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We’ve discussed several of the factors that influence the online reputation of a business: customer service, CEO behavior, employee activists, even political correctness. But for businesses, the bottom line often comes down to reviews. After all, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Bad reviews are incredibly influential, impacting not just the online reputation of your business, but your customer flow, purchases, and revenue. Customers with negative feedback will only give companies a week to reply before they stop doing business with them. But businesses with a positive presence on Yelp stand to gain an average of $8,000 in revenue — some even as high as $54,000.

If your business is plagued by negative reviews, what can you do to turn it around and reap the benefits of a positive online reputation? It may be easier than you think. Read on to find out how any business can stop bad reviews and develop a better online reputation.

  • Understand it’s not unusual to get bad reviews. Bad reviews happen, even for companies that are genuinely doing their best. Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control can make customers mad, or you may just be dealing with a customer that will never be happy. Don’t let it get you down if you’ve earned a handful of bad reviews, especially if your overall reputation is positive. But if the scales start to tip more negatively, watch out: you may be building a serious reputation problem.
  • Listen to all feedback, both positive and negative. Let’s be real for a moment: there’s probably some truth in the negative feedback that you’d love to bury and never see again. If you value the future of your business, it’s important that you take a deep breath and face the reality that you may have done something wrong. Carefully read what your customers are saying about you, whether it’s bad or good. You can use this information to identify the strengths — and weaknesses — of your business.
  • Fix what’s wrong. Did you find something that you can genuinely improve in your business? You’ve discovered a great opportunity! It hurts to read negative feedback — especially if it’s true — but this is your chance to make it right. Learn about and fix customer service problems, plug holes in your processes, and do whatever you need to do to make your customers happier: because by leaving feedback, they’re clearly telling you what’s gone wrong and how you can fix it.
  • Emphasize what you’re doing right. It’s important to fix problems causing trouble for customers in your business, but reviews are also useful for playing to your strengths. See what customers are saying they enjoy about your business, and consider how you can expand on it. Is one employee in particular going out of their way to satisfy customers? How can you encourage all of your employees to follow in their footsteps?
  • Respond to negative reviews. Difficult as it may be, it’s important that you respond to negative feedback. Left unchecked, bad reviews stand as the final word, and without your response, potential customers are left to believe that what’s been posted is the truth. If there’s a misconception or outright lie posted in the review, set things straight with the truth. But remember that above all, you should be apologetic, professional, and avoid sounding defensive. In most cases, it’s best to simply apologize, explain how you plan to do better in the future, and ask the customer to give you another chance (and hopefully, a better review).
  • Above all, remember to be professional and respectful. It’s tempting to fire back at negative reviews with venom, because you’re probably feeling attacked by what they’ve said. Maybe you’re even taking it personally. But if you’re still feeling your blood pressure rise, take a breather before you respond. Insulting or abusing customers who leave bad reviews can cause a crisis management disaster and make your business look even worse than the review all on its own.
  • Leave belligerent reviews alone. It’s important to respond to reviews — except for the ones that are clearly crazy. Customers aren’t stupid: they can see straight through most reviews to decipher which ones are based in genuine concern and which ones are truly just a problem with the customer themselves. Reviews with serious profanity, rambling, and a general lack of decorum will speak for themselves with no reply necessary.
  • Report fake or false reviews. Most review websites take fake reviews very seriously and will help you to remove reviews that are untrue or posted by people who have never done business with you. Contact website administrators with your suspicions, evidence, and request that they help you remove fake reviews.
  • Don’t be tempted to post fake positive reviews. On the flip side, remember that it’s never a good idea to post fake reviews. Fake reviews put your reputation at risk, and may have your account flagged, banned, or worse: legal trouble. Just don’t do it: earn your positive reviews instead.
  • Don’t sue your customers. Yes, they’ve done damage to your reputation, and you can probably pinpoint just how much business they’ve cost you. But it never, ever looks good for businesses to sue customers unless there’s a serious problem. For example, online retailer KlearGear slapped a customer with a $3,500 lawsuit — but that customer has now been awarded $306,750 in legal fees, compensatory and punitive damages. Do whatever you can to work out disagreements outside of the courts, or better yet: move on and focus more carefully on taking care of happy customers.
  • Ask for positive reviews. Happy customers with nothing to complain about may never share their experience with others, but you can bet that irate customers will tell everyone they know. It’s clear that this plays out online with bad reviews, but the good news is that you can do something about it: ask your happy customers to spread the word, too. The more positive reviews you have, the less likely it is that bad reviews will damage your reputation. After all, a business with hundreds of positive reviews won’t be scathed by a handful of unhappy customers. Directly ask your happy customers to leave you a review. Sometimes, all they need is a reminder that you’d appreciate their support.
  • Work on building factors that will improve your online reviews. If you really want to deal with bad reviews, the best method is to drown them out with positive feedback. We know that asking for positive reviews helps, but how can you deliver service that will have customers inspired to leave good reviews for you without a request? The secret is to know what they’re looking for, and that’s great customer service. A positive experience, including “friendly, helpful, and nice” interactions with employees will make customers happier and more likely to leave you a great review — not to mention come back for repeat business. Consistency is also key: you should be able to deliver great service every day, not just when your star employees are on shift. Work to make sure that everyone on board is ready to do what’s needed to make your customers happy enough to tell everyone they know how wonderful you are.
  • Stay up to date on your reviews. Remember that reputation management isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s important to stay on top of what’s being said about you online. Set up Google Alerts, and register your business on websites where you have reviews so that you’ll be alerted to any new feedback that comes in. Watch and follow your reviews and consider how you can improve and listen to feedback as new reviews come in.