If you’ve ever gotten a bad review online — on Yelp, Google, whatever — you know it can be painful, even downright aggravating. Obviously, as a car wash business owner or an employee, you disagree. The most important thing you can do in that moment is stop looking at the negative review, and for crying out loud, don’t write back. Yet.

We pulled this one from Yelp.com. It's a review of a car wash in Williamsburg. Eek. (Photo: Screenshot/Yelp)

We pulled this one from Yelp.com. It’s a review of a car wash in Brooklyn, N.Y. Our advice on this one: It wasn’t worth the $5.50; that negative review lives forever online. (Photo: Screenshot/Yelp)

There are all kinds of ways you can deal with negative reviews. You can fight back, unleashing a torrent of vitriol on the message board itself, recounting how rude and arrogant the customer was, how you tried to help but the person was too dimwitted to understand, how there’s just no pleasing some people. Or you can hire a reputation management firm that specializes in creating a positive online brand for your company. That’s what Reputation.com does: loads up the internet with good stuff, hoping sheer numbers and flashy landing pages (all good things) will overwhelm the few negative posts.

There’s another way, though, and that’s what this blog post is about. It’s starts with the common sense communication strategy we’ve been talking about all along. Be straightforward and helpful, and your customers will appreciate it. So, here’s a straightforward and helpful list to help you deal with a negative online review:

  1. Walk away. Do not respond to the negative review right away. We use the same rule for every web-based situation where a he-said-she-said confrontation is on the horizon, whether that’s on Facebook, your email, or Yelp. The rule is: Always wait 24 hours to respond. Yes, in Internet Time that’s a billion years, but it’s worth it. In the moment, you’re more likely to say something unwise. Remember that small blunders live forever online.
  2. But do respond. Once the negative review is there, you have two choices. You can ignore it, or you can address it. If you know who the person is, or they leave some kind of contact information, try to reach out to them directly. Let them know you’re sorry that they were unhappy with their experience at your car wash business, and you’d like to offer them a discount or a few free wash vouchers. Assure them that you’ve made some kind of systemic change to resolve the underlying issue. If you can’t reach the customer directly, you can write something to this effect on the message board. “We’re sorry this customer had a bad experience with us,” you could say. “It stemmed from a misunderstanding, and we’ve worked to correct the issue.”
  3. Next time, prevent bad reviews before they happen. Anybody who’s worked in customer service knows there really are people who aren’t happy unless their unhappy. The trick is to make sure they don’t feel so strongly about their experience that they go and tell the whole internet about it. Like the picture up there are the left of this blog post… who knows what really happened at that car wash, but it seems like there was a dispute over $5.50. That car wash business has two stars out of five.

Remember, small blunders live forever online. Let ’em keep the $5.50.