Reading online reviews.

With 90 percent of consumers reading online reviews before visiting a business, you can’t afford to ignore what’s being said about your company on websites like Yelp, Facebook and Google. Responding to online reviews and comments is an important part of managing your business’s reputation and persuading potential customers to call or visit you. But knowing how to respond isn’t always simple. To ensure your responses strike the right chord with online reviewers, follow this list of do’s and don’ts.

DO respond to reviews

If a customer has taken the time to write a thoughtful review, they deserve a thoughtful response. When the review is positive, thank the writer and tell them that you appreciate what they’ve said. When the review is negative, politely apologize for the poor experience and address the issue. In either case, try to establish a personal connection. Call the reviewer by their name and reference specific details from the review to show you care about their needs and value their opinions.

DON’T become defensive

When faced with a negative review, your first instinct may be to defend yourself and your business. However, disputing the facts described in the review or blaming someone else makes you appear combative, even if you’re right. A defensive response could also make prospective customers think that you’re dismissing a customer’s concern. Arguing about the details of the review isn’t going to resolve anything. You may make yourself feel better by snapping back at the reviewer, but you might have also lost a customer — and turned off prospects in the process.

DO take a breath

A negative review isn’t necessarily an attack on you or your business, even though it’s understandable to feel that way. You work hard to provide the best products or services you can, so it’s difficult to hear that someone wasn’t pleased with what you’re offering. But resist the urge to fly off the handle, even if the reviewer was incorrect or rude.

Take a few minutes to really think about what the person has said in their review — perhaps step away from the computer for a few minutes — and then formulate a polite response. You might even want to ask a business partner or trusted employee to read over what you’ve written before you hit the submit button.

DON’T wait too long to respond

With everything that you have to do to keep your business running on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to put online reviews on the back burner. But because sites like Yelp can increase web traffic and foot traffic, it’s important that you make answering questions and addressing customer concerns a priority. Ideally, you’d be able to set aside a few minutes per day to do this. If that’s not feasible, you should be reading your reviews at least once a week.

DO acknowledge criticism and apologize

Your customers want to be heard, so let them know that you’re listening. Instead of jumping to defend yourself anytime you receive a less-than-stellar review, start by saying something like, “I’m sorry to hear this.” As a business owner, you should be trying to create great customer experiences, so make sure online reviewers know that it makes you unhappy when that doesn’t happen.

After acknowledging the issue and apologizing, you may then offer an explanation, if there is one. When a restaurant patron writes that the service was slow, for example, there could be any number of justifiable reasons why things may have been lagging the day they visited. Maybe a server called in sick or there was a large party that the restaurant wasn’t prepared for. Whatever the explanation is, never shift the blame or make excuses. Take responsibility for the slip-up and explain what actions you will be taking to make it right.

DON’T lose your brand identity

The way you communicate with customers should be consistent, whether it’s on social media or Google, over the phone, or in person. So bring the same voice, level of professionalism and other key brand attributes to your response. For instance, you wouldn’t want to start writing in all caps or swearing simply because Yelp seems less formal than other marketing channels. Always stay true to your company’s values and identity.

DO offer to resolve the issue offline

Limit the back-and-forth you have with the people on review sites or social media. When trying to resolve an issue or address a question, you should answer in a comment on the site, if that can be done quickly and succinctly. But there will be occasions that call for a more thorough explanation and issues that may be more easily addressed over the phone. In these instances, ask the customer to send you a private message or email you with their contact information, so you can discuss the issue in more detail.

Whether the comments you receive online are positive or negative or just customer inquiries, your response to them should be gracious and professional. If you want to grow your audience, your commitment to providing good customer service can’t end after a purchase has been made. Use online review sites to engage with your target audience, maintain the integrity of your brand and find out what you can do to meet customer needs.

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