Thanks to the internet, many consumers research businesses online long before making contact. In fact, more than 84 percent say they trust peer recommendations. Your online reviews are often the first impression many consumers get.

Have you been neglecting online critiques of your brand? If so, you may not look so good to prospects. Here’s how you can respond to negative online reviews promptly and professionally.

1. Monitor your reputation. You can’t reply to feedback, negative or positive, if you’re not aware it exists. Make sure you claim your business listings and keep up with the buzz around your brand.

2. Respond ASAP. Don’t let negative reviews stagnate. Prospects can read these reviews and form less than stellar opinions of your brand. It’s much better to respond as soon as possible.

3. Address the issues. Research the complaint. If your business is at fault, own up to it and don’t try to shift the blame. A sincere apology followed by corrective action lets everyone know you care about customer satisfaction.

4. Stay cool. It never pays to get into a heated discussion with a client. You may feel momentarily vindicated with a snappy retort to an unreasonable critic, but the damage done to your brand could be lasting. Always remain calm and focused on conflict resolution. And if that’s not in the cards, simply walk away.

5. Keep an eye on the future. Remember, online reviews are permanent commentary on your brand, and how you respond will affect client perception for years to come. Always put your best foot forward and conduct yourself in a way that will encourage repeat and referral business long term.