that it won’t happen again.

If he/she responds in a hostile manner, continue to take the high road and communicate online that you have done everything in your power to right the wrong. Don’t respond negatively to him/her. There’s no point in getting into a flame war. Onlookers will see you continue to respond in a professional manner no matter what the accusations may be.

If it’s not legitimate, then the complainant probably won’t respond and the public will see that you have done the right thing and lessened the severity of the statements. If there is no response to your response, then contact the website. Here is an example of what to say for a website like Yelp:

Dear Yelp,
My name is Rob Heppell, and I am the owner of Heppell Funeral Home. I am very concerned with the recent review of my company. We have responded to the complaint in a very professional manner, and we have not heard a reply. Furthermore, their criticism seems to violate the Yelp review guidelines. It seems that some of the criticism is based on secondhand experiences and hearsay. The review has the potential of being very damaging, so we are taking it seriously. Please contact the reviewer and suggest that they respond to us as requested; otherwise, we ask that you remove the review. Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Robin Heppell

In both cases in which I’ve been involved, the reviews have been taken down.

3. Cultivate Positive Reviews

Create accounts for all of the popular review websites. Then, create a page on your website that you can direct people to that contains links to the review websites where your profile is displayed. This will give the client family a choice of what review site they can post a review on. Do not send everyone to one website (like Google Plus for example) so that all of your reviews are there as this would look unnatural. Next, contact any of the families you have served in the past year or so and also anyone who has sent you a thank you card – I’m sure you have a box full of them. Hand pick the ones you think are somewhat web savvy, type out what they have written the card and create an email for them. In the email, write the following:

Thank you so much for the beautiful thank you card and more importantly your message to us. It was an honor to serve your family during this difficult time. If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a small favor. So that we can help serve more families like yours, we humbly ask people like you to share your thoughts on the Internet where there are reviews for our funeral home. For your convenience, I have typed out the message you sent to me, so that if you wish you can just copy and paste that message. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you.

The final part of step number three is to use your aftercare specialist to solicit more positive reviews. They will have the sense to know if someone has been really happy with your services and they will also probably have an idea of the level of web savviness that the person has. For each person who meets these criteria, ask their permission for you to send them a quick email about providing an online review. The best time to ask them is immediately after they have just sung your praises about something.

Immediately following a positive statement, I would respond by saying:

What a nice compliment! We really treasure your comments. Would you mind doing us a small favor by posting your comment online on one of the review sites?  Have you ever left an online review for anyone else before? If so what review site was it? I will send you a short email with the links to those pages – we would really appreciate it. It should only take you a few minutes.

Then in the email, ask them to go to your webpage that has links to all of the review websites.

By taking this strategy, you will cultivate dozens and dozens of positive reviews, and you will probably never have to worry about any negative ones because the positive will outweigh the negative.

Takeaway: My challenge for you today is to look back over the last six months for extremely satisfied client families that you have served – especially anyone with a Gmail address because this means they don’t need to create a new account to leave a review for you on Google – and ask them if they wouldn’t mind doing you a small favor and leaving you a review.

By Robin Heppell
The Funeral Futurist

Are you an OGR member? Then you can access Robin’s complete presentation from Fall Forum on OGR’s podcast page. If you have a online reputation nightmare on your hands, contact Robin directly at

*According to Heppell, this post originally appeared in Mortuary Management and the APFSP’s Compass magazine. It has been published here with his permission.