Did you know that 82 percent of shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews? Buyers depend on peer-to-peer evaluations for research, and consequently, they seek out a variety of opinions before making a purchasing decision. Published complaints without a company follow-up or resolution diminish consumer confidence. When it comes to protecting your online reputation, responding to customer reviews is crucial.

For many business owners, seeing an adverse review triggers emotions, from anger to embarrassment. It's difficult to fight the desire to delete or ignore the comments. If you react to feedback and respond without having a strategy in place, then you risk damaging your credibility. Instead, turn each customer review into an opportunity to elevate your brand and increase customer loyalty. Start with a plan of action that you can implement with success throughout your review collection process.

Develop a customer-first mindset

Don’t let negative commentary overshadow the benefits of review collection. The overwhelming majority of people rely on social proof during their product research, and only 3 percent of buyers report that they don’t read reviews. Each negative review provides a unique moment to showcase your customer-first strategy. Moreover, a successful customer-centric plan relies on both reading—and acting on—feedback. Embrace reviews from buyers and use them to tailor your products and services. By doing so, you’ll provide additional value to your customers and earn their long-term loyalty.

Your buyer’s journey doesn’t end once they’ve purchased, which is why collecting and responding to customer reviews are essential for business growth. Once you’ve committed to nurturing that customer experience after purchase, then use this knowledge to guide you through developing a personalized response.

Deliver a quick response

Negative reviews provide the opportunity to demonstrate your responsiveness. A RevLocal study found that 52 percent of consumers expect a response within seven days on review sites. However, this drops to only hours on social platforms. Apply social listening tools to stay on top of your online reputation and reply to feedback as soon as possible. Although each answer should be customized, you’ll want to hit three key elements:

1. Thank the customer for their feedback.
2. Apologize.
3. Convey your desire to resolve the issue.

Direct the conversation

For the 89 percent of consumers reading local businesses’ responses to reviews, your answer to negative comments influences their purchasing decision. No one wants a canned response from a “member of the team.” Keep your answer genuine by using your name, job title and providing a direct email address or phone number. Doing so shows that you take their feedback to heart and want to correct the issue.

This social proof affects potential buyers who are reading at least ten reviews before purchase. Plus, by encouraging customers to use email, you’ve opened up a new line of communication and gained a tool to protect your online reputation.

Follow up after answering a negative customer review

Is the customer happy with the resolution? A positive response following a complaint provides the social proof that buyers trust. Leverage this by encouraging additional feedback. Once you’ve resolved an issue, then reach out once more. Perhaps they’d be willing to revise, remove, or respond to their initial review. As shoppers read through your customer reviews, they’ll pay attention when they see an individual update or reply.

Analyze data to improve your online reputation

The majority of the time, reviewers don’t say that a product is terrible. Instead, they use the term disappointment. This word choice suggests that your product failed to meet expectations. Help your customers make better buying decisions by analyzing your review collection data.

Mine the content to locate specific problems, like size or shipping expectations and the resulting frustration.

Use this information to clarify your content and product descriptions.

The good news is that 70 percent of unhappy customers will continue to use your business if you fix the problem. If you change your mindset to embrace customer reviews, then you’ll realize that feedback gives you the ability to direct the conversation about your brand and communicate with your customers. Plus, review collection provides a wealth of information that helps you not only protect, but also improve your online reputation.