Trust is hard won and easily lost. Consider any number of recent PR gaffs: from United's manhandling of an uncooperative passenger to Shea's campaign to expand its customer base--all results of putting business objectives before customer satisfaction. And in the digital age, consumers quickly take to social media to vent their anger and even organize boycotts, as was the case with the #DeleteUber rallying cry that arose over allegations of sexual harassment within their management.

While incidents like these make for social media outrage and salacious headlines, they also do something with far more lasting impact: They erode trust. And, as any business owner will tell you (even those with massive PR machines), trust is foundational for business success. It is also difficult to rebuild once it has been undermined.

Short of leading a charmed life in which your customers never have cause to complaint--exactly how does a business maintain trust in such a visible and vocal time? The trick is to provide an easy, transparent way for consumers to voice their opinions and issues about your business and to be available and engaged in social channels. You must also give some serious thought to how comments and reviews can work for you.

While the expert review is hardly a thing of the past (or to be discounted), consumers also read and trust the reviews of other consumers. So why not make it easy for them? Certainly, encouraging customers to review a product on Amazon or responding to a negative TripAdvisor or Yelp review is an excellent customer service (and preemptive PR) strategy.

However, it is worth considering adding a review, feedback, or comments section to your own site. Yes, it is likely that negative comments will be posted but here are four reasons reviews are worth the risk:

1. Most people read reviews and heavily weight them. Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say they consult online ratings and reviews when buying something for the first time according to recent research. In fact, 40% of Americans (and roughly half of those under the age of 50) nearly always turn to online reviews when buying something new. Almost half of Americans feel that customer reviews help "a lot" to make consumers feel confident about their purchases (46%) and nearly half of Americans (45%) use cell phones while inside a physical store to look up online reviews of products of interest.

2. Reviews and comments boost SEO. Even the bad ones! Search engines favor sites that have unique content that changes frequently. A steady influx of reviews--along with your thoughtful responses--provides a continuous flow of updated content. As a bonus, this content will be crammed with the search terms and keywords consumers themselves use when discussing your product or service, making them even easier to discover for others searching for information.

3. Reviews help you learn from your mistakes. There are a number of ways in which bad reviews can actually help your business. Notable among them is that bad reviews provide insight into what's not working with your product or service so that you can fix problems. Acknowledging this in the reviews section, then highlighting that a change was made in response to customer feedback, shows that you care about what customers think and are always trying to create a better experience for them.

4. Reviews give you a public opportunity to get it right the second time. Okay, maybe you really screwed up: A customers' dinner was a disaster. You ran out of roses right before Valentine's Day. Or a big storm trashed your pristine beach before a couple's destination wedding. Responding quickly, in a caring and constructive way, shows that even on your worst day, your customer service is the best. Remember: Most consumers will do business with a company again after a negative experience if their customer service issue is resolved favorably.

The fact is that consumers will comment and review your products online, whether you want them to or not. Interacting with them where they are, such as on popular review sites or social media platforms or popular ecommerce sites is important.

It also makes a powerful statement to offer the good, the bad and the ugly--along with your gratitude, rapid response, and decisive action--within the context of your site. And remember, while you might think that a perfect track record of perfect reviews is your objective, people find mixed reviews more trustworthy. Besides, we all have a lot to learn from our customers and reviews give us great way to do that. They also offer the information and opportunity to help maintain (or, if necessary, restore) consumer trust.

Published on: May 2, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.