If you’re a small business owner, you know the power of word of mouth marketing. It probably helped you build your business.

So you understand the power of online reviews, right? They’re the digital version of word of mouth. Recent research has found that “84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

The influence of online reviews is powerful. If you’re not convinced by that first stat, here’s a few more to prove it:

This all dovetails nicely into the priorities small business owners already have. In the 2017 WASP “State of Small Business Report”, we found that 40% of small business owners plan to increase revenue by improving existing customer experience and retention.

Bad reviews happen

You may already know all of this about online reviews. And if you don’t know the stats, you’re plenty aware that it’s bad for you when someone leaves negative feedback.

But here’s the reality: No matter how good you are, and no matter how hard you try, you’re going to get a negative review now and then.

And it actually helps you. Why? Because if your business (or your product) has nothing but 5-star reviews, it looks a little fake.

68% of consumers trust reviews more if they see a mix of ratings. And 30% suspect foul play if they don’t see anything negative at all.

That said, you still want to aim for as many positive reviews as you can get. As the old saying goes, “Aim for perfection, settle for excellence.”

So here are five ways to minimize how many negative reviews you’ll get. They’ll all aimed at what’s actually the more important goal: Keeping your customers happy in the first place.

First line of defense: Manage expectations

Ever heard of the bait-and-switch move where a store advertises a sale… but when you get to the store, there’s actually no sale? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here.

Of course, you would never do something like that. It’s an extreme example. But it can be easy to overpromise, especially if you’re writing an advertisement or want to do a promotion.

So check your enthusiasm a bit. Don’t make promises your customer experience can’t cash.

Second line of defense: Ask for feedback

This doesn’t need to be a form or anything fancy. Just instruct your employees to ask:

  • If the customer found what they were looking for
  • If everything about their experience was okay
  • If they had any problems

Give your employees a little flexibility in how they ask for this feedback. If it’s asked in a stilted way, you’re less likely to get a reply. The idea here is to reach out with a little bit of human connection to make sure the customer didn’t have any problems.

Of course, many customers will say everything was fine – even if it wasn’t fine. They don’t want a hassle, and they may just want to move on to their next errand or appointment.

If you want to suss out a bit more about how their experience was, and get actionable feedback, have your employees ask this:

  • If there was anything we could have done better?

It’s interesting how someone who just said everything was fine will suddenly have a little bit of a complaint when you ask this. And that’s good. You just got a valuable tip about how to improve your business.

Of course, you can also put up a “suggestions box”. Sometimes these work, sometimes not. But simply having one in a visible place shows that your company does care. Hopefully your staff will catch any problems, but a suggestion box is a nice piece of insurance.

Third line of defense: Follow up on complaints and suggestions

You may already know of a few problems that are causing your customers grief. Maybe some of those problems need to be fixed – maybe not. But the best companies have their act together enough to be continually improving their service.

So maybe you can’t invest in a $350,000 lot to add some parking space. But you could ask employees to park a block over so their cars aren’t filling up an already tight lot.

A few little changes like that can make a difference.

Fourth line of defense: Authorize your employees to fix things on the spot

One of my favorite stories from “The 4-Hour Workweek” is when Tim Ferriss decided to authorize his customer service staff to fix any problem that would cost less than $100 to resolve.

So if a customer didn’t get a package, so long as the order and shipping was less than $100, the rep was authorized – without ever having to check with Ferris, or anyone else – to just reship the package.

Give your employees that kind of power. Maybe it’s not $100 worth of power, but pick a figure so they don’t have to make an already annoyed customer wait and endure a hassle for something your company should have gotten right the first time.

Fifth line of defense: Have a customer happiness budget

This is a fund specifically set aside to make unhappy customers happy. Alright – maybe you can’t make *everyone* happy, but it is amazing to see how quickly a problem can be diffused by simply waiving a cost.

If you’re a florist, this might cost $50-75. Coffee shop? Your cost would be $5-7. You’ll have to be realistic, of course, but it’s smart to have a certain amount of money set aside to just completely comp a customer if something goes wrong. Even 1% of your revenue is enough.

This amount will obviously be higher than the employee-authorized “fix it on the spot” figure. And you may want to at least get a manager to step in before the cost is waived. But this is a nice tool to have on hand if someone gets really, really angry.

It’s amazing how distraught some of us can get over $20. So save yourself, your employees, and your unhappy customer the grief.