Even if your business doesn’t have a large online presence, people are likely talking about it online. Platforms such as Yelp, Google Maps, Facebook and Amazon have redefined the relationship between small businesses and their customers, and today hundreds of millions of consumers post online reviews every month.

Moreover, people are reading them. In 2017, 97% of consumers checked online for information about local businesses, with 12% looking online for a business every day. Eighty-five percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

For the most part, these platforms are a boon to small businesses: They’re an unparalleled—free—opportunity to get in front of potential customers. The catch? You’ll probably get at least a couple negative reviews. The internet has made it easier than ever for disgruntled customers to air their complaints to the world.

While it’s natural to take bad reviews personally, don’t let them ruin your dayor your reputation. Instead, take a deep breath and follow these simple guidelines:



Be courteous

When responding to negative reviews—which you should do—use the reviewer’s name in your response, but remember that a much wider audience will be reading, says Debi Campbell, marketing manager for Reviewbox, a company that helps businesses monitor their online presence. Potential future customers will also be viewing your response and forming an opinion about your business based on how you handle the complaint.

Be responsive

Offer a solution to the problem. For example, if the customer has purchased the wrong part or the wrong size, point them to the correct product and make the exchange as painless as possible, Campbell says. If an exchange isn’t possible, offer a free future service or a generous discount the next time they come in or order from your site.

Be brief

Try to take the conversation offline, or at least out of the public domain, as quickly as possible. Offer a phone number or email address for the reviewer to contact you directly. “The last thing you want is a lot of back-and-forth on a bad review,” cautions Mike Peters, online media director with J Miller Marketing.



Ignore it

You should check your online reviews daily and ideally not let more than 24 hours go by without responding to a negative review. A negative comment can draw an audience quickly, so you don’t want to leave that impression hanging out there for too long. Most review sites provide a way for businesses to be alerted when new reviews get posted.

Be defensive

Asking the reviewer to calm down or deflecting blame are non-starters when doing damage control, Peters says. You need to show some sort of effort in helping the reviewer resolve the issue.

Make excuses

Some problems can’t be solved, and some people can’t be placated. Mistakes happen, so use a negative review as a learning experience. If it’s too late to resolve the issue, apologize sincerely and explain the steps you intend to take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

No matter how professionally you respond or how hard you try to appease, you may never hear from that unhappy reviewer again. That’s OK, because you can be sure that others have been following the exchange, and they’ll respect the effort you put into making it right.

Print this article