It happens to almost all businesses at some point - a customer has a bad day and takes it out on your business in an online review.
Unfortunately, people can leave an online review about your business in many places on the web - Yelp, Google, Yahoo, CitySearch, and many other places - without you even knowing about it.
So what can a business owner do?
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to address negative online reviews so they don't impact your business. But you must be aware of where people are leaving reviews about your business first.
Step 1 - Monitor Your Online Reviews
First, you should monitor your online reviews. Do some searches for your business in Google and Bing, and see how you are showing up. Make sure to claim the business profiles where people are leaving your reviews (e.g. Your Google Places Page, Yelp profile, etc.)
In addition to the search engines and Internet Yellow Pages sites (IYPs) find the review sites relevant to your industry. Use Google Alerts to keep tabs on mentions of your business, or a tool like MyReviewsPage.com to get notified when someone leaves you a new review.
Step 2 - Respond to Your Online Reviews
Now that you know when someone leaves you a new review, you can respond if necessary. Many of the review sites give the business owner a chance to respond to reviews left there.
For example, Google allows business owners to respond to online reviews with their own comments.
Many times if you communicate with the customer and offer to resolve their issue they will cool down and be willing to modify their review. One local optometrist we worked with was surprised to find a negative review on Yelp that a customer had left eight months earlier. It was the only review on Yelp for this business. When we showed it to him, he said knew the customer and thought everything was taken care of. So he called the customer to explain the situation. She said she had left the review "in the heat of the moment" but forgot it was out there. She was happy to modify the review and turn it into a positive one.
Yelp allows you to contact the reviewer to address the issue, and ask them to modify it. If they refuse, you can still leave your own public comment on the review to tell your side of the story.
When you leave public comments on reviews, make sure to stay positive and constructive. Take your time and respond kindly. Remember, a lot of people are going to be reading the comment other than the person who left the review. What you say and the way you say it can help or hurt you. Done correctly, this can be a great way for you to show your commitment to great customer service.
A Cool Way to Help Out Your Favorite Small Business
Now that we've all got an appreciation for what a scary topic this can be for small business owners, wouldn't it be great if you could help out your favorite local business in some way?
Well, the nice folks at GetListed.org have come up with a way you can help out. It's called Review Wednesday. They are building a movement for active Twitter users to leave a review for one of their favorite local businesses every Wednesday and tweet about it with the #RWX hashtag. You can learn more here - Review Wednesday.
Do you have any questions about online reviews? Ask away in the comments below and I'll help if I can!
Don is President of Expand2Web, where he writes about WordPress for business and local search marketing. He also created GetFiveStars - a tool for business owners to encourage feedback and positive reviews from their customers.