The 6 Golden Rules for Bad Online ReviewsOnline reviews are increasingly important for local businesses of all types. If someone searches for your business, it’s now just as likely that online reviews will appear near the top of the results. What’s more, the latest study from Lightspeed Research shows that more than half of all consumers use the Internet for some type of research before making a purchase either online or offline.

Inevitably – no matter how good you are – you’ll get some reviews that aren’t to your liking. What then? Should you respond? If so, how? What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? Here are the six Golden Rules for responding to negative online reviews:

Golden Rule #1: Monitor what’s being said about you online

This is absolutely critical. If a customer writes a negative review about your business, that’s bad. If you don’t know about it, that’s even worse. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s bad business. It’s not nearly enough to simply search your business name online occasionally to see what comes up. Instead, local business owners are turning to more sophisticated but easy-to-use reputation management or reputation monitoring services. These services scour the web for any mentions of your business, giving you access to the information via a handy online dashboard and offering ways for you to respond.

Golden Rule #2: Know your options and have a plan

Familiarize yourself with the major local review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Places, DexKnows, Yahoo! Local and others. Check out the tools they offer local businesses to respond to customer reviews (good or bad), and any options you may have for requesting removal of offensive comments. Armed with this knowledge, you can have proactively have a plan in place for what to do if something bad shows up. This will help you remain calm and respond professionally.

Golden Rule #3: Do unto others…

Well, you know the rest. Basically it means this: Don’t overreact. Knee-jerk reactions to negative reviews have gotten many business owners in hot water and only make things worse. Avoid raising a public stink about it. Never go on the offensive; as tempting at that might be in some cases. Showing anger and frustration won’t help. Keep your focus positive and on making things right.

Golden Rule #4: Remember that prospective customers are also your audience

When you respond to a bad review, your audience goes way beyond the customer who wrote it. You need to “own” the issue yourself. You’re really writing to a much wider audience. That puts you in control and allows you to fix the problem for the current customer while describing how other customers won’t have the same issue.

Golden Rule #5: Be sincere and offer a real solution

Talk is cheap. Anyone can say “We’re sorry.” What you choose to do about a problem is what counts in the minds of current or potential customers. Whenever possible, go the extra mile to offer something tangible, perhaps a discount, freebie or extra of some kind. You are making this gesture in public, so others will judge you on it.

Golden Rule #6: See the silver lining

Customer service gaffs are opportunities to shine. That’s the flip side of your unintended flop. A bad review, while discouraging, provides important feedback that you can use to better your business. Think of it as market research and approach it objectively. Such feedback can expose hidden weaknesses in your product, service, staff or approach that are important for you to know. Take advantage of your opportunity to respond in a way that turns the situation around and makes you look caring and responsive in the eyes of other customers.

There’s another bright side to crummy reviews: Customers who encounter bad reviews that have been skillfully responded to feel like the time they’ve invested to research you online has been validated. This may move them more quickly to make a purchase. Ironically, a few negative reviews can lend greater credibility to your positive ones because customers will be more convinced they are genuine.

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