Have you ever paid someone a compliment, and they didn’t respond? Ever felt wronged, and never received an apology? Yeah. It’s pretty discouraging. That’s how many of your customers feel when they leave reviews online and never hear from you.

As the world becomes increasingly dominated by the digital version of social interaction, it is more important than ever to connect with your customers where they are. In the past, a disgruntled customer may have called your business to complain about their experience, but now they can comfortably rant on a multitude of review sites in a matter of minutes. As people read reviews about your business, both positive and negative, they form opinions about you without even visiting your website or entering your property.

The most recent Global Trust in Advertising study, conducted by Nielsen, shows that 66% of global consumers trust online reviews from strangers when making purchasing decisions. Consumers desire assurance that they are making the best, most informed, purchasing decision. Where do they get this assurance? You could say that for more than half the population, it comes from the reviews and responses they see online.

Whether these reviews are good or bad, it is important to be reading and responding to them. Why? Because, as customer service expert and best selling author Chip Bell says about negative reviews, “In the social media world, you are assumed guilty until your response alters public perception.” Responding to positive reviews will increase the loyalty of your happy customers, and not responding to negative reviews can be seen as a warning sign to potential customers. It is also important to have a consistent string of reviews, because it shows that your business is alive and thriving, and helps improve search engine ratings.

So, you are sold on the idea that reviews are important, but need help knowing the best way to attack the flood of these online opinions. Here are our 5 best practices for online reputation management.

1: Read All Reviews

Yes, this can be a daunting, time-consuming task, but look at it this way: each review, positive or negative, shows that you have made a lasting impression on your customer. They were kind, or frustrated, enough to take their time to share about your business, so you should at least have the decency to read their reviews. You will probably even discover helpful information that you can use to improve your business! Jay Bear, author of Hug Your Haters, says that you must “know everywhere your business is mentioned, (and) create internal policies for when and where customers will be answered.”

2: Listen

Ever try to tell a spouse or friend something important and you could tell they weren’t really listening? Your customers can tell, too. When we communicate with people we care about, we look them in the eye and listen intently to what they have to say, because they are important to us. Who is more important to your business than your customers? Show them you care by actually reading and contemplating their feedback, and then responding to what they are telling you.

3: Respond

How do your customers know you heard them, and care about how they feel? They know because you respond to their comments appropriately and intelligently! This might be as simple as picking a specific part of the review to acknowledge. Did they love their fire-grilled salmon? Tell them you worked hard to develop that recipe, and you are thrilled to hear that they love it as much as you do! Did they not like the chicken salad? Tell them you are sorry they didn’t enjoy their meal, and you are very thankful for their feedback! Additionally, when responding to negative reviews, Bell encourages business to, “be honest, be apologetic, and offer the aggrieved customer an easy way to access you.” Think about what your customer might be saying between the lines, and speak to that.

4: Exceed Expectations

Baer says that you should respond to “every customer, in every channel, every time.” He continues on to say, “This is much different than how most businesses interact with customers (especially online), which is to answer some complaints, in some channels, some of the time.” Customers do not currently expect a business to respond to every review, but one day they will. While the bar is set low, why not meet and exceed your customers’ expectations? Why not be a leader in review management? Answering positive reviews will help improve the relationship between you and your happy customers, and as Baer notes, “Answering a customer complaint increases customer advocacy, always, and not answering a customer complaint decreases customer advocacy, always.”

5: Respond – Quickly

Just as important as exceeding expectations is responding in a timely manner. According to a study done by Review Trackers, 51.7% of people who leave negative reviews expect a response in seven days or less. To put it another way, these reviewers have already decided that they strongly dislike your company, and that idea will fester in their minds, and the minds of other potential customers, until the issue is addressed. Remember, you are guilty until proven innocent.

So what will you do now? Dedicating yourself to better serving your customers by reading and responding to all those reviews takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it. All you stand to gain is increased customer loyalty, stronger brand advocacy, and increased credibility with current and potential customers. Whether you need to put in some extra work hours this week, or hire someone to do it for you, your customers are talking to you, and they want you to listen. Will you?