4 ways to handle negative online reviews

Don’t let the money spent on branding and media relations go to waste with an angry response to a negative Yelp comment. Pros can use these tips to calm angry consumers and repair a company’s reputation.

Small-business owners spend good money on advertising, media relations and other promotional materials to increase brand awareness and control conversation surrounding the business.

Although these tactics can be effective, one of the biggest factors that sway consumers’ opinions is feedback from others.

Years ago, word of mouth was a literal expression meaning one person shared their experience with their friends and colleagues, and then those people shared with their network, and so forth. These days, when a customer is upset with their experience, the first thing they do is announce it on social media and web forums.

Related: Got a Bad Yelp Review? Here’s How to Defend Your Business Online. (Infographic)

So what do you do when you get a scathing Yelp review about the terrible service and cold soup at your family restaurant or a horrible post on Ripoff Report about your gym’s cancellation policy? These tips outline some of the best practices for handling bad reviews.

1. Know that time is of the essence.

To gain back trust after a scathing review, make sure you say something as soon as possible. A quick response shows that the business has nothing to hide.

It’s important to note, however, that the messaging needs to be thoughtful and accurate, since the audience may already be aggressive and you don’t want to fuel an already existing fire.

Sometimes the best response is something simple, such as, “we are very sorry for the inconvenience and frustration that you’ve been experiencing. Please contact me directly at [email address] and we’ll get this figured out.”

2. Admit wrongdoing and apologize.

If the complaint is legitimate and truthful, it’s important to step up and take the blame.

People often respond negatively online to businesses that are trying to evade blame or pass it off on someone else. Conversely, customers are more likely to forgive and forget if the owner apologizes sincerely and then tries to make amends.

Related: Don’t Make These Customer Review Monitoring Mistakes

If the angry customer who received poor service and cold soup wrote on the local restaurant’s Facebook page, the restaurant could respond by saying they truly apologize for the negative service, and would like to make it up to them by offering a meal for them on the house. A business owner should then go to their employees and pinpoint the problem so the issue does not continue.

3. Don’t feel obligated to respond to everyone.

Often, online comments can be crude or vulgar because people are more courageous when hiding behind a computer screen.

If the comment is a personal attack or vague, don’t engage. Only respond to specific complaints about your service or the customer’s experience. Acting defensively or engaging in the foul play can make you and your business look petty and childish.

4. Ask yourself, do you want to be right or rich?

Your objective is to have a successful business. Don’t sabotage yourself by turning current and prospective customers off with an emotional or defensive response to an online comment.

Keep the big picture in mind and ask yourself if your response is going to help or hurt your business. Never respond out of emotion or argue over details, and always keep in mind that the best to respond to negativity is taking the conversation offline.

Related: 5 Predictions About the Growing Power of Online Customer Reviews

Terry Powell is the founder of AdviCoach and The Entrepreneur’s Source. A version of this story originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2014 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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