By William O’Shea

It strikes fear into the heart of every business owner – a one-star online review from an unhappy customer. We all know reputation matters, but how much? How worried should you be about a negative review, and what can you do to fix it?

Recent research shows that online reputation has a huge impact. A University of California Berkeley study found that an extra half-star rating on Yelp led to a restaurant being fully booked 19 percent more often. Another examination of travel reviews from a group at the University of Texas showed that a 10 percent increase in traveler reviews led to a 5 percent increase in online bookings. These customer reviews also show up in search-engine rankings – Google reviews in its own search results and Yelp’s in Microsoft Bing searches. More than just persuading customers to buy from you, good reviews also directly impact where you show up in search results.

With Google, Yelp, Facebook and other review sites influencing people’s purchases, the way people think of your business can change overnight. Here are some tips to keep tabs on your reputation, manage your business better online and deal with the dreaded negative review.

• CLAIM YOUR BUSINESS
If you haven’t done so already, it’s critical to visit the leading review sites and set yourself up as the official owner so that you have the ability to update your information and reply in case of a not-so-great review. In some cases, this will require getting a postcard in the mail, but typically this involves just a phone call. Don’t forget about less-mentioned sites like Superpages, YP.com and Foursquare.

• SIGN UP FOR REVIEW MONITORING
There are free tools for monitoring your online reputation so that you don’t miss a potentially damaging comment. FreeReviewMonitoring.com is a great one that notifies you every time your profile has been rated. Perch.com is another useful app that looks at competitor ratings as well as your own.

RESPONDING TO A NEGATIVE REVIEW

1. RESPOND TO REVIEWS PUBLICLY.
All the big sites let you respond to reviews. It’s critical to do so with grace and professionalism and to make an offer for the customer to reach back out to the store for a full resolution. If you have a service guarantee, this is a good time to reinforce it.

2. CONTACT THE CUSTOMER PRIVATELY.
Even if you are responding publicly, you often will have contact information for an unhappy customer. It makes sense to follow up with the customer directly to remedy the situation.

3. ACCUMULATE MORE POSITIVE REVIEWS.
Getting good reviews is the best way to hide ones that are less favorable. Moreover, customers respond to businesses with a higher number of reviews. While most review sites specifically prohibit you from giving monetary incentives to encourage reviews, you are 100 percent allowed to request these from real customers. Send email requests to happy customers after orders. Request reviews from your loyal customers and friends who purchase at your business. You can even encourage people who have bought in store to leave you a review instantly.

4. HEAD OFF NEGATIVE REVIEWS WITH A GREAT E-COMMERCE EXPERIENCE.
Make sure your website has delivery confirmation and clearly posted terms and a service guarantee. It’s imperative that you post items like same-day cutoffs clearly. In case users misunderstand your policy, you can refer back to visible terms. Your online reviews are critical to business success. Figure out a way to make an unhappy customer happy. It could be a replacement, a gift from your store or a credit for a future purchase, a refund (if you have to, and always a full explanation.) A great attitude and understanding can go a long way in turning a negative experience into an overwhelmingly positive one!

William O’Shea is co-founder and CEO of Floranext. Contact him by email at william@floranext.com, and visit floranext.com.