You asked for a review, and you got one, but it’s not exactly glowing. Review sites like Yelp and Google Reviews filter reviews through algorithms to make sure they’re legitimate before they’re posted, but they do not remove legitimate negative reviews, as much as business owners would like them to. That negative review is forever. Now what?

A negative review is an opportunity to make a positive change.

Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers, says, “Don’t let fears of a one-star rating stop you from embracing online reviews as a marketing tool. By encouraging customers to share their opinions online, you can demonstrate that your business is the kind that values customer feedback, and that you’re confident in the excellent quality of products and services you offer.”

Responding in a way that benefits your business is all about your attitude. When treated like opportunities, bad reviews are business gold. As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” So when a bad review comes in, and it certainly will, don’t take it personally. Put your entrepreneur pants on, and do these five things. 

  1.     Own it – don’t try to hide it. Standing by all of your reviews shows character. Your reviews represent your customers, and you shouldn’t throw any of them out with the trash. Customers appreciate honesty. Besides, when a business has nothing but glowing, 5-star reviews, it’s more suspicious than sincere. 
  1.     Consider the motive. Because so many consumers consult reviews before they try a new business or product, more and more of them are willing to write them. Most of the time, they’re not writing the review for you, they’re writing it for your future customers, in whom they see themselves. They are writing the things they wish they’d known before they chose you, and that’s great for you. (We’ll get to why in a moment.) 

Let’s face it: sometimes people just like to complain. But those people are your customers, too. So, is the writer of the bad review being constructive or destructive? It’s good to know the difference for perspective purposes, but either way, you have to…

  1.     Respond graciously. Sometimes this means taking the high road. Owning and showcasing bad reviews is only effective if you respond–or learn, as Bill Gates said. But before you learn, you have to say thank you. That customer could have chosen a different business, but he or she chose yours. Always be grateful for a customer who walks in your door, whether it’s a physical door or a digital one. Also thank them for writing a review, no matter how many stars you got. (Feel free to copy and paste.)

“Thank you for coming in today.” 

“I appreciate your business, and I’m so glad you took the time to write a review for us.” 

“Thanks for your business. We embrace all feedback and take it as an opportunity to improve.”

  1.     Apologize and Be specific about how you’ll do better next time. Many bad reviews are specific, especially when they come from the constructive criticism camp. If you read the comments and think about them without your ego present, they’re usually accurate. After you’re done thanking the reviewer for their business, let them know what you’re doing to make sure they have a better experience next time. Make sure you’re specific so it doesn’t sound like a generic cut and pasted response meant only to appease.

“I’m sorry the service was slow when you visited. Thanks to your feedback, we’re in the process of updating our workflow to speed up service.” 

“Thanks for letting us know about [insert flaw in your product]. We’ve added your comments to our priorities for the next version, and I hope you’ll give it a try.”

“I’m sorry you had trouble connecting when you visited. We’ve changed our WiFi service to make sure it’s better the next time you’re here.”

If the reviewer is of the “just likes to complain” variety, there may not be a specific issue to improve. For these, stick to the thanks and apologies. People like to know that they’ve been heard. No matter what, assure them that if they give you a chance, you will gladly… 

  1.     Welcome them back. End your response with an invitation to come back. Always. This may not mean anything to the reviewer, but the potential customers who read this response will give you major brownie points for being so magnanimous. 

If a review comes from a venue on which you can’t respond directly, consider posting a screenshot of the review on your business’ social media and responding to it there with all the criteria above. A response to a negative review shows that you are listening and you care about your customers. Embracing it shows you’re an innovator and you stand by your business and your customers no matter what.