Today, few things are more important to your business than your online presence. With 97% of consumers turning to a search engine when they buy a product, your digital footprint is more important than ever. And while there are many facets that you can control, the internet has provided a platform for anyone to share their thoughts about your brand for the entire world to see.

According to Pew, roughly two-thirds (67%) of online shoppers say they nearly always read customer reviews before making a purchase. And this makes perfect sense. In many ways, our lives are driven by online reviews. Think about it -- travel (TripAdvisor), restaurants & small businesses (Yelp), media consumption (Rotten Tomatoes), job searching (Glassdoor) -- at the end of the day, we trust our peers to help us make everyday decisions.

And just as positive reviews can be a tremendous boon for your brand, negative ones can have an equally powerful but opposite effect. While there are things you can do to help prevent negative reviews, even the best businesses have bad days.

As we continue through the busy holiday season, here’s five things to keep in mind when handling a negative customer review.


1) Always take the high road

Your business is your baby. And if anyone called your baby ugly, naturally, your knee-jerk reaction would be to respond with pure vitriol. But before you do, remember that what goes online, stays online… forever.

Responding positively to negative reviews, not only shows the reviewer a more favorable side of you than the one that spurred the negative review, but depending on the forum, it can also show everyone else who comes across your response that you are professional and care about customer concerns.

Of course, there are times where based on a customer’s language or level of rational, it is better to not respond at all. Use your best judgment and you’ll likely know which reviews are better left alone.

2) Be transparent

NBA star Kevin Durant recently found himself in an awkward situation when it appears that he created anonymous social media accounts to defend himself against people who were critical of his decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. While he’s neither confirmed nor denied these allegations, the perspective that he’s been engaging in these less than transparent activities to defend his personal brand has only exacerbated the negativity he set out to alleviate.

Review Mecca, Amazon, also recently found themselves in a bit of a quandary when they were accused of deleting negative reviews of Hillary Clinton's new memoir. While Amazon argued that the reviews violated their terms and guidelines, there’s an important lesson both of these situations can teach us: never try to manipulate or hide reviews. Chances are you will be caught and the fallout from that will be infinitely greater than one less than stellar review.

3) Take the issue offline

While your initial response to a negative review can be done in a public forum, it often makes sense to use this first interaction to take the issue offline. This can be particularly helpful in matters where sensitive or personal information is being discussed. It can also help avoid the potential for the customer to engage in a negative back-and-forth with you in a public forum. Corresponding directly with customers in the forum where they’ve raised negative comments in public and then bringing that conversation into a private channel is a best practice.

If you do resolve the issue through another channel like phone or email, remember to leave a brief comment in the public forum where the negative review was posted to show others that the issue was dealt with.

4) Have methods in place to prevent them

Without sounding too hyperbolic, it’s true that once a customer leaves a bad review, it’s already too late. However, research has shown that if a business resolves its issue quickly and efficiently, 95% of unhappy customers will return.

While you can never prevent all negative reviews from happening, by providing an exemplary customer experience, you can definitely minimize them. One common reason for negative reviews is poor customer communication. By keeping customers waiting, ignoring requests, or simply providing less than stellar overall communication, you’re leaving your company open to an onslaught of negative reviews.

As a messaging for businesses company, we were founded on the premise that businesses should treat their customers like humans and not just consumers. And, as in any human-human relationship, communication is the glue that keeps your customer relationships strong.

5) Learn from them

While resolving negative reviews is an important goal you should also have processes in place to ensure that your organization learns from any missteps and corrects course going forward. Surface negative reviews during company meetings and ask employees for their thoughts on what happened and how similar events can be avoided in the future. Aside from being a method of prevention, this kind of transparency will help you build a customer-centric mindset among employees.

As businesses continue to plan and execute strategies to capitalize on the busiest time of the year, it’s important to understand how to handle the influx of online reviews that they’re seeing. While reading a negative review can be like opening a box filled with coal, the proper handling of them can yield gifts that keep on giving.