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Do you dread reviews and comments online? While you may want to pretend they aren't there, the best policy is to address them head on. Responding to negative comments is the surest way to lessen their impact.

 

In case you need motivation, remember that negative comments can wreak havoc on your sales. Research by Moz found that companies risk losing 22 percent of their customers if even one negative article is found in a search query. That figure rises to nearly 60 percent with three negative opinions and 70 percent with four or more.

 

So how do you deal with this kind of criticism? Here are five steps for responding to negative comments:

1. Make sure you're aware of them

Set up Google Alerts and track Facebook posts and Twitter reports to be notified when someone tags your company on social media.

2. Acknowledge comments quickly

Good or bad, ideally you'll let online customers know you've seen their comment within 15 minutes. Be sure to thank them for the feedback.

3. Apologize for their dissatisfaction

When a customer complains, immediately say you're sorry for their negative experience with your company. Even a statement like: "So sorry for the delay in shipping your item" is simple and effective.

4. Offer an explanation

That is — if you have one. "We sent our shipping personnel home early for their safety during the recent hurricane, which meant that your package did not go out as planned," would be perfect. But if you have no explanation, don't make excuses.

5. Explain how you'll make it right

Offer perks like free overnight shipping or a refund if the commenter is willing to give you another chance. When possible, try to do more than just appease your customer — surprise them with the lengths to which you'll go to make them happy.

Negative comments on social media don't have to be damaging. If you follow these five steps, you may even turn a dissatisfied customer into a raving fan.

Marcia Layton Turner is an award-winning freelancer who writes regularly about small business and entrepreneurship. Her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Black Enterprise, as well as at Forbes, CNNMoney and Amex OPEN Forum, among dozens of others. 

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