The Internet has produced many valuable innovations, but business-owners can be forgiven for occasionally questioning whether online reviews are one of them. A single disgruntled customer can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation, especially if their post is unique and/or extreme enough to go viral. Recently, we asked readers and experts to share their best strategies for managing what’s being said about their businesses online. Here are some of our favourite responses:

1. Use complaints to your advantage

“Online reviews are powerful, and the market relies heavily on them. We don’t mind being held accountable for our product quality and customer service standards. In fact, we use negative comments as an opportunity to publicly go above and beyond to resolve the situation. We end up with a very satisfied customer, and anyone who watched the interaction is generally impressed. We then meet with the team, figure out what the issue was and make a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
—Julie Cole, co-founder and vice-president, Mabel’s Labels, Hamilton

2. Stay cool

“Never react to a bad review with anger or emotion. If you attack your critics online, they’ll just attack back—and they’ll almost always win. It’s preferable to respond with accountability. Also, if the situation is appropriate and if your company is comfortable with it, a sense of humour can be a marvellous way to respond to critics. Research shows that humour is one of the key drivers of virality on the web. People love it.”
Boyd Neil, senior digital strategist, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Toronto

Read: How to Make Angry Customers Love You

3. Act fast

“We monitor our online reviews several times a day, and we respond to most of them as soon as they come in, especially if they’re negative. We’ll apologize, research the complaint, explain why it happened and outline what we’re doing to address it. We never, ever cut and paste our responses. We use software to monitor what customers are saying about us, and each of our general managers is responsible for checking in regularly, as is someone from head office, so that nothing falls through the cracks. Our potential customers are checking online reviews constantly. They won’t wait to make a buying decision, so responding quickly is a priority.”
Mandy Farmer, president and CEO, Accent Inns & Hotel Zed, Victoria

4. Turn it around

“It’s really what you do with online reviews that matters. If you see some consistency in the content of the negative reviews you get, you should address it and correct any problems you can. And when you do, you should build a campaign to turn it into something positive. That might be as simple as writing a post on your corporate blog that says: ‘We were having this issue, and this is how we solved it.’ That way, you can make a small splash about what you’ve done and turn the experience into a good news story about listening to your customer.”
—Jennifer Shah, senior vice-president and partner, digital and marketing communications, Fleishman-Hillard, Toronto

5. Ignore the crazies

“It’s important to take online reviews seriously but also to take them on a case-by-case basis. Some reviews are just silly or unfounded, like someone says they didn’t like your restaurant because of its logo. Customers are smart and will generally see right through trivial complaints like that. You can ignore those.”
—Ezra Silverton, partner and director of interactive services, 9thCO, Toronto

Read: How to Profit from Online Reviews

6. Ask for kudos

“As a general rule, for larger companies it’s a big concern if more than 10% of online reviews are negative. For smaller companies, it’s closer to 5%. You want the overtly positive reviews to at least double the negative ones. Since people are more inclined to go public when they’re unhappy, getting more positive reviews can be hard. A good way to get them is to be proactive about asking happy customers to write them. Not everyone will do it, but if you are creating a great experience, a disproportionate number will chip in. They need to be prompted.”
—Rob Jekielek, director, Reputation Institute, New York

This article is from the November 2014 issue of Canadian Business . Subscribe now!

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