In today’s digital world, online reviews can literally make or break a business. According to research, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses prior to making a purchase, and among 18-34 year olds, this number jumps to 95%. In fact, 91% of those same 18-34 year olds trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations from friends and family and these numbers are only expected to climb. While online reviews may in fact be biased, it’s still not something that business owners can afford to ignore which is why it’s more important than ever to take control of your online reputation, both positive and negative.

Claim Your Business

Hopefully one of the first things you did as a business owner was to claim your business on online some of the bigger listing and review sites such as Yelp and Google. If you haven’t yet, be sure to do that as soon as possible so that you can respond to customers as the business rather than from a personal account.

Always Respond Promptly

Set aside time regularly for checking reviews as often as you can. Think of this time as an extension of your customer service outreach. As previously mentioned, online reviews will most likely be biased as most people who take the time to review are either extremely satisfied or extremely unhappy – and you want to respond to them all while their experience is still fresh. More than half of reviewers expect to hear back from a business within a week. While most platforms will send you a weekly digest, by the time you receive that email the customer who was so furious at you has already told 10 friends and posted about his or her experience on Facebook – so time is of the essence.

When You Get a Negative Review

It’s an inevitability when you own a business. Despite all of your best intentions and hours of staff training, someone will be displeased at some point and write a negative online review. It’s true what they say, you can’t please everyone, but most of the time, you can resolve the situation so that it is contained and doesn’t further tarnish your business’ reputation – and as previously mentioned – potential future customers will be paying attention. In fact,  89% of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews according to research and many are more likely to patron a businesses that has taken the time to respond to negative reviews.

When you receive a negative review, it’s important to remember that most people simply want to be heard. Many will even self-remove their review or update it once they feel like their concern was addressed. It’s also to remember that just because you’re behind a computer screen, you should still treat your customer the same as if they were standing in your place of business.

So, what do you do when you get a bad review?

  1. Take a deep breath. Seriously. It’s easy to get defensive when someone criticizes your “baby” so take a moment to pause and think through how to respond in a way that is professional and productive. Take a moment to gather the facts.
  2. To err is human and sometimes things happen. Offer a genuine public apology that’s honest and sincere. While it may be tempting to move the conversation offline immediately, potential customers will pay attention to how you respond to negative reviews so you need to apologize in the same forum as the review was originally posted.
  3. Keep it short and sweet, but do your best to right the situation. If it’s something that’s easily handled such as reevaluating a policy or crediting a credit card go ahead and take care of it or let them know you’re working on it.
  4. Take it offline. Once you’ve offered your initial apology on the public platform, feel free to move the conversation offline for additional follow-up. Provide your contact information and let them know they are free to reach out to you.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

It’s pretty old fashioned, but even in 2019 the best way to get good online reviews is to provide exceptional service. It takes approximately 40 positive reviews to undo the damage of one negative review so providing consistent high quality customer experiences, and staying on top of any less than stellar experiences, is the key to winning the online review game. It is important to note that most of the major review sites frown upon straight up asking customers for reviews or incentivizing reviews so be sure to read up on each platform’s specific terms of service if you’re thinking of creating a more in-depth program.

While you may not be able to truly make the ask for positive reviews, you can share the positive reviews you’ve received on your own website or another platform, which may encourage others to leave a review detailing their positive experience as well.