Nearly all reviews are positive – 82% across our network are rated four stars or higher. But sometimes, negative feedback just happens. An item breaks, the product description was wrong, or perhaps the consumer just wants attention.

Whatever the case, brands can be tempted to ignore the complaint for fear of fueling the fire. But the numbers actually show that responding to negative comments actually improves a brand’s image. As Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media advises:

“The best way to contain the mess is to handle it at its source. If something is gaining legs, get in the conversation and help calm it down. Often just a few words from you will be enough to soothe the hype and get the conversation back on track.”

According to chatmeter.com, 97% of review readers find the review they read to be accurate. So responses to poor reviews should target future potential customers as much as the original reviewer – meaning many types of reviews require, and are solved by, a brand response.

Apologize for poor experiences

No brand is perfect, reminds author Andy Sernovitz:

“Every company – in every industry – faces negative word of mouth. You just can’t please everyone all the time… Offer a straightforward apology, explain how you’re going to make it up to them, and thank them for their feedback… Negative word of mouth is an opportunity in disguise – and former critics you win over can become some of your biggest advocates.”

And branded responses build a positive brand image among other consumers. Our study with Wakefield Research found that seeing a brand response to a review makes 41% of consumers think the brand “really cares about consumers.” Thirty-five percent also think the brand “has great customer service,” and 22% think it’s “a trustworthy brand.”

This improvement in brand image also leads to sales. The research found that after reading a poor review, shopper intent to purchase more than doubles if they see a brand response. Product appeal also doubles, and one third of the negative impact of the review is eliminated.

Correct product misuse

Often, a poor review isn’t actually a problem with the product, but rather a misuse on the part of the reviewer. Responding to this type of feedback can flip the reviewer’s opinion of the product while assuring shoppers that they won’t face the same issue.

And it works. In our A/B test with Wakefield Research, brand responses on two different products explained that the reviewer was misusing the product, and gave detailed instructions for making it work. For both products, shoppers who saw the brand response were nearly three times as likely to purchase as those who didn’t, and the percentage of consumers unlikely to purchase was cut in half.

Luckily, these types of complaints are quick fixes if the brand is attentive to reviews across all their retail channels, which makes responding even more effective: 95% of dissatisfied customers will do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved quickly, says TARP Worldwide.

Announce product changes based on feedback

Some negative feedback is meant to be helpful; in fact, 74% of consumers who submit product reviews provided the feedback to help a company improve its products or services. Responses let brands thank consumers for improvement suggestions, and even let them know when product changes are made. In our A/B test with Wakefield Research, brand responses on two different products informed reviewers that the product had been improved based on feedback. For both products, shoppers who saw the responses were twice as likely to purchase as those who didn’t.

When Rubbermaid received complaints on a sink mat that stained easily, the manufacturer changed the mat’s formula and sent every customer who left a bad review a new mat, thanking them for their feedback. Reviewers were ecstatic that the company actually listened, and left glowing comments on the brand site.

Negative reviews of course reveal the problems with a product, but don’t neglect positive reviews that inspire R&D. Search reviews for what we call “pivot language” – statements like “I wish” or “if only” that signpost possible improvements. Three in four reviewers who “wish” a product was better in some way still rated the product four or five stars. And 87% of reviews that identified a product’s “only problem” also rated the product four or five stars. Respond to these positive reviews as well as the negative to turn satisfied customers into brand advocates.