A young cafe owner stands before a laptop computer resting on a counter in his restaurant. The man is looking at his laptop with a concerned look on his face.
Handling negative reviews in a thorough, professional, and genuine manner is how your business demonstrates to your customers that it truly cares. — Getty Images/Orbon Alija

Even the best-run businesses receive the occasional negative review. Poor feedback can be particularly damaging for small businesses, which often rely on reviews and word of mouth to attract customers. A BrightLocal survey reported that 87% of consumers read reviews on local businesses, so they’re likely to see if others have left less-than-favorable comments.

Though seeing a one-star review of your business can raise alarm bells, keep in mind that negative reviews don’t have to be detrimental in the long run — and in many cases, negative reviews can benefit your business.

Responding to the review is an opportunity to turn a negative sentiment into a positive experience with your company. Additionally, your reply to the unhappy reviewer shows prospective patrons that you care about your customers and will make things right when needed.

Here are some strategies for handling a bad business review, including what not to do.

[Read more: How Do You Turn a Negative Customer Experience Into a Positive One?]

Address the review quickly without getting defensive

The only thing that looks worse than a negative online review is a negative online review that’s unaddressed. It’s in your best interest to publicly reply to a bad review and in a timely fashion: According to a ReviewTrackers survey, most customers expect responses to reviews within one week; faster responses correlated with a better business reputation.

No matter the circumstances surrounding the review, it’s important not to get defensive or argue back, which may further damage your company’s reputation.

“Getting defensive or engaging in arguments with the customer should be avoided at all costs,” said April Davis, Founder and CEO of Luma Luxury Matchmaking. “You need to keep calm and composed, even if the review feels unfair. Responding defensively can escalate the situation.”

Empathize, then solve the problem

When responding to a negative review, empathize with the customer and take responsibility for what happened. Always include an apology — even if it’s to say that you’re sorry the customer is upset — and a commitment to changing their feelings about your company.

“Offer to address the customer's concerns directly, and provide a solution or resolution to rectify the situation, if possible,” said Alex Perelmuter, Founder and President of New Jersey Videography.

Quick resolutions may include a refund, a replacement product, or a free service. If the problem is more complex or requires a more thorough internal review, share your plan to fix the issue and let them know you value their feedback.

[Read more: How Big Brands Turn Customer Reviews Into Sales]

The only thing that looks worse than a negative online review is a negative online review that’s unaddressed.

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. However, removing a legitimate complaint may make the problem worse.

“Do not … delete the review,” Perelmuter told CO—. “This will cause the customer to get upset and spark a red flag that you may not care about your customers. Make sure you address it properly as a way of not only keeping your customers happy but also keeping them as a repeat customer.”

If you’re particularly concerned about a review, ask 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 and promptly, reducing the likelihood of additional negative feedback.

Look for patterns

The leading benefit of online review platforms is the direct feedback you receive on your business. Check your reviews regularly, looking for patterns in the content. 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. This simple act can separate you from competitors and keep your customers satisfied.

“We should use negative reviews as opportunities to evaluate and improve our business processes, listen to customer feedback, and make necessary improvements to prevent similar situations in the future,” Davis said.

Follow up

Once you’ve addressed a customer’s immediate concerns, follow up with them to make sure the issue has been resolved so you can rebuild trust, said Davis.

If the customer is satisfied and the situation is resolved, you may ask them to reply to their original bad review and discuss how their concerns were remedied. If the customer is still not satisfied, ask them how you can further remedy the situation, then (as feasible) provide that service. This action demonstrates to potential customers that even when your business comes up short, you’re willing to work with customers to solve any issues.

Proactively bolster your online reputation

Remember, handling bad reviews is only one aspect of managing your business’s reputation. Here are some additional methods to improve your online image:

  • Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews. A bad review is less likely to gain negative attention amid a sea of good ones. Don’t be afraid to directly ask satisfied customers for reviews, explaining how much their positive feedback helps your business. You can link to your review pages in marketing texts and emails, leave QR codes on receipts, or simply ask customers in person.
  • Monitor your social media accounts. In addition to posting high-quality, relevant social media content, engage with your customers. Try to reply to comments promptly, particularly if the poster asks a question or leaves feedback on your products or services.
  • Maintain your business website. If you don’t already have one, create a business website to give current and prospective customers a direct way to communicate with your company. Include contact information to offer dissatisfied customers a more private way to express their concerns — and if they do leave negative feedback, address it promptly.
  • Sign up for local business directories. Take advantage of free small business directories such as Google My Business, Angie’s List Business, and Meta (Facebook) Business Suite. Having multiple avenues for reviews and customer communications can boost visibility and social proof.

[Read more: How to Help Customers Leave a Google Review of Your Business]

This story was originally written by Sean Peek.

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.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Brought to you by
Dedicated to turning our advantage into yours.
Unmatched 5G network : Get work done where your business happens with the speed, bandwidth, and reliability your business needs.
Learn More