Everyone connected to the internet is a broadcasting station. Through a variety of platforms, anyone can get their photos, videos, comments, thoughts, opinions, events and more out to a wide audience almost instantly.
This is tremendously powerful and it is truly amazing how anyone on the planet can be connected to one another and the world’s knowledge through a small device in their pocket.
For businesses, word of mouth advertising now exists digitally and can have a much wider reach than traditionally. We see the power of this leveraged by online group pages and chats as well as influencers on social platforms like Instagram and YouTube.
As has always been the case with word of mouth, the details passed through the grapevine can be both positive and negative. In business, generally, the more vocal customers lie at the edges of the normal distribution, having had exceptionally good or bad experiences and wishing to spread the news to anyone who might listen.
We all love a positive review or mention, but now and again you may come across a disgruntled and very vocal customer looking to do some damage. They may well be justified in that opinion, but assuming you care about customer experience and reputation, it’s never nice to receive!
Let’s say you’ve found yourself on the end of some less than positive feedback, how do you best respond to a complaint or negative digital review/mention?
We get asked this a lot, so here are our top tips:
Look at it as an opportunity, it isn’t unusual for negative feedback to be taken personally and lead to a defensive stance from the responder. Remember that this (almost always) isn’t about you personally, it is about the company and the product or service it provides.
Try to see the customer’s complaint as a golden nugget of information that is highlighting a weakness in your business’ offering. Looking at it this way and thinking of the value it provides once the root cause is addressed can put you in a much better frame of mind for responding to it.
Don’t turn a blind eye or delay, there is nothing more aggravating to a disgruntled customer than not having their complaints even be heard. Leaving them to stew in their dissatisfaction could lead to further damaging comments and an even worse situation. Jump onto your response as soon as you can so that you can show you care about improving customer experience and hopefully turn the disgruntled customer into an appreciative one on the back of your prompt resolution of the issue.
Be visible with your response
A negative digital review or mention is intended to be as public as possible by the poster. There will be onlookers whose opinion of your business may already have been affected.
Show everyone a professional and fair customer service response by being public in your dialogue with the disgruntled customer, whether that be responding to a negative review they left or engaging in a Facebook post conversation.
Keep in mind that these reviews and posts might be there for a long time to come and future potential customers doing their research would appreciate seeing a prompt and concerned customer service response to give them confidence in transacting with you.
Show authenticity and brand alignment
People can spot a robotic, scripted response a mile away. Sometimes this is warranted for risk purposes on severe issues, but generally, try to respond with a personality that aligns with your brand’s tone of voice. This could be a more playful, somewhat humorous angle for a street clothing label or for professional services, a hardline, black and white, serious response.
Be honest with the customer, don’t try to sweep anything under the carpet and take responsibility if you know there has been a legitimate error on your end. People appreciate it when you hold yourself accountable and admit making a mistake.
For serious issues, just make sure you have the all-clear from the powers that be on the limits of what is acceptable to say before submitting your response.
Offer to take it offline, after your initial public response, there may need to be a more thorough dialogue to come to a resolution. A Facebook post comments section might not be the best place for this, especially if dollar values and personal information is involved.
Try to take the conversation to a more personable medium such as the phone and talk directly with the disgruntled party to hear them out and take the next step.
Try to turn the customer experience positive
We’ve all experienced being at a restaurant or cafe and been aggravated with slow service. While you wait, in your head you vow to never go back and to tell all your friends about how much it sucked. But then the waiter or manager comes over, apologises, explains what happened and offers a free round of drinks or a fat discount on your meals. Suddenly you aren’t so angry, and in fact, you empathise with their situation and appreciate the resolution they offered. You might recommend the place after all!
In your case too, there is always an opportunity to make things right with the customer and even to turn their experience positive. They might even upgrade their review from 1 to 5 stars!
What’s important here is to try to see things from the customer’s perspective and think about how you could improve their situation in a way that is fair. Maybe a partial refund or a free gift could put them at ease? Extra tip: Enable your employees to use their judgement and offer such fixes up to a certain value so it isn’t slowed down by having to get approval.
Don’t negotiate with baddies
One important aspect here; don’t reward unreasonable and out of line customers who are clearly in the wrong. If you feel that your company has held up their end of the bargain and the customer hasn’t paid you for months on end, clearly failed to operate an item as instructed, are blackmailing, lying or are being abusive and downright rude then tread carefully with how you compensate them. It could create a precedent that opens the floodgates to more unethical behaviour.
Conversely, if you have a disgruntled customer who is calm and fair in their communications with you, reasonable in their requests, polite and understanding, then be generous with your compensation! The world needs more people like that.
See through the noise
For some mass-market businesses, there may be an event or product change that leads to a negative community response en masse. For instance, a chocolate manufacturer who changes their recipe.
In this case, there could be too many individual comments to warrant a response to all of them and a better approach could be putting out a statement for everyone to view to address the common issue.
Fix the root cause if you can
Remember point 1, this feedback is a golden opportunity to fix a problem in your business that may well have been annoying customers for a long time.
Do your best to get to the source of the issue the customer is complaining about and nip it in the bud to reduce or eliminate the chances of a repeat experience in the future. This might require involving management to action items such as improving call centre processes, changing your opening hours, redesigning a product, reducing shipping errors and much more.
Customer complaints happen. Often it is from very fixable things such as long hold times, miscommunications or small errors in shipping. This is especially the case with large companies that have a huge employee base, large sales volumes and so a massive number of moving parts. Reasonable customers have a bit of leeway for such things but sometimes you might catch someone on a bad day and really hear about it.
Negative customer experiences should not go ignored, these are high priority items that need to be addressed to help you improve your business, customer experience and word of mouth advertising for years to come.