Avoid these 5 mistakes when responding to negative reviews.

Today’s consumers can quickly become online critics. They can log into Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+, or Facebook and write a review of your business for all the world to see. Sometimes, you get a confidence-building five-star review, and you get up and give everyone in the office a high five. Sometimes, though, you get a bad review, with a single lonely star.

And it hurts. It feels like a punch in the gut. How can anyone say such things about your baby?

The thing is, you can’t please everyone. The quicker you realize that negative reviews are unavoidable, the better equipped you’ll be at handling situations in which you receive one. However, not all small business owners are smart and savvy when it comes to responding to criticism; they may even have a knee-jerk reaction that only ends up fueling the fire. Not everyone is aware, either, of the impact that reviews and review responses may have on their business reputation.

If you are on the receiving end of a negative review, here are five mistakes to avoid:

Mistake #1: Losing Your Temper

It’s natural and reasonable to get defensive when a customer brings up an unresolved complaint in his or her online review. You’ve shed copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears for this venture! But regardless of whether the review is fair or not, you have to resist lashing out. Don’t let it get ugly. An angry response drives potential customers away and can cause long-term damage to your reputation.

Look what happened to Boners BBQ in Atlanta. Its owners weren’t happy about what customer and Yelper Stephanie S. said in her negative review, so they went on Facebook and issued a cringe-worthy response, complete with five-letter expletives and customer-shaming photos. Needless to say, the response created a social media backlash and drove away future customers who didn’t like how management could be so incredibly rude to its paying customers.

Mistake #2: Stifling Criticism Through Legal Action

A number of business owners have sued customers in an attempt to censor negative reviews and social media criticism. Last year, a hotel in Hudson, New York began to charge guests $500 for every bad review. Then, just a few weeks ago, a shades and blinds company in Chicago filed a libel lawsuit against a couple of review writers. These actions have caused a kind of Streisand effect, unintentionally generating publicity and inciting vigilant consumers to post more one-star reviews on these companies’ respective profile pages. Trust me: you don’t want that.

Mistake #3: Being Too Proud To Say “Sorry”

Some business owners simply refuse to apologize, but the truth is that negative reviews are often the result of customers feeling like their concerns went unheard, so they go online to vent. Saying sorry is therefore the least you can do. By owning up to your mistakes, you can convince people that you’re not a big bad company that can’t take criticism. Even in cases where the complaint isn’t legit, apologize anyway. Do your best to prevent the interaction from getting testy, and don’t feel like you have to have the last say on the matter.

Take a cue from the Grand del Mar, one of the top luxury hotels in San Diego, whose management is extremely savvy and patient with responding to bad reviews. “Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable review,” reads one of the hotel’s responses on TripAdvisor:

“The experiences you described are not characteristic of the level of service our colleagues strive to provide, and we apologize your stay was unsatisfactory. Your feedback was shared with our team, and we look forward to the opportunity to welcome you back and exceed your expectations.”

Take note, too, that the response was signed under the name of the company president.

Mistake #4: Ignoring the Conversation

Another mistake to avoid is acting unfazed and unaffected in the face of a bad review, to the point of completely ignoring the implications of a problematic customer experience. But those reviews aren’t going to go away, and their presence may influence the purchase decisions of your potential customers.

In order to minimize the impact of a negative review, you must reach out and engage with the reviewer—either publicly or privately—and provide resolution-driven responses. Show that you care. Be as quick as you can when addressing customer feedback. Leaving it until later can cost you the opportunity to positively change the conversation between you, the person who wrote the review, and the rest who will read it.

One standout example is this New Mexico food truck’s response to a one-star review. When a customer criticized her business on Yelp, Amy Black of the Supper Truck in Albuquerque attempted to reach out and say sorry. “But I never heard anything back,” she said. So she teamed up with her musician friends, wrote an “I’m sorry” song, and posted the music video on YouTube. “I was just thinking, ‘How can I win this person back?’” said Black. “And we try to be creative and have fun.” You don’t have to write a catchy song for a bad review, but you definitely have to engage and proactively find ways to address your customers’ feedback.

5. Offering Rewards or Gifts

You can’t buy your customer’s goodwill by offering gifts in exchange for a positive review or the removal of a negative review. Not only is this practice frowned upon by all major review sites; it might also alert regulators who are cracking down on businesses that “incentivize” reviews and effectively violate the FTC’s guidelines on the use of endorsements. If you’re hoping to reward or win over customers in some way, do so with brilliant service. You can never go wrong if you provide great customer experiences.

In the age of Yelp, reviews can make or break a business; but equally important is your ability to respond to these reviews and solve customers’ problems. Avoiding these common mistakes above can turn your reputation around and make it five-star worthy—ensuring nothing but high-fives all around.

Be sure to check out our other posts from Chris on managing your online reputation, “8 Tips and Tricks For Building a Winning Reputation” and “6 Keys to Successful Customer Engagement in a Multi-Screen, Omni-Channel World.”

Chris Campbell is the CEO of ReviewTrackers. He has helped tens of thousands of businesses hear, manage, and respond to what their customers are saying online.