Whether you consider them fair or unfair, online reviews posted by customers (and, unfortunately, others such as disgruntled former employees) can affect your brand and the reputation that you worked so hard to build in profound ways. Today, potential customers like to do their own research. It’s easy to jump on the Internet, and in just a few clicks, can read what others have posted about their experiences doing business with you. And there is no shortage of online review options. Right now, the “Big Three” customer review sites are Google, Yelp, and Facebook.

For any business, taking an active role in managing these online reviews is essential. There reviews are often the tipping point that a customer uses to choose you or one of your competitors. As much as any business tries, you can’t please 100% of your customers 100% of the time. The sad reality is that some people are just too miserable or too irrational to be satisfied. Customers may have unreasonable expectations or simply complain because they like to complain. All businesses, including yours, will be periodically “zinged” by customers.  So, what can you do when the inevitable happens and your business gets a few bad reviews, or even worse, underserved, seemingly spiteful, bad reviews?

So, you have a choice. You can either attempt to proactively manage your reviews or you can passively sit back and do nothing. Obviously, the former has far more advantages.

First, the good news. Today’s Internet-driven customers are pretty savvy folks. They tend to balance out the reviews. After you’ve read enough of them, you can tell which ones seem fair and balanced as opposed to the extremes. Some are so unduly complementary that they sound planted and phony and some are so unfairly critical and over-the-top that they make the reviewer sound “nuts.” Most customers who intelligently read the reviews throw out those outliers on both sides and look for the general trend of all of the reviews. As a related matter, don’t try to flood these review sites with purchased reviews. These review sites are sophisticated. They have algorithms that can sniff this underhanded behavior out, and when you get a bunch of flowing reviews that sound suspiciously similar, your credibility is out the window. You and your business reputation is strong enough to stand on its own merits, and you don’t need to play petty manipulation games on these sites.

Also, readers tend to give more weight to the most current reviews and not those from a few years ago. As the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last time at bat. It’s a good reason why you need to keep up a constant flow of recent, good reviews. It shows potential customers that you have an active, vibrant business, that others have deal with you recently, and most important, they like you!

Every so often you’ll see a bad, undeserved reviews that makes your blood boil. Sometimes you recognize the customer, sometimes you don’t. Have you ever tried to contact Yelp or Google to try and get have them delete the bad review? Good luck. The sad reality is that, for all intents and purposes, those reviews are pretty much cast in stone. They’re not going anywhere. The best thing is to bury them with good ones. Those isolated bad reviews soon start looking like petty and inconsequential drivel written by chronic malcontents

Be proactive in requesting feedback. You need to be relentless in getting all your customers, especially those repeat ones who love doing business with you, to take a few moments and write a great online reviews. Even if you think you are doing a lot, double up your efforts. Don’t be shy about letting customers know that the best way for them to show their appreciation for a job well done is to leave a positive review. Positive well-written reviews are online gold. They not only direct potential customers to you, but they also overpower and negate those few bad reviews that will inevitably be posted.

There are platforms for businesses to ask customers for their comments. If the comment is positive, it will encourage them and providing links to post positive comments on a review site, and if the comment is negative it will redirect the customer to the business to give the business a chance to rectify the issue. You should have a consistent protocol for soliciting good reviews. The simplest is just sending out an email after a transaction, thanking them for their patronage, and asking them a website review (a review that’s posted on your website) and links to your online platforms such as FB or your link to your google review. Google reviews are the toughest to accumulate because they take the most effort for from your customers to post. But they are worth the effort. In fact, they are so important, that I recommend that a business personally call and ask their best long-term customers to do this for them.

Show that you care by responding to every review. Take the time to send out a thank you for the good ones, and respond online as well thanking them for the positive feedback. It shows customers that you are following the reviews and take them seriously.

What about the bad reviews? Respond to them objectively and professionally. Don’t be defensive or get into a “tit-for-tat” response. An attack response will just exacerbate the damage, and even if you are even if the customer is dead wrong, you’re the one who loses. It’s a big mistake to treat these review sites as a “courtroom” to defend your honor and your business reputation by presenting your own evidence. Instead, take the high road. Ask the aggrieved customer to contact the company, and you will personally determine what steps can be taken to resolve the problem and make them happy. Show the world that you are being empathetic and reasonable to their complaints, even if you feel that they are not well founded or justified, and you’ll do your best to make things right. After all, mistakes sometimes happen in real life. All we can do is to strive to do our best, and if we fall short on occasion, that we take steps to correct it and make things right. When potential customers se that you are responsive to complaints and are willing to fix them, that’s a long-term win for you. How you respond can actually transform a negative review into a positive one!