Negative reviews on sites like Yelp can damage small business credibility, but many small businesses take a reactive stance that can only add fuel to the fire. In an article published yesterday, June 7 on Forbes, contributor Cheryl Connor interviewed Pierre Zarokian, CEO of ReputationFighters.com and SubmitExpress.com. Not surprisingly, Zarokian indicated that being proactive is key to staying on top of complaints and preventing negative reviews from affecting the business’s rating.

Zarokian advised businesses not to post direct responses to complaints on Yelp or other sites like RipOffReport or PissedOffConsumer.com. In those cases, small businesses need to try to solve the problem offline, privately.

But to head off these issues and negative reviews, Zarokian recommended solving problems as they happen, whether it’s a customer displeased with her meal or angry at the long line at the cash register. Arguing with the customer would make it worse, and while it may feel like the internet has turned customers into extortionists, it’s always smarter to just offer a discount or refund and heartfelt apology.

Read more here to find out what Zarokian said for severe incidents that require press attention, whether negative reviews serve any kind of productive purpose, what the role of SEO is for small businesses fighting negative reviews and whether to engage an online reputation management service.