Let me preface this by saying that every business will have an unhappy customer at some point. Sometimes it’s the fault of the business. Sometimes the customer had unrealistic expectations. Heck, sometimes the customer is just lying to get a deal.

In the real world these unhappy customers could result in some negative word of mouth to a dozen or so people. But when it comes to online reviews, that dozen quickly turns into hundreds or thousands of potential customers.

The good news is that when handled appropriately, negative reviews become opportunities to reinforce the quality of your customer service to potential customers. Follow these three easy steps when responding to a negative online review:

Step 1: Acknowledge the reviewer’s feelings.

The customer feels angry, upset, taken advantage of, so acknowledge these feelings. Your response is not an apology for whatever occurred during the transaction. Instead, try to relate to the customer on an emotional level, and express regret for their experience. Something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you had a negative experience at …” or ,”I’m sorry we didn’t live up to your expectations …” Even if the customer is dead wrong, they and others who read the review are looking to your business for empathy. A little goes a long way.

Step 2: Confirm your commitment to quality and service.

Make it known that you value your customers and are committed to quality, service, care, whatever is appropriate in your situation. Always reinforce your company’s core values so the customer and others see that this is not a normal occurrence, nor one that you take lightly. Think in terms of, “We value each and every customer who walks through our doors …” or, “We pride ourselves on our commitment to quality …”

Step 3: Take the conversation offline.

Finally, offer to speak directly with the customer privately via email or phone. If you had an irate customer standing in your business, you wouldn’t have this sort of conversation in front of other customers. Don’t openly discuss the matter in this venue, either. In fact, once you’ve responded, avoid further online discussion of the matter at all. On most review and social sites, the more comments a review gets, the more prominently it is displayed. The easiest method is something like, “Please reach out to us at customercare@soapboxteam.com to discuss how we can improve this situation.”

These steps may seem like no-brainers, but it’s surprising how often businesses fail to follow them. The No. 1 reason that happens is passion. Owners, managers, and employees care about their business. But this passion can quickly become pride when relating to others online, which leads us to the most important step: Before you write anything, take a deep breath and put yourself in a good mental place. Your emotions will come across in your writing, and no good ever came of responding to a customer while angry.

Learn more about the importance of online reviews in my earlier post: 4 things to know about online reviews. Contact me at chris.west@soapboxteam.com to talk more about managing your reputation online.