It's hard not to take it personally when a customer leaves an unfavorable review of your business on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter or user-review sites such as Yelp. Yet experts say these reviews allow small business owners the opportunity to hear valuable feedback and make improvements that can actually enhance their customers' overall experience.

While it may be tempting to respond to a scathing online review in defense mode, Yanovitch recommends taking a deep breath before proceeding and then crafting a thoughtful response to the customer.

"Ninety-six percent of the time if a business owner does an excellent job at service recovery--the action that a business takes to respond to a perceived customer service failure--the customer will patronize the business again, and will remain a loyal customer," Yanovitch says.

To protect your online reputation, learn how to communicate effectively as a small business owner and avoid making these five common mistakes:

1. Not monitoring social media

In order to effectively respond to customer feedback, you need to know what's being said about your business. The easiest way to do this is to set up a Google alert for your business name. Other options include Social Mention, a free service that monitors over 100 social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

2. Responding before determining if the review is legitimate

If the review is spam, malicious or contains profanity, it's not worth a response. Instead, report the review to Yelp, Facebook, etc., and ask it to be removed. If a customer has a legitimate complaint about your business, then take the time to respond to the negative review.

3. Ignoring positive reviews

"Customers want to be heard and are a big part of a business' marketing arm," Yanovitch says. "It's important to respond to all reviews, even if that means thanking a customer for taking the time to post a compliment."

And don't discount the power of online reviews. A 2014 survey found that almost 9 out of 10 consumers looked at online reviews over the past year to help them make a decision on a local business. In addition, 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.

4. Not responding in a timely manner

By tracking online customer feedback, you should be able to respond to reviews within two business days. It doesn't look good for your business if you respond several months later to a customer's complaint.

Although you have the option to respond publicly or privately, Yanovitch says a public response will demonstrate to other customers that you take feedback seriously, and that you're committed to providing the best experience possible.

5. Making excuses

Yanovitch recommends first acknowledging the customer's disappointment and thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention. Then proceed to let the customer know you are addressing the issue.

"If something can't be fixed right away, give the customer an explanation, and let them know that you are working to put better systems in place," Yanovitch says. "Don't make excuses. Be honest in your response about how you are going to address the issue and invite the customer back to give you a second chance after the issue has been resolved."

Protecting your business and your business's image are two of the most important responsibilities of a small business owner. By responding to negative customer feedback in a professional manner you can help promote your boost your business's image.