As the owner of a small business, it's your job to get your business in front of as many potential customers and users as possible.  Marketing, advertising, referrals -- clearly those strategies pay off.

So does placing your business on as many review sites as possible. According to a 2018 ReviewTrackers Online Reviews Survey, over 60 percent of consumers say they are likely to check online reviews on Google alone before making a purchase; Yelp ranks second at 45 percent, followed by TripAdvisor and Facebook (which means appearing in Google Business listings is an absolute must).  

TrustPilot, Reseller Ratings, Angie's List, Yelp, FourSquare -- depending on the nature of your business there may be a number of appropriate review sites for example, TripAdvisor can be a great option if you run a local business.

But gaining new customers isn't the only reason to pay attention to review sites. Over 90 percent of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. 80 percent say they don't trust any business with a rating of less than four out of five stars.

And here's the best part: 53 percent of customers expect businesses to respond to negative reviews while 63 percent say no business has ever responded to their reviews.

Which means you can also use review sites to improve your products and services -- if you're paying attention.

At LogoMix we didn't realize we had a quality issue with one of our products until people started complaining on review sites. They didn't share their feedback with us; they shared it with everyone. Our experience was not uncommon. Since customers have been conditioned to not expect response from businesses when they complain, many will head straight to their favorite review site to share their feedback.

Once we realized we had a problem, we were quickly able to remedy the issue. Now we have a plan in place to use review sites as a way to improve our products for our customers.

And so can you. Whenever you spot a negative review:

1. Reach out to the customer.

Remember, the majority of people don't expect a business to respond - the fact you do will immediately set you apart.

2. Talk about their experience.

Don't get defensive, though -- most customer complaints are at least partly valid.

3. Ask questions to gain clarity.

Find out what happened, when it happened and get as much data as you can so you can trace the problem back to its root cause.

4. Resolve the customer's problem.

Replace the product. Re-do the service. Turn a disgruntled customer into a satisfied customer. When you do, you often make a customer for life because in the process of addressing the issue you showed you care.

5. Fix the underlying problem.

Maybe the problem lies solely with your product or service. Maybe your instructions are poor. Maybe your marketing creates inaccurate expectations. Sometimes the customer isn't really right, but that doesn't matter. Your job is to make every customer feel he or she is right.

Don't just use review sites as a tool to market your business. Create a process that allows you to use review sites as a way to connect with satisfied and dissatisfied customers -- and just as importantly, to get the real-time feedback you need to improve your business. Doing so will help ensure that your company gets the kind of reviews that convince even more potential customers to become actual customers.

Published on: Jul 31, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.