As business owners, we have all poured our lives into our businesses and put in years of sleepless nights--so when a client writes a negative online review for the world to see, it strikes at our heart and soul.

But instead of taking a bad review personally, the best response for business owners is to learn to manage our businesses' reputations and protect them from unrepresentative reviews.

I recently caught up with Rodney Gin, the co-founder of SiteJabber, an online community of more than 700,000 users reviewing online businesses. (If you've ever Googled an e-commerce business's name + the word "review," you've probably used their website.)
Earlier this week, they launched SiteJabber for Business, which is a free suite of tools aiming to disrupt the notoriously shady reputation management industry--which, let's just say, doesn't have the best reputation among business owners.

So what should you as a business owner do to deal with negative reviews online? Here are five big takeaways, according to Rodney:

1. Plan your strategy

This probably sounds straightforward, but to avoid an emotional and less effective response, it's helpful to create a plan before taking any action. Often, it's most effective to keep the tone of your communication calm and neutral, while addressing and respecting your customer's concerns (even if you're not in the wrong). Even if you can't give them everything they want, showing your willingness to acknowledge them and take some steps to improve the situation will go a long ways in saving the relationship and show other customers (both existing and potential) that your business cares about them.

2. Create a business profile

If reviewers see that a business has a professional presence on the review site, they may be more reasonable in their reviews, knowing that the business owner will see it and there is a chance of resolution. Many people who leave bad reviews still actually give the company future business. Reviewers can easily spot a business that has joined a review site because those business profiles will have customized photos, videos and calls to action.

3. Respond immediately and publicly

If possible, the best way to deal with a negative review is to respond within 48 hours. On SiteJabber, businesses that respond to reviews have an 86% higher rating compared to those that ignore them. When a business responds immediately and addresses the customer's concerns, reviewers will often either delete their reviews or even bump you up to a 5-star rating if they are really happy with the outcome. But even if you can't reach a resolution, responding to reviews is an effective, lasting way to show the public how your business handles unhappy customers.

4. Send a private message, too

Many customers only want to communicate via private messages and will refuse to respond to you publicly, so it's important to respond to them both privately and publicly. Your private message can elaborate on more details than you may want to discuss publicly, especially if your company deals with confidential information or services.

5. Collect more reviews

Once you've done your best to respond to and resolve the negative review, start collecting reviews from as many of your customers as possible. By collecting reviews from a broad cross-section of your customers, you can help make sure that your rating and online reputation reflect how your customers actually feel about you. That way, any future negative reviews can be seen in the broader context of all your happy customers. SiteJabber has found that business with more than 1,000 reviews have an 18% higher rating and get 672% more leads.

Note: it is possible to get all of these services for free, so if a review or reputation management company tries to charge you, you can say no and go elsewhere.

Published on: Sep 22, 2015