Technological advances have made customer reviews more important than they’ve ever been. Today, a bad customer service experience can travel twice as fast and reach twice as many people as it once did simply because platforms like Yelp, Facebook, and Google reviews exist. These review sites have become powerful forces in the online reputation world, with 92 percent of consumers saying they believe recommendations from friends, family and the online community more than any form of advertisement. Furthermore, because of their popularity, most of these review sites will turn up higher in search results than any SEO-friendly website, meaning it’ll be easy for customers to come across existing bad reviews.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 3.36.44 PMAnd consumers place a lot of weight on these reviews. According to a report by Convergys Corp. one bad review or comment on social media is estimated to cost a business 30 customers. When you take into account Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Google and all of the other platforms that allow customers to tell the world about their negative experience, results can be devastating, particularly for a small business. One estimate found that the annual cost of unhappy customers totals more than $537 billion in the U.S. alone.

But no matter how great your customer service is, eventually you might have to face a bad review. Even the most conscientious business will have a dissatisfied customer every once in a while. The real question is, then, how do you bounce back after that customer leaves a negative review?

Below are a few ways small businesses should deal with bad reviews online.

1. Strengthen Your Online Presence

If you’re going to get some bad reviews, you better have some good ones to offset the negative ones. It reportedly takes 12 positive reviews to make up for one negative. To achieve this, your business first has to establish a digital footprint where customers can easily share their positive experiences. While setting up multiple social media accounts may be time consuming, services like Signpost can streamline the process of setting them up and interacting with your customers through them. Additionally, make sure that customers can easily find review sections on your website. Again, this is important as reviews are becoming increasingly important in purchasing decisions. This report found that 61% of customers read online reviews before deciding on a purchase.

2. Encourage Reviews

The best way to boost positive reviews is simply to ask for them. In particular, customers are usually more inclined to leave a review if they’ve been encouraged to do so directly after they’ve had a positive experience. Small businesses that use marketing automation software like Signpost can automatically encourage customers to share their thoughts and experiences after they interact. Don’t forget: it takes 12 positive reviews to make up for one bad, unresolved review.

3. Respond in a timely and cool manner

Negative reviews might not be disastrous if you know how to respond effectively. If a negative review comes through, reply with an apology and an offer to make it right. Other customers who come across the review will see that you are trying to remedy the issue. Whether positive reviews or negative, always be consistent when responding to comments about your brand. Doing so will show your customers that your business is improving, and that you value them and care about their opinions.

Whatever you do, never exacerbate. Occasionally you’ll encounter a reviewer who is interested in starting a fight. Once you’ve apologized and offered a solution, let it rest. The customer may attempt to escalate the discussion, but engaging it will only make you appear defensive and unprofessional.

Over time, a few bad reviews will happen to any business. By encouraging your customers to leave reviews and making it as easy as possible to do so, you’ll have a strong, positive online presence. Be proactive by having a reputation management technology like Signpost to mitigate the risks that come from negative online testimonials. In the digital age, there’s not much room for mistakes: an automation tool can help your local business gain a strong reputation, ensuring customers that it’s the right choice for them.