Bad reviews are an unwelcome part of doing business in the 21st century that you can’t avoid. You can try, as many businesses do, and keep your online footprint minimal. But that will end up backfiring because you’ll rob yourself of the awesome opportunities that exist online. Not to mention the fact that, even though you can stop your business from going online, you can’t stop your disgruntled customers. Whatever you do, your business will be open to online reviews. With enough time and customers, you will see your first bad review. You won’t like — nobody does. But you’ll have to learn not only to live with the bad reviews but also to handle them well. Most of the time, if you cannot have the bad reviews removed, handling them means replying to them.

Replying to a bad review is something you want to practice. You don’t want the reply to be a reaction to the review, as this opens you up to the chance of sending a reply you will regret. It happens often, especially when people take reviews of their business personally. So, before you reply to a bad review, take a deep breath, count to ten, relax.

  1. Don’t take too much to reply.

You should make it a point to reply to all reviews quickly, good and bad. So even if the bad reviews require you to take a pause, don’t wait a week or so before you reply. Waiting a lot of time is not a good sign.

For better or worse, reviews are a type of online communication. The good rule of thumb for emails, another popular form of communication, is to reply to them within 24 hours. You can relax the standard a bit for reviews, but it still shouldn’t take you more than 48 hours to reply.

  1. Try to make things right.

The bad reviews your business gets will sometimes be because your business did something wrong. But even if it’s not, and there’s someone else in the chain who messed things up, if the customer did business with your company, then you are the one who has to make it right.

You can offer a refund, a free replacement, or anything else you imagine would make things right. It’s important that you do it publicly. You can’t rely on your customer’s goodwill to change their review after you made things right, so you better signal your dedication to customer satisfaction on your own.

  1. Respond in person.

You can probably set an auto-reply bot or script to reply to your reviews. That might save you time, but it could cost you some goodwill points with your customers. You really need to demonstrate that your business cares about the customers’ opinions, even when they are not favorable to you.

The very least you can do is ensure you have a real person replying to the bad review. It doesn’t have to be the owner or any of the higher-ups. But a real person who is authorized to handle this part of customer interaction would do just fine.

  1. Be polite.

We talked before about how you, or anyone else in your business, shouldn’t lose their cool when replying to reviews. It’s embarrassing, and it will more than damage your business’ reputation. But you should take it a step further.

Be extra polite and professional when replying to bad reviews. The worse the review, the more polite you become. If the reviewer isn’t being polite, you might have grounds for the removal of the review. But if you don’t, just keep on being your most polite self.

  1. Say that you’re sorry.

A little sympathy goes a long way in life, and there’s no reason to be any different when it comes to online reviews. If you have a reason to say that you’re sorry, do it. Even if you don’t have a reason to be sorry, or if you did nothing wrong, you can still say that you’re sorry the customer had a bad experience.

Connecting with people on the most basic level is a great way to handle bad reviews. Sometimes it takes more than just saying that you’re sorry to do it. But a “sorry” is always a good start.

  1. Contact the customer in private.

A review is a public form of communication, so you have to reply to bad reviews publicly. However, if it’s not the only way you can communicate with the customer who left a bad review, it might be a good idea to also contact them in a more private way.

Think about it this way: a reply is a public display of care for your customers and your business’ reputation. An email sent specifically to the customer is a great way to get things really done, make amends, or clear the air between you and the customer.

  1. Don’t be taken for a ride.

If you search a bit online for good replies to bad reviews, you will undoubtedly find instances of businesses debunking bad customers who took to online reviews to try and damage reputations for various nefarious reasons.

It pretty much boils down to this: some people are just bad. They make a bad decision, they behave badly, they make a scene at your business, and then go online to vent and try to pin it on you. You are under no obligation to take any of it. When you have nightmare customers who like to leave bad reviews, stick to the numbers one and four on this list, and debunk them.