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Handling negative reviews in a thorough, professional and genuine manner is how businesses show customers that they truly care. — Getty Images/nortonrsx

The truth is, even the most well-run businesses get a negative review once in a while. If you’re running a business, you need to be able to manage your reputation efficiently — which means handling any poor reviews professionally.

If you think online reviews don’t matter just because you’re a small business, think again: According to a BrightLocal survey, 86% of consumers read reviews on local businesses, so you can be sure your potential customers will see if others have left you negative feedback.

If you’ve received a negative review and are not sure how to handle it, follow these tips to turn the experience into a positive outcome.

Address the review without getting defensive

The only thing that looks worse than a negative online review is a negative online review that’s gone unaddressed. Nearly 90% of consumers read businesses' responses to reviews, so it’s in your best interest to publicly reply to as many as possible. Some companies, like lingerie retailer Adore Me, commit to responding to each and every review they receive, no matter what the sentiment.

When responding to a negative review, empathize with the customer and take responsibility for what happened. ThriveHive, a marketing firm for local businesses, recommends always including an apology — even if just to say that you’re sorry the customer is upset — and a commitment to changing their feelings about your company.

If you can solve the customer’s problem directly, do so. If the problem is more complex, share your plan to fix the issue and let them know you value their feedback. Either way, it’s important not to get defensive or argue back, as this will only give the customer more reason to badmouth your business.

Don’t delete negative reviews

In cases where a review is particularly scathing, you may be tempted to delete it so other customers can’t see it. This is a mistake: Even if the platform allows you to delete reviews (many don’t), SCORE advises against doing so. It may make the customer even angrier, which could prompt them to leave another review telling others that you deleted their first one.

Instead, it’s best to respond by asking the customer to privately message you and take the conversation off your public feed. Whether you continue the conversation by email or schedule a follow-up call with the customer, you can deal with the problem directly in hopes to avoid having the customer leave any more negative feedback.

The leading benefit to online review platforms is the direct feedback you receive on your business.

Look for patterns

The leading benefit to online review platforms is the direct feedback you receive on your business.

Marketing and public relations specialist Pratik Dholakiya suggests looking for patterns in the reviews: Consistent negative feedback from customers means it’s time to address what’s going on in your business — and brainstorm ways to fix any problems.

Reading every review, positive or negative, is just good business. Fleshing out patterns and making corrections to solve problems with your product or service can separate you from competitors.

Don’t forget to follow up

Following up ensures that any customers who post negative reviews have had their experiences remedied to their satisfaction. This is not just good business practice — it also provides you with an opportunity to turn a negative review into a positive.

If the customer is satisfied and the situation is resolved, entrepreneur Brian Greenberg recommends asking them if they’d be willing to take down their review. A better strategy could be to ask them to reply to their original bad review and discuss how this situation was remedied. This will show potential customers that, even when your business comes up short, you’re willing to work with customers to solve any potential issues.

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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