The internet has given everyone a voice.

Sometimes, that’s good. Like in the case of social justice.

However sometimes, that’s bad. Like virtually any YouTube comments section.

For businesses, this has become a double edged sword.

Being able to interact with customers gives you unprecedented access to create or further your brand.

But it also opens you up to criticism or trolls who express their dissatisfaction loudly and clearly for all to see.

However, getting honest feedback – whether positive or negative –  is important because it helps you know where you’re doing well, where you’re not, and how to improve. It clues you into those ‘blind spots’ that are unfortunately inevitable when there’s a ton of other things on your plate.

Here’s how to respond, and avoid being the next victim of those epic #socialmediafails you read about online.

Step 1. Don’t Be Argumentative. While seemingly obvious, your natural instinct when reading a negative review is to get defensive. It’s only natural, as business owners are personally invested in their business. However trying to argue or ‘prove someone wrong’ online is a losing proposition that will only backfire.

Instead, start with empathy. Try hard to see their point of view and understand where they’re coming from. Then respond with sincerity and a willingness to make things right.

Step 2. Take it Private. The longer a problem festers in public, the greater likelihood for it to spin out of control.  So start by responding publicly, but then try to take it offline or through private channels as quickly as possible.

That shows other people who might read the negative review that you care and you’re on top of it, but allows you to discuss the gritty details away from the public eye who might not understand what’s going on.

Step 3. Identify & Correct the Root Problem. It’s tempting to throw a discount at the customer in hopes the problem will go away. However only addressing the symptoms will leave your business open to this problem happening again in the near future.

Instead, try to understand where the original problem stemmed from. Document these in a simple Excel sheet over the course of the month, and review them with other people in your company as needed.

Negative feedback or criticism is never fun to hear. And it’s only natural for business owners to feel personally attacked.

But if you can change your perception and use it as a learning moment to see how and where you can improve, these tense situations can ultimately make your business run better and smoother for years to come.

Check out Dex Media’s social media management and digital presence management services for local businesses.