Woman business owner inside her business working on laptop. Negative customer reviews actually have the power to build trust among your clientele, if you manage them effectively. — Getty Images/Hiraman

Negative customer reviews happen even to companies with the best customer service. Sometimes, mistakes happen; and unfortunately, social media makes it easy for a dissatisfied customer to tell the world when things go wrong.

A negative customer review doesn’t necessarily spell disaster, however. It may sound counterintuitive, but a few negative reviews here and there actually build trust with consumers. Too many perfect reviews can make your business look fake. Shoppers know that nobody is perfect. And your response to a negative review provides an opportunity to show that you truly care about your customers.

By following these steps, you can turn a negative review into a positive experience.

[Read: Managing Online Reviews: How to Handle Customer Feedback]

Step one: Respond promptly

To prevent a negative review on social media or some other public site from immediately affecting your business, respond right away. You may not know yet what went wrong — or whether you’re simply dealing with a difficult customer. At this stage, it doesn’t matter either way. Respond publicly to acknowledge that you’ve heard their feedback and that you’re looking into the matter. It’s important to approach the situation with urgency and contain the complaint before it goes viral.

The right response can even turn a negative review positive: Data shows that 33% of negative reviews on Yelp turn positive when a business takes the time to respond to an unhappy customer.

Step two: Follow up privately

Issuing a public apology helps to protect your company’s reputation. Once you’ve issued a sincere apology for others to see, get to the heart of the matter in private. Reach out to the person via phone call or using a free app like Clover Feedback. If you prefer to communicate via email or direct message, keep in mind that anything you say can easily be saved with a screenshot and shared again. If the customer is still upset, it’s best to let them air their grievances in private where you can address them head-on.

[Read more: Top 4 Tips for Handling a Bad Business Review]

Customers love supporting small businesses because they often form personal relationships with you and your staff.

Step three: Protect your staff

Mistakes happen. As a small business, your employees are on the frontline day in and out representing your brand. If a complaint comes in, they need to know you have their back. This could mean providing training on how to handle unhappy customers, setting up a complaint policy or immediately escalating negative reviews to managers or to yourself to take the pressure off your team members.

Be alert for “constant complainers” or “barnacles,” two particularly tricky types of customers who can turn a situation toxic fast. These customers love to voice their criticism, whether or not it’s valid, to try to get a discount or free handout. When you encounter one of these customers, take the high road. Do what you can to make it right, and then move on.

Step four: Make it right

Customers love supporting small businesses because they often form personal relationships with you and your staff. Because you likely know many of your regulars, you are well-equipped to personally and authentically resolve a negative review. Find the quickest, most logical way to rectify the immediate problem. This usually means either returning an item, replacing it or offering a discount. Recognize that you value this person’s loyalty, show empathy and connect with the customer in a unique way that sets you apart from impersonal customer service centers at big-box retailers.

“Apologize for and explain the situation, issue a refund (if applicable), and offer an additional benefit for sticking with you. Have a set strategy for specific problems, but personalize each response. Great customer service can turn unhappy customers into brand advocates; poor service does exactly the opposite,” Carlo Cisco, owner of FoodFan, told Clover.

Step five: Prevent a future bad review

Finally, use this negative review as an opportunity to improve. How can your business operate better, serve customers faster or improve communication? Create formal policies such as a refund policy or return policy, and revisit them regularly. Role play with your staff to train them on how to deal with an unhappy customer in person. Implement a system or tool where customers can give you feedback directly, rather than on a site like Google or Yelp.

Ultimately, a negative review is a gift. It shows that your customers care enough about your brand to take the time to leave you feedback. Even the worst reviews can turn into positive experiences, if handled correctly.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 26, 2021