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If you do it right! And that’s what this article is about. Like death and taxes, some things in business are inevitable. Even if your product or service is the best on the market and your customer service is better than everyone else’s, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. At some point, you will deal with negative feedback and dissatisfied customers posting on social media platforms.
The Internet makes it quick and easy for your customers to post reviews and comments about you and your company. Think about it: Yelp, Google Places, Hotfrog, and Merchant Circle all give your customers places to drop a comment or two. As well, a computer screen gives a certain degree of anonymity, so they feel they can say whatever they want without the filter normally present in face-to-face interactions.
Let’s face it. Many people online are unafraid to share the most intimate details of their lives, from what they ate for lunch that day to problems with their exes. What’s going to stop them from posting negative information about your company when they feel slighted?
Turning Negatives Into Positives Through Action
You don’t want your brand tarnished by these types of comments, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world if you come across someone with a bad experience or an axe to grind. Rather, it’s just a fact of life. How you respond to the negativity, though, is critical. You still have a business to run and a brand to protect. Look at it as a chance to improve your brand, and then take action to remedy the situation.
1. Check your systems. When you receive negative feedback, your first step should be a quick check of your systems. Let’s imagine for a moment that you sell informational books, CDs, and DVDs. What happens if a customer starts complaining in an online forum that he didn’t receive a book he ordered? Your first reaction should be, “How did this happen?” Then you need to start looking through the quality control structure you have in place to find out where the process failed (you do have some kind of checks and balances system, right?).
Was there a delay in shipping? It might be time to evaluate your shipping company, and—if necessary—find a new, more reliable one. Did your online order system fail? Find out what happened and take the steps to fix the glitch. Use this as an opportunity to make sure everything and everyone involved in your production process works effectively so this won’t happen in the future.
2. Offer a solution. Once you’ve investigated and found the source of the problem, you need to take steps to correct it with your customer. Initiate contact privately and explain what happened. Then offer some sort of compensation. Ask the customer, “What can I do to make this better?” You may be surprised to hear the answer.
Sometimes they won’t know what to say. In this case, you can offer to give a discount on a future purchase, a partial refund, or a complimentary product. Sometimes they may specifically request this. Regardless of the response, it is usually in your best interest to sacrifice a small profit to retain the client and rebuild your damaged (in their eyes) image.
3. Address the issue online. Once you’ve taken steps to correct the issue with your client, you can address the online comment. Be very careful about what you say, because you have potentially millions of eyes watching your response, and this has a direct effect on your brand. As you do so, you need to keep a few ideas in mind.
- Don’t wait. The longer the comment goes unaddressed, the longer your customer has to build negative feelings about you and your company. It also means that potential customers are seeing only the negative ideas about you. Make sure you take care of everything offline, but don’t put off responding to the comment longer than necessary. It can taint your brand to have such negativity posted without a response.
- Keep it impersonal. This issue is not about the dissatisfied customer as a person. It is about the interaction the person had with your company. For example, if you discovered that your customer didn’t enter the correct credit card number, say something like, “Thanks for letting me know there was a problem. Everything should be resolved now, and you should have your book soon.” You don’t want to point out something like, “I can’t process your order if you don’t enter your information correctly.”
- Stay calm. What you say will have an effect on your brand, and you always want to be seen in the most positive light possible. Even if the comment is a direct, dishonest attack on you, you must remain the ultimate professional. Refuse to respond in a derogatory manner and remind yourself that it’s not really about you.
4. Drop the rope. Sometimes you won’t be able to please certain people, and the best course of action is to move on and learn from it. You did the best you could. You checked to see if there was a problem on your end and corrected it. You offered a solution. You responded professionally and politely. A certain group of people will always see only the negative, and nothing you do will change that. Instead of concentrating all your energy on this small group of people, pay attention to those who are thrilled with your products and services.
Transactions with Transparency
So, not everybody likes your stuff. Get over it. Deal with it. Use it to grow and become a better business owner, develop a better brand and create a strong product. Negativity is only negative if you don’t use it.
Along with the tips above, it’s also worth mentioning one thing you don’t do. Don’t try to hide it. Some of the most successful marketing campaigns started because a customer/client posted a negative comment about a product. Rather than delete the comment or otherwise shove it under the rug, the companies embraced the negativity and turned it into a positive marketing campaign.
“You’ve said our products suck. We’ve listened. Welcome to the new…”
Don’t be afraid to deal with the commenter publicly, at first. AT&T is good at this. Someone posts on Twitter “Thanks AT&T, for dropping my business conference for the fifth time in a row.” AT&T customer service responds with, “Hey, we’re sorry to hear there was a problem. If you’ll follow us, we’ll get you on DM and get some information to help you solve the issues.”
Letting consumers see the negative comment and your positive reaction provides a much stronger example of how you’ll deal with potential clients. It says, “I care, and am willing to work with you to get the problem resolved.”
Negative Comments Happen, But a Damaged Reputation Doesn’t Have To
Although I certainly hope you never have to address online negative comments posted about your company, just be aware that it may happen. Remember managing reputation is not an easy thing to control…they don’t have to cause untold damage to your company or brand, and use the opportunity as a chance to show the world you are a professional with great respect for your customers.