How to Deal with Negative Customer Feedback

When asked about negative online comments I say, “Any company that has been in business longer than 5 minutes has an unhappy customer. You simply can’t please everyone all the time.” How you deal with it is more telling than the fact that the negativity exists. The lack of control over what people say about businesses makes many owners uncomfortable. I’ll let you in on a secret, the internet didn’t take away your control. You never had control. Control is only an illusion. The only thing you actually control in any situation is how you react.

According to the Opinion Research Corporation, 84% of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions so this is an important area of which to pay attention. I was doing a platform audit for one of my clients, Getaway Adventures, when I came across a negative review on TripAdvisor. The customer was displeased with the tour he went on and felt it wasn’t what he expected during purchase. The owner, Randy, dealt with it in a really effective way. He apologized and told the customer that the next tour was on him and that he’d take the customer out himself. Done. A negative turned into a positive, at least from my perspective. You can learn a lot about a person/business by the way they treat people. He handled it just the way he would’ve if the client had been standing in his place of business. The way we cope with online feedback should be very much like the way we’d handle it face to face. Same skills different application.

A word about having your friends or employees write reviews for you. It’s called astroturfing. Astroturfing is a bogus grass roots movement or the practice of disingenuously creating reviews for a service that come from someone other than an actual customer. Lifestyle Life, a cosmetic surgery clinic in New York, was required to pay $30,000 in civil penalties after an investigation by the state attorney general’s office. Employees had been found guilty of posing as plastic surgery patients and had been writing wonderful reviews. It’s tempting. Don’t do it. Also, don’t promise free merchandise or services for good reviews. You are in effect paying for their words. Same premise different approach.

Retail customers prefer social media support to a tune of 45%, according to ZenDesk. Do you know what kind of support your customers prefer? Give them a survey, high tech or low tech, the important part is you know their preference before it gets to the bad review stage.

Let’s say you really did mess up. Here are the basic steps to go through:

  • Apologize. This can be hard for people but sometimes the complainer just wants to be validated or acknowledged. If a customer complains about a pizza arriving late, not necessarily to the company itself, the company can respond with an apology and a promise of a free item on the next order. Tracking complaints will allow you to spot recurring issues. This accomplishes several things: the customer is happier because they’ve been acknowledged, you are tracking a possible problem in your service chain, and the general public can witness how you handle the situation.
  • Procedure. When a simple apology won’t solve the situation, you need to have a more organized approach.
      1. Have a dedicated point of contact to take ownership over issues and see them through to resolution. This person will be tracking complaints to be able to spot patterns.
      2. Set expectations for the customer. After the initial contact with customer, 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. It will be easier on the customer and keeps further negativity out of the public eye. Time isn’t your friend if the complaint originated online. Find a resolution fast.
      3. Respond with the resolution. An explanation or maybe a discount. This is your call as your business model is yours and yours alone.
      4. Publicly resolve. If it started in a public forum, make sure you let the public know that you care about customer service issues and that you work hard to make it right. If it began on Twitter, post your public resolution there.
  • Make Changes. By having your process in place you will be able to make necessary changes to the way you deliver your product and improve the customer experience.
  • Encourage your Super Fan. These people believe in your brand and will keep the tone where you want it to be.
  • Don’t take it personally. As I already said, everyone has had an unhappy customer. It’s part of the gig. Your job is to make sure you did all that you could when it’s all said and done.
Just remember, it’s how you react to a situation that the public remembers. By taking a potentially horrible incident and turning it around with great customer service, you can wipe away a bad experience and earn new customers with the way you respond.
[Image via Social Media Darwinism]

The Lady Test: Privacy, Decorum and Online Behavior

I passed a lady test today.

You’ve heard the saying, “A lady never _____.” No one ever said this to me directly but I did take note of class all by myself. I don’t live in a world where gloves, pearls, and finger sandwiches exist but the pearls are still the sign of a classy lady.

There is an image of this lady in my head. Sometimes she looks like Audrey Hepburn, quiet and graceful with doe eyes. Other times she is Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show. A smart, clever, funny, beautiful woman that does not suffer fools.

When I am approached about my thoughts on privacy issues and the internet, the ghost of the lady is in my head. When Google Buzz unintentionally released users’ address books to all that they contained, the ensuing uproar over loss of privacy and security was expected. I heard somewhere that it’s really about control. We were under the illusion that we had control over our information. When we lose that control, we get upset. But the question I want to ask is, did we ever really have control to begin with?

I say this, “From the second you step out your door, you are most likely being recorded. From the security cameras in your complex, the passing Google Street View car, a satellite image, a cell phone with camera and video, the computers you use, the emails and texts you send, the credit cards you charge with, pretty much everything you do is being tracked. You can’t let that stop you but I hope you think twice about the choices you make.”

When on Facebook, I am reminded that my grandmother (grama is how we spell it), stepmom, sister and clients are reading my posts and seeing my activity. I am telling you, there is nothing like a grama watching to keep you in line.

The lady test I passed? A woman I respect for her honesty, intelligence, wit, devotion, and genteel nature expressed to me how impressed she was with the way I carried myself, who I was, and how I conducted business. This is a woman that definitely fits into the lady category. No matter that she is younger than I am. To know that those I esteem recognize in me those same qualities means I am making the right choices.

Can you pass the “lady test”? You don’t have to be a woman. It’s about conducting yourself in a certain way, a way that makes you or your family proud. Know that everything you do counts. Every person you come in contact with is affected by you. There are no throw aways or do overs. Pretend your grama’s watching.

A thank you to some great ladies in my life: Cassie Johnson, Pam Austin, Colleen Quirk Dillaway, Marian Quirk. There are more but these ladies play a part in this post.

*UPDATE 6/26/11 This post is a carry over from my last blog and was the most read post I’ve ever written. It holds true and “The Lady Test” is something I say all the time. Online reputation management is a growing field. Make sure what you post is how you want to be remembered.

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