Dealing with negative customer feedback has never been easy. Today, that difficulty is considerably multiplied given the broad online exposure of most small businesses. As soon as an online review takes a life of its own, there is no stopping the cascading effects for your business reputation. So, how do you contain the beast?
1. Don’t ignore it, it won’t disappear
Ignoring negative feedback will only make it grow. If other customers get a chance to jump on the conversation, it might get out of hand before you know it. So, take a deep breath, keep those hormones under control and dilute any anger and negativity running down your veins. You need to be rational and capable of admitting a wrong if a wrong has been made. If you can’t, have a dedicated point of contact to handle and find a resolution to this type of problems.
2. Act quickly
As with most customer complaints, if you take longer than 24 hours to respond, the ball could have started rolling and it could be too late to stop it. But, please don’t respond immediately after reading it, before having had a chance to tame your emotions. If you can’t offer a solution immediately, let them know when a full response will be forthcoming. If the complaint is in a public arena, strive to take it private as soon as possible. Your aim is to find a resolution fast.
3. Look at the beast in the eyes
If you are aware of the problem and know the person complaining about your products and services, try to deal with them directly. It will save you a lot of time (and perhaps even money), as a lot of websites that offer reviews and comments features will generally not remove the review if it complies with their guidelines. And most larger sites will not even contemplate removing a review without a court order.
Your first move is to thank them for their patronage and feedback and inform them that you are aware of the situation. If you consider an error has been made on your part, use a little humility, and admit it. Yes, publicly. It’s ok. People do understand that mistakes are made and appreciate your humbling yourself to admit it to an online audience. Act like a human being and it will be that much harder for them to continue with their negative rant. Don’t be defensive.
Then, give the issue the importance that it deserves and stress how sorry you are that the reviewer had to be inconvenienced by such a problem.
Finally, make sure you emphasize in your reply that the negative feedback has been noted and that you will put all necessary measures in place to guarantee that future customers will never have to go through anything similar again.
4. Offer concrete, personalised solutions
The good news is that in most cases unhappy reviewers can be easily placated. If it costs you a coffee, a meal or some bonus points, consider it a marketing investment and a well spent investment. In exchange, try to persuade the negative reviewer to remove the comments or at least to comment positively on your treatment of the situation.
5. Wear your negotiator's hat
Think about who your audience is. You are not merely replying to an irate customer, you are displaying your professionalism before a difficult situation to an audience of potential customers.
Remember not to take it personally and try to think to stand on the reviewers' shoes. A little empathy will go a long way in finding a resolution. Our series on Negotiation for small business owners will offer some more insights into conflict resolution.
If you are like me, you strive to keep everyone always happy. But, as all small business owners would have found, that is almost nearly impossible. Your best option is take negative reviews as part of the gig, learn from the experience and try to take a potentially detrimental situation into a positive one.