By Emily Suess

As small business owners, we put our heart and soul into our work and our businesses. So when a customer leaves a bad comment on an online review site like, it can be discouraging to say the least. Sometimes, it’s downright hurtful. Sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is to blame the reviewer for his or her experience or type an angry response we’ll regret later.

However, before any of us responds to a bad review on Yelp, we should take a step back from the situation. Yelp offers business owners some sage advice:

Responding to reviews is a great way to learn from and build goodwill with one of your most vocal customers. Yelp allows businesses to respond publicly and privately to user reviews.

However, contacting reviewers should be approached with care; internet messaging is a blunt tool and sometimes good intentions come across badly.

Even private messages to users can come back to haunt you. With screen shots and social media, anything you say online can become a PR nightmare very quickly. So what should you do?

Start with a Thank You

If you reply to a negative review, keep your tone courteous and professional. Start by thanking the reviewer for their feedback. Even if you can’t win back the reviewer, others who visit Yelp to learn about your business will see that you value customer feedback.

Keep Your Reply Short

Resist the urge to go on and on about how great your company is. If your reply is more than a few sentences long, you risk two things: coming off as defensive and putting off readers entirely.

Offer to Remedy the Situation

Many times reviewers won’t bring the problem to the attention of a manager—or anyone who can help—while they’re at your business. However, you still have an opportunity to make things right by offering a resolution online. A single sentence like, “We’re grateful for your feedback and hope you’ll visit again so we can make this right,” can impress the reviewer as well as others wondering if it’s worth their time to visit your business.

Flag the Trolls

The Internet is full of people who have no legitimate complaint. These people just want to cause trouble and ruffle some feathers. If you notice that some reviews for your site aren’t legitimate, you can flag them. Yelp wants to get rid of fake reviews as much as you do in order to keep the site relevant for consumers.

Walk Away

Remember that sometimes your best option is to not reply at all. If an official response from you or someone on your team is likely to fan the flames, there’s no rule that says you have to comment. If there’s anything useful in the review that can help you improve your business, use that information to your advantage. But there’s absolutely no need to risk making a bad situation worse. Inflammatory reviews, reviews written in all caps, and reviews riddled with profanity are probably not worth your time.

How do you handle negative online reviews?