In a connected world, your business becomes part of the digital landscape.
That’s a huge advantage.
Suddenly, your company has cost-effective, lightning fast tools that can connect with millions of people at once.
The internet gives your business incredibly powerful tools for growth…
But it also presents a challenge.
As people become more connected, information spreads faster and more easily than ever.
One offhand comment about your brand might be seen by hundreds of thousands of people in just a few hours, much faster than you have time to respond.
What if that comment happens to be negative?
Businesses have always been careful about reputation management, but the new reality is that with review sites, social media, and online forums, companies have less control over their digital image than ever.
This is a challenge, but it’s not a problem.
It’s a significant opportunity.
Handle online feedback correctly, and you position your company to become a champion in customer service.
How to Handle Negative Online Feedback
The internet is a different kind of business landscape.
You have much more control over the community on your own website than you do on sites like Yelp, Amazon, or Facebook.
Before you start correcting all those bad Yelp reviews, though, keep this in mind:
It’s not personal.
People who make disparaging comments about your business aren’t attacking you; they’re just sharing their personal opinions for their own reasons.
The first step towards answering negative feedback is to determine what type of comment it really is:
This is perhaps the most difficult kind of feedback to handle, because in many cases, the consumer is pointing out an actual weakness in your company, and they’re right.
Valid criticism is also the most useful, since it identifies areas in which your business can greatly improve.
Value this, and treat these people with the respect they deserve.
Remember, they’re helping you.
When a person exaggerates problems, makes crises out of simple misunderstandings, or in general posts negative comments that far exceed the actual scope of the issue, their complaint needs special handling.
This type of person is often very loud, very negative, and very difficult.
Often, what these people are looking for is validation and empathy, and not necessarily a solution to the problem they’re complaining about.
Put your best customer service representatives on the case, and devote time just to listening attentively.
Handling negative feedback is part of your job.
Taking abuse is not.
If anyone, publicly or privately, makes threats or personally abusive comments, respond with appropriate action.
That might mean that you firmly state that their behavior is unacceptable and end the communication, or you might need to contact law enforcement. Always take threats seriously.
Appropriate Handling of Negative Feedback
Comments or complaints that customers make directly to you or your staff can be handled through your regular customer service channels.
However, when consumers post publicly on your website, on review sites, or on social media, your response is public, as well.
Here’s how to handle public complaints:
Step 1: Take a deep breath.
Always give yourself a second to calm down before answering.
Some comments will be rude, unfair, and perhaps even untrue, but the smartest response is not to argue.
Becoming argumentative or emotional hurts your brand worse than the comment itself, so be sure you’re thinking clearly before composing any kind of response.
Step 2: Reread their comment and determine what they’re really saying.
Frequently, those negative comments are written during moments of emotional distress, so the customer might not have been thinking clearly, either.
They may even regret what they said in the first place.
Apply a little empathy to try to determine what is causing your client to feel upset, and while you’re at it:
Step 3: Ask polite, direct follow-up questions.
The absolute best thing you can do for a dissatisfied customer is listen to them.
Don’t start by offering an explanation, or even an apology.
You want to improve your processes and products, and you want to find out if there really are problems with your employees or business, right?
Politely request more information and ask the commenter to tell you more about their experience so that you can make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and really put effort into drawing them out.
It’s difficult to argue with someone who just wants to hear what you have to say, so in many cases, the customer will calm down and tell you everything you want to know.
Step 4: Offer possible solutions.
Some businesses prefer to offer discounts, refunds, or other reimbursements when customers are unhappy.
In other cases, though, bold businesses use this ingenious approach.
“What would you like us to do to make this up to you?”
Often, a customer asks for much less than you would offer yourself. They might want only an apology, or a partial refund.
Remember, the world can see how you handle this, so be both fair and generous.
Step 5: Follow up.
Once you’ve offered a solution, you probably never want to look at that comment thread again.
Following up with that customer to make sure they’re satisfied is likely to win you a client for life, a ton of positive feedback, and more than a few referrals.
Give things a few days to cool down, and set an alert in your calendar to check on that customer.
This is a step that most businesses never take, so your commitment to great customer service will absolutely be noticed.