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Why Bad Reviews Are Actually Great Business Opportunities

This article originally appeared on Inc.com as part of BusinessBlocks CEO Justin Kulla's weekly Inc. Magazine column. To see the original post, click here.

"If I could give a half star, I would..." "Worst meal I've ever eaten..." "Terrible customer service..." Online reviews have the tendency to bring out a person's dramatic side.  For small business owners who are deeply passionate about their company, a bad review can be soul crushing; but it's almost never as personal as you think.

So, what should you do when your business gets a bad review? Let it sit unaddressed and wait for another review to bury it? Wrong. More than half of customers expect a response on a review site like Yelp, Google Reviews, or Amazon. 

The worst thing you can do is pretend that a bad review doesn't exist. You're not only ignoring the negative experience of one customer, but creating an unappealing first impression for anyone else searching for your business online. And they're definitely searching -- nearly 80 percent of consumers turn to a review site to find a local business.

Approach every negative review as an opportunity to learn and improve. You will definitely learn from it -- perhaps a customer identified a flaw that you can actually fix such as wait time or delivery quality. Their invaluable feedback is one of your best tools for improving the overall customer experience and the products or services you offer. Don't get defensive, get responsive.

You may be able to repair your relationship with the customer by simply responding to the review, making them feel heard and offering a discount for their trouble. You'd be surprised how much impact your follow-up message can have. When a business owner responds to a review on Yelp within 24 hours, 33 percent of the reviewers will actually upgrade their stars.

Plus, it's a chance to show other potential customers that you value customer feedback and care about their experience and it's a chance to correct the record if necessary. More than 80 percent of people visit Yelp because they intend to buy a product or service, which is why it's important to respond quickly.

But it's not enough to only focus on complaints. One of the biggest misconceptions about online reviews is that people just use reviews to complain. In reality, Yelp has more 5-star reviews than 3-star, 2-star and 1-star reviews combined.

Whether you run an ice cream shop or a graphic design studio, make sure you're managing your online reviews effectively by following these five steps:

1. Don't create fake reviews.

Don't ask your friends and family to create fake reviews on your behalf. Be authentic, and if you're looking for more positive reviews, ask your customers to leave a nice comment after they've completed their purchase.

2. Respond at least two times per week.

Getting around to it once a month simply isn't enough. You send a clear message that you don't prioritize customer experience if you're not responsive enough online.

3. Thank people who leave positive reviews.

Tell them you appreciate them taking the time to post and encourage them to visit your business again. Even better, mention a special sale or event -- remember, this post is visible to the public so you get free publicity. 

4. Try and be public.

Many review sites allow you to email someone who posts a review a limited number of times (often once) but doing this should be reserved for moments when you're protecting the customer's privacy. Otherwise, make your response known to anyone else who may stumble across the review.

5. Correct the record politely.

Look, sometimes people who post reviews are having a truly bad day and they rewrite history. It's okay to delicately correct the record, but don't start an online war of he-said-she-said. No matter who's right, it will just make you look bad. If you need to correct the record, make sure the rest of your post is friendly, empathetic, and sincere and try to include an offer or discount. As my mom told me, it's always better to take the high road.

Ultimately, good reviews lead to more business. Companies spend lots of money advertising to find customers. By interacting with your customers on a review site, you get to connect with them. It's authentic, effective and free! And hopefully you'll get more reviews that say "best service of my life, thank you."