For business owners, bad reviews and negative consumer feedback can be frustrating and deeply embarrassing. They are more than just blows to the business owner’s ego, however; these instances of negative feedback, when published to highly-visible review sites like Yelp.com and TripAdvisor, can prove lethal to the business’ long-term success. The simple reality is that an overwhelming majority of consumers (more than 70 percent, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers) read and trust online review sites. If your company is beset with undesirable and unfavorable consumer notices, then, it is vital to address them as promptly as possible.

But how is it best to respond? When should business owners respond to reviews publically, and when should they respond privately? Are there ever instances in which the best response is no response at all?

When a Public Response is the Best Solution

First and foremost: In order to encourage your customers to interact with you, and to engender goodwill toward your brand, it is always a good idea to take some time to response to at least some of the positive feedback you receive. Be polite and be brief, simply expressing gratitude for the kind words of enthusiasm expressed by your happy clients.

A public response can also be helpful when you are addressing feedback that is mixed or even negative, but not unreasonable; if the client leaving the review is level-headed but simply disappointed in a lapse in service, or a glitch with your product, taking time to post a public response, and vow to make things right, can go a long way toward proving your business or brand to be genuinely interested in keeping clients happy.

Responding to Negative Feedback — and Not Responding at All

Responding publically to constructive criticism is one thing — but what do you do when consumers leave feedback that seems livid, or flat-out unreasonable? In these instances, a public response can be detrimental, because it only draws more attention to the negative feedback, even causing it to “rank” better within the review directory. This, of course, is the last thing businesses want or need!

This leaves business owners with two options. There is nothing necessarily harmful about seeking to resolve things privately — especially if you are able to offer a discount, a refund, or something to sooth the customer and perhaps even tempt him or her to remove the offending review.

With that said, it is vital to remember that negative reviews are sometimes left by business rivals, by disgruntled employees, by ex-staff members, and by consumers just looking for trouble. You cannot reason with these folks, so, if you are seeing the same kinds of reviews, over and over again, that just seem intent on trashing your company, the best response may be to ignore the reviews altogether, and instead focus on bringing in positive reviews, from your best clients, that can help suppress and subdue these undesirable ones.

The bottom line is that the reviews your customers leave you matter a great deal — and responding to them properly can prove make-or-break for your brand reputation!