Customer reviews have become so ubiquitous that we no longer notice how dependent we’ve become upon them, but for many businesses and product categories, they’re a make-or-break proposition.

A 2020 survey by BrightLocal found that 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and nearly half say they won’t engage with a business whose rating is less than four-star. In industries like hospitality, consumer electronics, and local services, a string of negative reviews can be devastating.

Every company has disappointed customers. In fact, the occasional complaint actually enhances the credibility of a review site. “If everything you see is five stars and looks like it’s written by a marketing department, common sense is going to tell you something feels off,” said Jennifer Griffin, vice president of content integrity and insights for consumer-generated content services provider Bazaarvoice, in an interview with CIO.com.

Every complaint deserves your attention, but different types of complaints deserve different responses. How you deal with online customer negativity depends on the situation. Follow these tried-and-true practices for the best outcomes.

Act quickly. Research shows that customers expect a response within hours. While that isn’t always practical, delay increases the likelihood that the customer will take the complaint to other channels. The response doesn’t have to be a resolution. It can simply be acknowledgment that the complaint has been received or an invitation to follow up.

No single tool will notify you when a review turns up anywhere online, but ReviewTrackers and Birdeye will monitor hundreds of sites for a fee. Brand24 and BrandMentions are just two of the many paid social listening services that assess chatter and sentiment on social networks, discussion groups, and review sites. Bazaarvoice and TrustPilot are review-hosting services that serve thousand of smaller sites and let customers sign up for notifications when their brand is mentioned. More broadly, Google Alerts is a pretty good free option that notifies you when its search crawlers come upon your business or product name.

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