When your business has an online presence, it’s bound to happen. A customer is less than satisfied and leaves a one-star bad review on your Facebook page, on Yelp or on Google. Or someone leaves a negative comment on one of your business posts on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Staying off the internet doesn’t help; it just allows your customers the opportunity to have a conversation about you–without you involved. And ignoring or deleting the negative reviews and comments is just as damaging, as is going on the defensive in an effort to “prove” that you did nothing wrong.

It’s hard to read something negative about a service or product that you’ve literally poured your blood, sweat and tears into. But the most important thing to do is to respond appropriately so that one bad review doesn’t explode into a virtual fight between you and the reviewer. While that might make for entertaining reading for your competition, it’s no way to run a successful business. Or maintain your credibility.

Instead, take a deep breath and heed this advice:

Keep your professionalism in check.

No good ever came from a heated debate, especially one conducted via the written word online. Know that anything you put online can (and likely will) be shared with the world, even if sent via email or private text message.

Instead, think about how you would react to an unhappy customer who was right in front of you. If someone came to you in person to complain about a product or service, you wouldn’t walk away from him. You’d be direct and respond in a calm, cool and collected manner.

Acknowledge the issue.

Your customer needs to know that he’s heard, that you understand the complaint and plan to do something about it. Acknowledge the issue by responding to the complaint, in public if that’s where the complaint was posted. Mirror the complaint so he knows he’s been heard. “I understand that you were unhappy with your purchase,” or “We’re glad you let us know that your product didn’t work as expected.”

Express empathy.

Empathy and sympathy are two very different things. Don’t express sorrow or pity about the complaint (more on that when we talk about admitting fault). Your customer doesn’t want to know that you’re sorry. They want to know that you understand. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, “We know how frustrating it is when something doesn’t work as expected,” or “We know that a high ROI is important to our customers” are both appropriate responses that show you understand how the customer feels.

Don’t admit fault.

A lot of factors go into the success or failure of a product or service, and it while it may or may not be the fault of you or your organization, don’t admit to it. That doesn’t serve anyone because at this point, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. Instead, come at it from the angle of how you can fix the issue so the customer is satisfied. “Let’s find a way to make this right,” or “We want to make sure you are satisfied with your purchase,” are good options.

Offer a solution.

A customer complains or posts a negative review because they’re not satisfied. Something in their experience went sour and not only do they want you to know about it, they want a solution. This is your opportunity to make things right. Whether it’s replacing a product, offering a repair or adjusting your services to satisfy the customer, find a solution that gives him what he wants without disrupting your own terms of service.

Respond publicly.

A public complaint calls for a public response. When you take the conversation behind closed doors, you lose the opportunity to make a public statement. Anyone who reads the bad review thinks you’ve ignored it, and no one wants to do business with an organization that ignores their customers. Include your response to the complaint out in the open, right where the customer posted the complaint. Only when it’s time to talk specifics about refunds or deliverables should you take the conversation into a private forum.

Rather than look at a bad review or public complaint as a negative, look at it as a way for you to grow as a business. You’ve received direct feedback about a product, service or process that needs to be adjusted so you can please more customers down the road. So while it may sting to read, the review is a way to learn and thrive.

For more on how to thrive online, grab my guide to the top 5 rookie mistakes professionals make online.