With more than 5,000 continuing care retirement communities and other senior living communities to choose from across the United States, it’s no wonder older adults are enlisting the help of online reviews to help them narrow their searches for the perfect senior living community.

But luxury amenities, spacious floor plans and personal care services alone aren’t enough to convince many retirees to hand over their nest eggs. They also want to hear about real-life, authentic experiences — and they’re headed to the internet to find them.

Can a few negative reviews really cause prospects to cross your community off their wish lists? The answer is yes.

A 2017 global survey of internet users found that 42% of people using online reviews are aged 55 to 64, and many of them use reviews regularly when making purchasing decisions. And although the average senior living resident is around 85 years old, oftentimes, it’s the adult children who are influencing the moves.

As negative feedback finds its way online, communities can find their most uncomfortable conversations on full display. Your community’s response can cost you a deposit.

Not only can negative reviews make a lasting impression on prospects, but investor relations also may be affected when public sentiment is low. Whether your community has been unfairly criticized or an internal issue has been made public, don’t allow bad reviews to ruin your reputation. Come out on top with these tips.

Don’t hide

Although ignoring, or even removing, negative online feedback can be tempting, don’t do it. Most people who take the time to post a review — good or bad — expect a response, so ignoring their attempt almost certainly will make matters worse. Removing bad reviews also might be interpreted as an admission of guilt, therefore prompting further scrutiny.

If you believe your community has received a fake or otherwise unfair review, then report it as abuse. It’s also good practice to respond with an acknowledgement of feedback and state that the information currently is under review.

Respond publicly

Another good rule to follow, whether responding to negative feedback or high praise, is to reply within 48 hours. Quick acknowledgment shows that your team cares and is ready to take action.

Keep your response brief, explain that all concerns are important and will be addressed promptly, and welcome an opportunity for a more meaningful exchange offline.

Be proactive, and make sure you loop in appropriate team members so there’s no need to revisit the details once you connect with the reviewer. A speedy, yet gentle, response often can cool hot-button issues.

Follow up privately

Once concerns have been addressed, follow up within a couple of days to be certain any outstanding issues have been resolved. Sometimes, the person lodging the initial complaint will revise his or her review to include positive outcomes. But don’t plan on it.

Instead, post your own update. Be careful not to include too many details, yet plainly express gratitude for the opportunity to respond directly. Doing so shows that your community takes all complaints seriously, addresses them head-on and is committed to transparency.

Negative feedback often is par for the course. How you respond is critical. Be proactive rather than reactive. Include a strategy for compiling regular reviews, highlight glowing remarks on your community’s website and social media pages, and pay special attention to unfavorable ones. Sometimes, prospects and residents are the first to ring the alarm, signaling operational breakdown, by posting concerns on public forums and other review sites.

Do you have some tips to share on how you handle negative reviews? Share them in the comments section below.