At a recent trade show, I spoke to an audience of home service business owners about crisis management and the importance of reputation monitoring. At the conclusion of the presentation, the number one question contractors asked was "Should my business respond to our online reviews or comments?"

My answer -- always.

Online comments can help consumers get to know your business and its policies. They'll learn positive aspects of the business and maybe some negative ones as well. Consider the comments you read online -- both positive and negative -- as an opportunity to fill in the gaps for existing and potential customers.

Thanking a consumer for leaving a nice review online is a great place to start. Most people appreciate a short, to-the-point thank you. When you are confronted with a negative review, however, don't rush into a defensive mode. Think about the comment before responding. It might hurt, but does the reviewer have a valid point?

Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review

Respond by thanking the consumer for bringing the information to your attention, and address it with maturity and professionalism. Take the opportunity to forge a relationship with the reviewer, and suggest they call you on a direct line to have a private conversation. When they call, offer to make it right. If the customer has a change of heart, ask them to revise their review or add another comment mentioning the situation has been resolved to their satisfaction.

It takes a lot of maturity to admit when your business did something wrong, and consumers will appreciate your company’s effort to rectify the situation and take ownership of the mistake. Consumers are usually willing to give a business another chance when they see or read about extreme effort on the part of the business. Be careful not to take too long to construct your answer. Responding in a timely fashion gives a better impression than answering two weeks later. Plus, that means there was a two-week period where your business had an opportunity to address a problem and it did not.

Ignoring negative comments can leave a bad impression too. A potential customer doing research on your company is sure to see reviews at some point during their online search. Many people will type in your business name and the word "reviews" into the Google (or other search engine) search bar to see what comes up. You should do this for your business -- and yourself -- at least once a week.

Related: 6 Better Responses to a Bad Review Than Yelling or Sulking

You will see results for the most common review sites like Google+, Yahoo, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau and Angie's List. You'll see some sites you have never even heard of before. As part of your business routine, create a process that either a vendor or staff member follows each week. Have them look at each of the sites mentioned, and any others you identify, to stay current on the status of your online reviews.

If you have limited staff and resources, try creating a Google alert for your business name. This is a free tool that Google provides as a way for individuals and businesses to stay current in regards to how they appear on Google. You will get an alert if content has been created using the specific words you put in your alert. The alert can be sent directly to your email inbox. This is not a foolproof method for tracking your business reviews. Manually checking the review sites is always a good idea.

When checking reviews on your business, you may be surprised to see a wonderful compliment, a minor complaint or a comment that spurs you to make a change in how you do business. Consider reviews as a part of doing business and embrace them rather than try to hide from them. Remember, these reviews do not go away, and very rarely will a review site take the negative comments down. Each review site has its own rules of conduct and while you may not agree with them, there is not much you can do.

Related: 5 Ways to Take the High Road When Haters Attack Your Reputation

Some marketers will advise businesses to bury bad reviews by incentivizing friends, family or others to write glowing reviews after the negative one. But this can backfire and generally, consumers can tell when a review seems too good to be true.

Using the bad review as an opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a customer who is a true believer is all up to you. Remain confident in your business, and offer to rectify negative situations in a professional and business-like manner, staying true to your company values.