No matter how effectively you run your business, chances are that you’ll eventually encounter negative customer feedback. When negative reviews happen publicly– on social media or review sites like Yelp– your first instinct might be to panic and launch into damage control mode. While it’s true that bad reviews have the potential to send your sales plummeting, they can also provide your business with a great opportunity to showcase your excellent customer service– and subsequently gain new customers. Read on to learn how to manage negative customer feedback:

Respond in a timely manner. If a customer posts a negative review on your business’s Facebook page and it sits for a week unanswered, you’re sending the message that customer service isn’t a top priority. Instead, try to respond to all complaints and concerns in a timely manner– ideally within 24 hours. Avoid using a generic response, which lacks authenticity and makes your company seem less than genuine. In your response, cite specific information contained in the negative review so that the customer knows they’re getting a personalized answer.

Be empathetic. When reading a negative review, you might be tempted to respond in a defensive– or even hostile– manner, like the owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine. But remember: your ultimate goal is customer retention and hostility is a surefire way to alienate new and existing customers alike. Instead, be empathetic and apologize for their negative experience– even if you weren’t in the wrong.

Make it right. Now’s the time to make things right with your customer and earn back their business. Ask them what you can do to improve their experience– and then follow through whenever possible. While offering a freebie in the form of gift cards, coupons, or vouchers can go a long way with disgruntled customers, you don’t necessarily want that to be your first course of action. Immediately giving away rewards in response to negative feedback has the potential to backfire; it can result in more negative feedback by customers seeking freebies and discounts.

Ask for reviews. Studies show that customers are more likely to do business with a company who has multiple reviews. Don’t think that every review must be positive either; customers understand that businesses make mistakes, and are more interested in the company’s response to the negative review than the review itself. So, don’t hesitate to ask your customers to leave reviews; it empowers them while also showing that you value their feedback.

Remember: a negative review doesn’t have to equal a PR disaster. Instead, use your response as an opportunity to showcase what makes your business different.