It’s true that bad news travels fast, especially when it comes to customer reviews. While it used to take time for word of mouth to spread, the Internet and social media have made it easy for people to share their opinions and experiences with friends, colleagues, and the general public with a few quick strokes of the keyboard.

As a small business owner, you need to take these reviews seriously. According to consumer research conducted by BrightLocal, 91% of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews and 84% said they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

When people have a bad experience, they are even more eager to share. A recent survey by Dimensional Research showed that when it comes to people sharing customer service incidents online, 95% post complaints while only 87% share positive experiences.

Although you can’t prevent bad reviews from happening, you can mitigate their impact by managing the way you respond to them. Using the opportunity to demonstrate superior customer service can help you turn a critic into a fan and show current and prospective customers how much you value their business. Here are some tips for handling negative feedback and using it to your company’s advantage.

Be in the Know

The first step is to be aware of what people are saying about your small business. Set up Google alerts with your company name to track information that’s showing up online. Monitor your social media sites and the Better Business Bureau regularly for customer feedback, and search popular customer review websites related to your industry. If you host a business blog on your website, make sure someone on your team is responsible for checking the comments and bringing them to your attention. If you don’t have the resources to consistently stay on top of multiple platforms, consider being more selective about the ones you use and turn off the comments function on your blog.

Act Quickly

Your customers want to be heard and they want their concerns to be taken seriously, so ignoring the problem is not an option. When fielding complaints about your company, address them as quickly as possible. Research conducted by shows that 69% of respondents attribute a good customer service experience to quick resolution of their problem.

Focus on keeping your responses professional, and avoid the temptation to go on the offensive. Craft written messages carefully, being mindful that your entire online audience is watching. Assure the offended customer you will look into their concerns and make every effort to head off their frustration before it boils over.

Add a Personal Touch

People generally want to feel valued by the businesses they frequent, and no one wants to receive a canned response when they have had a bad experience. Answer every customer complaint with a personal message, and be adamant that your customer service team takes even the smallest issues seriously. Demonstrate your professionalism by being gracious and thoughtful in your response. Thank them for the feedback, post a sincere apology, and let them know you will look into their problem and make it right. When possible, include the name and contact information of the person handling the issue. This will reinforce your authenticity and willingness to create a two-way dialogue in order to regain their trust and loyalty.

Take it Out of the Spotlight

An online or public forum is not the best venue for determining the details of a customer service problem or communicating the solution. You do want other customers to know that you are appropriately dealing with the situation, so keep the initial response focused on your intentions. Following your intentions, direct the individual customer offline to hammer out the particulars. For example: “I am very sorry to hear about your experience and want to do what I can to address the problem. Please email/call me so we can resolve things to your satisfaction.” Remember to provide specific contact information.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

When dealing with online or public complaints, be sure to post a follow-up message once you’ve resolved the issue in question and are certain you’ve come to an amicable solution. This will let others know they can trust your business to meet customer needs and deliver on your promises. You may want to ask the happy customer to post a note saying their problem was resolved. It will reflect positively on your business’s integrity and reinforce your reputation for going above and beyond when it comes to caring for your customers.

At Summit Financial Resources, we understand that keeping clients happy involves more than just managing their transactions. We use our successes and failures as tools for professional development. Consider incorporating both into your customer service training programs. Recurring problems may need to be brought to the attention of appropriate members of your leadership team. Solicit employee feedback and suggestions for how to improve products, services, and processes in order to prevent issues from occurring in the future.

Reviews are a fact of life, and customers will see them whether you like it or not. Taking a proactive approach to prioritizing quality service is your first and best defense against the occasional bad review. Happy customers are the best brand ambassadors for any small business. It’s well worth your time and effort to ensure they give glowing reviews and refer your business to new customers.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.