Online reviews matter, and while this has been the case for years, it is becoming more important as the number of consumers relying on reviews continues to increase.

BrightLocal recently found that 93 percent of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the past year, with 34 percent searching at least once a day.1 At the same time, more and more consumers are relying on reviews before giving their business to any particular company. According to the same report, 87 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020, which is up from 81 percent the year before.

What if, despite your best efforts to consistently provide a great product/service and customer experience, you receive negative reviews on various review sites? These can harm your business’s reputation, regardless of how many happy customers you've served.

While it can be tempting to jump in and call out such reviews as disingenuous, it's important to handle negative reviews professionally and to not risk doing more damage to your reputation by responding hastily. Following are four tips for how to respond to negative reviews.

1. Let reviewers know when you agree with their assessment

Some negative reviews, as tough as it can sometimes be to admit, are truthful reflections of a business's ability to deliver on its promises. Whether the customer had an issue that can be fixed on your end or if it's something that isn't possible to rectify, be sure to let the reviewer know that you agree with their assessment of the situation and are doing everything in your power to make it right. The important thing is to not ignore the complaint, but to respond empathetically……and quickly.

2. Even if you disagree with the reviewer, acknowledge the complaint

You're probably not going to agree with all negative assessments of your business. No matter how well you run things, you're probably never going to please everybody. But because you think a reviewer is wrong, don’t leave the complaint unaddressed.

"Don’t ignore the review or worse, get defensive and belligerent," says Samara Mashal, Associate Director of Web Marketing at Yelp.2 "A simple 'I’m sorry our business did not meet your expectations, and we appreciate you sharing your feedback' sends a strong message that while you appreciate the feedback and are sorry the customer was dissatisfied, you stand by your business practices. Remember that everyone can see the way you respond to online reviews, so your response is a representation of your customer service."

Even if you take a negative review personally, it's best to keep that to yourself.

3. Know when to have a private conversation

Some cases may require additional follow-ups that aren't appropriate to have on a public platform. Know when it's better to take the conversation private to make the situation right for both you and the customer.

"While it’s important to publicly address negative reviews, conversations to understand and reconcile them should be done privately," says Darian Kovacs with Jelly Digital Marketing & PR in a Forbes piece on negative reviews.3 "Respond to the review by acknowledging their point of view, and then provide an email or phone number for them to contact you privately to resolve the situation."

In some cases, an instant message conversation may be equally beneficial, depending on the platform.

4. Make sure you're covering reviews wherever they appear

Keep an eye on reviews from different places on the web, because not everyone uses the same platform to talk about your business. Popular review sites include Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Yellowpages.com, Manta, and Angi (formerly Angie's List).

Set up Google Alerts to keep an eye on new mentions of your business, and regularly take the time to browse reviews from a variety of sites.

Negative reviews can be annoying or painful, but they can also help you improve your business and customer experience if you pay attention. Handle them right, and hopefully, you can win back dissatisfied customers.

1. https://www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/

2. https://blog.yelp.com/2021/04/how-to-respond-to-negative-reviews

3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/04/19/11-tips-for-responding-to-negative-online-reviews/?sh=63fc21db5f5f