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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Respond with the resolution. An explanation or maybe a discount. This is your call as your business model is yours and yours alone.
- 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.