For most businesses — unless they’re extremely lucky — bad online reviews will happen. Not only can this affect a business’s reputation, but it can just be unpleasant and even upsetting for business owners.

We asked Rosie Akenhead, manager of local business and outreach at Yelp, how businesses can best deal with bad reviews online — and more importantly, how they can successfully encourage good ones.

The first thing to note, Akenhead said, is that it’s a myth that most online reviews are negative.

“In fact, review writers on Yelp are much more likely to share positive experiences,” she said. “Seventy-nine per cent of reviews on Yelp are three starts or above, meaning good to excellent”.

Stay professional and be grateful

If you do get a bad one though, your first instinct may be to jump into defensive mode, which could lead to an undiplomatic response.

“It’s not a one-way conversation,” Akenhead said. “When it comes to responding to reviews that offer up constructive feedback about your business, always remain professional. This is not the time to start arguments — so keep it clean”.

Yelp allows businesses to respond privately or publicly to all reviews, so if you feel your business has been unfairly criticised — or if you’d like to apologise for a genuine failing — your comment can be seen by all future reviewers, which helps keep your reputation intact.

“Thank the reviewer for their pointers and share any updates that have been made to your business as a result of the reviewer’s feedback. For example, if the reviewer mentioned an untidy front desk in the storefront, write a public comment to let them know you’ve sorted it,” Akenhead said.

Additionally, your message should never sound generic. No two customers are the same, so personalised responses show that you’ve taken the complaint seriously, she said.

Encourage good reviews

A bad review will fade in importance if enough positive reviews make up for it.

Sometimes it’s clear that a customer has enjoyed the customer service or experience you provided for them. If you’re a restaurant for example, you could leave a card on each table encouraging the customers to leave a good review.

If you see an unhappy customer, try to solve their problem before they leave. That way they’ll be less likely to go home and write a scathing review.

But the most obvious thing you can do to encourage glowing reviews is to really deliver the best service possible, Akenhead said. A Yelp study found that if a reviewer mentioned ‘good’ or ‘great’ customer service, they were five times more likely to give a five-star review.

Another option is to consider posting a ‘check-in offer’, which enables businesses to offer an incentive to each customer who ‘checks in’ on the Yelp app.

“It’s a great way to attract new customers and keep old ones happy,” Akenhead said. “Better yet, when someone checks in, they get a nudge the next time they log in to Yelp, reminding them to write a review.

What if the review is just unfair or factually incorrect?

Always think very carefully before you try to have negative reviews removed, because there’s a chance you could generate even more negative attention than intended.

A few years ago, PriceChopper, a grocery chain the United States tried to get a negative tweet about one of its stores removed, but the attempt backfired and the incident blew up into a full-blow news story.

But, “Not all reviews are created equal. Some are more useful and reliable than others,” Akenhead said.

If you really feel like a review has gone too far or violated the content guidelines of the site it’s posted on, there’s a chance it will be removed – just make sure you’re definitely in the right.

“Overall, we look out for inappropriate content, like hate speech, conflicts of interest and promotional content, but we also look out for issues relating to relevance, privacy and intellectual property,” she said.