how to handle negative business reviewsMy dentist once had a customer slander him on Yelp in an effort to get out of a bill. He asked if I could help, hoping I might know someone at Yelp fix the problem. The review persisted online for years, as did my dentist’s pleas for help.

My dentist’s story is not uncommon. Negative reviews from unhappy customers, peeved ex-employees or close competitors are a challenge for local businesses, legitimate or not.

The reality is that reviews influence purchasing decisions: 76 percent of people read online reviews before choosing a local business, and 80 percent of consumers will change their purchase decision based on a bad review. More than ever, your online reputation is critical for attracting and maintaining customers.

Even the best businesses encounter a bad review. Here are the four best ways to address the issue head on when it happens.

1.) Take control
You cannot pick and choose what potential customers are reading about your business. But you can tilt the impression in your favor in the form of positive online content. Reviews, testimonials, articles, blog posts, tweets and Facebook posts celebrating your business will serve to neutralize a few negative reviews. Here, your time is better spent updating select outlets rather than maintaining upwards of 10 social media sites that you leave untouched for months. Carefully decide what outlets you feel will best reach your clients, and flood them with positive content about your business.

2.) Respond
A thorough response to constructive criticism will go further than an average-grade positive review by showing you are attentive to the service you provide. Consumers recognize that negative reviews add authenticity to an online profile, which can be further bolstered with a thoughtful response. Yet avoid getting caught-up in an online spat that unnecessarily draws attention — and traffic — to the complaint. Craft a one-time direct response to a negative review so that people know you listen to and care about customers, but avoid stooping to the level of Internet trolls trading blows comment-by-comment.

3.) Ask and you shall receive
In most industries, leaving a positive review is not top of mind after transacting — it is a rare habit that has only recently developed in the restaurant and travel spheres. Yet that does not mean that folks are not more than happy to share their great experience with potential customers. If prompted, most happy clients enjoy taking 5 minutes to review the excellent service you provided. If you run a great business, your past clients are happy and willing to help you grow it — you just have to ask. Review platforms and social media sites make it painless for your clients to review you, and have become a necessary tool to grow your business.

4.) Get help 
Third party services in the online reputation space can save you a lot of time and grief, though not all are created equal — if you think a negative review is in error, paying for positive ones won’t make it right. Consider using a reputable review site to build and manage your online reputation. A worthy investment when each star rating can earn a local business more than 9 percent of revenue each year. Past clients can be directed to a one-stop shop where they can leave you real reviews and where potential customers can read them. The platforms themselves are working hard to establish trust and credibility, as they are increasingly dedicated to rooting out fake content using evolving technology tools.

In life, we often remember negative experiences more vividly than positive ones. The same goes for business — your highly regarded service can be overshadowed by a few unhappy scribes. Bad reviews are a part of doing business, and a thoughtful response should be as well.

(Original article by Jay Gierak)