Reviews are a double-edged sword for businesses. They increase search engine visibility and give customers a way to learn more about a store or restaurant before visiting. In recent years, local businesses in particular have become extremely susceptible to online reviews as customers rely on online research more than ever. If you own a business, positive online reviews can make the difference between a customer choosing to buy from you or a competitor.

Unfortunately, even the most customer-focused business will eventually get a bad review. Whether the comments have merit or not, the results can follow a business for years. Even if the reviews are posted on Facebook or Twitter instead of a more traditional review site like Yelp, the words can haunt a business through search results. Here are a few tips to recover from those negative reviews and reclaim your reputation.

Build a Strong Online Presence

A proactive approach is the best way to ensure customers see what you want them to see when they search for information related to your business. Set up a website, blog, and active social media presence and load it with information that engages potential customers. Make sure you and your entire staff make every effort to resolve any issues before they can progress to social media.

“Don’t wait until bad comments show up for you to react to the situation,” reputation management firm Reputation Defender says. “An unhappy customer can be identified early, if you have good channels of communications open. People usually start making their comments public after they have exhausted other resources.”

Respond Privately First

Once a negative post makes its way to social media, the best thing to do is take it private as quickly as possible. Send a direct message to the complaining customer and make it clear you take the issue very seriously. Get the information you need to research the matter and offer a resolution.

It’s important to realize that some customers won’t be satisfied with anything you could possibly offer. If the customer continues to post on social media, resist the urge to engage and consider blocking the person if it continues. It’s important to recognize when you’ve done all that you can do and shift your focus to satisfying future customers to obliterate the negative review with numerous positives.

Monitor Mentions

FastCompany tells the story of a company that responded to a customer’s social media post about music being too loud in one of its restaurants. In addition to contacting the location and asking them to dial the music down, the business asked for a plate of cookies to be delivered to the customer. The diner was so impressed with the service, she tweeted it, turning a negative experience into an extremely positive boost to its reputation.

The restaurant chain accomplished this by monitoring mentions of its brand on social media. There are numerous tools available that will send you alerts whenever your business is mentioned, but you can take it beyond simply watching for posts about you. Set your mentions up to alert you when other business in your industry are mentioned and use it as a chance to keep an eye on the competition.

Demonstrate a Commitment to Improvement

Even one bad review should prompt action from your business. Take every opportunity to let consumers as a whole know that you take customer service seriously, whether a negative review has been posted or not. Interact with your customers online and have an accessible, friendly tone with your posts. Host polls to ask your customers their opinions on any changes you’re thinking of making and take the results seriously.

Another way to show your customers you care is by posting images and behind-the-scenes videos of your team. Even if you have a small staff, you can introduce your customers to your world by showing how you’re preparing for a new product launch or participating in an event to show community support. When you make your customers a part of your daily operations, they’ll be more likely to feel loyal toward your brand.

As a business grows, negative reviews will begin to increase, but hopefully the positive posts will well outnumber them. By taking a proactive approach to your online reputation, you can ensure that even when a negative review is posted, customers will still see you as a great company.

About the Author: Dan Steiner is a technology entrepreneur, author, and marketing consultant. He is currently serves as CEO of security firm Online Virus Repair Inc., while also running Avila Web Firm, a web design and internet marketing agency based out of San Luis Obispo, California. Additionally, he is as an active mentor and volunteer at startup events throughout region. Get more from Dan on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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