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Strategies to Handle Negative Posts and Feedback

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It is nearly impossible to please 100% of the people 100% of the time.  In today’s online driven society, even solid, customer service oriented businesses occasionally fall victim to a negative post, comment or feedback.  If it hasn’t happen to you yet, consider yourself lucky.  When it does, don’t panic.  It is important to understand that it’s not necessarily the comment itself that may damage your business; rather, how you handle it.  This article will discuss some ideas on how to address unfavorable posts and help minimize the negative impact.

Let’s begin by taking a look at what not to do

Do Not

Ignore the Comment


Ignoring the comment won’t make it go away. In fact, a lack of response could make the person posting it even more upset.  Take online comments and feedback as seriously as you do when a customer complains in person.  Remember, in business, the “customer is always right” philosophy is a good practice.  We will discuss ways to handle the situation later in this article.

Delete the Comment


Unless the comment is obscene, offensive or completely inappropriate, it is a good practice not to delete it.  As with ignoring it, deleting it could infuriate the person even more.  With any situation, it is important for the customer to know their concerns are being heard and addressed.  You don’t want to make them more discontent than they already are; this could result in a barrage of additional negative comments, posts and feedback.

Become Defensive or Combative


Refrain from projecting a defensive or combative tone.  Again, this will only further anger the person and potentially make the situation much worse.  Even when you feel you are “right”, remain friendly, helpful and willing to listen.  

Now, let’s examine some problem solving strategie.

Do

Reach out to the Person Posting the Negative Comment


This is imperative.  You must reach out to them, find out who they are, and let them know you are willing to discuss the situation further.  Most reasonable people will appreciate the fact that you are trying to better understand and address their complaints.  Remember, some people view Social Media and online reviews as opportunities to “vent” their frustrations.  Once they express themselves and “cool” down, they often view the situation in a different light.  Regardless, reaching out to the person will not only help repair the relationship, it could shed light on an internal problem you were unaware of within your company.  Invite the person to discuss their concerns either over the telephone or in person.  Listen carefully to their complaint and take notes.  Reassure them that you will look into the situation, and will contact them with a resolution.  At this point, you may have earned their confidence enough that they may choose to either recant their negative post, or write a follow-up about you contacting them and being willing to resolve the situation.  

Here is an example of a string of comments from the Allstate® Facebook page. There are two disgruntled customers posting comments. Notice how the company reaches out to both of them. 

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Investigate the Complaint


The next step is to thoroughly investigate the complaint. Again, perhaps the person posting the negative comment has good reason for doing so.  It is important to determine the legitimacy of the complaint and take appropriate disciplinary action or consider policy changes if necessary.  Remember, a small misunderstanding can become a significant problem if not handled correctly.  

Let’s take a look at how Target engaged an unhappy customer and attempted to gather additional information to look into the situation further. 

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Offer a Recompense and Resolution


Once you’ve investigated the complaint and taken appropriate action (if necessary), contact the customer and offer some sort of recompense and resolution.  Ensure they understand that you fully investigated their concern.  Advise them of the steps you’ve taken to improve the situation.  Then, invite them back.  Restaurants may want to offer another meal “on the house”.  Stores may consider offering a free replacement or coupon to come back.  Let them know you are willing to do whatever it takes to earn their business.  This step is often taken personally, over the telephone or via e-mail.

Thank the Individual for Their Feedback


Be sure the customer knows that you appreciate their feedback and bringing their concern(s) to your attention.  Perhaps tell them that one way you improve the customer experience is by examining all feedback, good and bad, and adjusting your policies as needed.  Be sure they have all of your contact information.  Let them know that if they have any other issues or concerns, they can contact you directly and you will take care of them promptly.  Knowing they can come straight to you in the future may help lessen the likelihood of them going “online” with their complaints.

Let’s take a look at how Walmart handled a customer concern on their Facebook page.  Notice how they mentioned to the customer how they are always looking for ways to make their shopping experience better and referred them to a link where they can offer suggestions.

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Build Your Online Reputation


Another good practice is to continue building a “positive” online reputation.  A number of positive reviews will definitely overshadow one bad post.  Encourage your satisfied and loyal customers to connect with you on Social Media.  Also, consider offering incentives for positive reviews. I hired a company to pressure wash my home a few months ago.  They asked me if I was satisfied with the service.  When I told them, “yes”, they offered to come back again in six months at 50% off if I posted a positive review about their company on Google+.  Be sure to also post testimonials, success stories and positive customer reviews on your website, blog and across all of your Social Media.

You also want to remain on the lookout for comments or posts by disgruntled employees or even competitors.  Sadly, “fake” complaints are not uncommon.  I once came across a company struggling with negative comments they thought were being posted on Google by an employee they had recently let go.  The “tone” of the comments were consistent with that particular employee.  However, because they were posting under a different profile, the company was unable to prove it was the ex-employee.  They began encouraging their satisfied clients to post positive feedback, which pushed much of the fabricated, negative feedback further down the page.  If you suspect someone is posting negative feedback solely for the purpose of harming your company, it is advisable to consult legal counsel and discuss your options.

In the event a negative comment does snowball into a serious public relations (PR) situation, it is important to act quickly and try to get in front of it before the issue snowballs.  Consult your PR department or a PR consultant to help determine the best strategy to address the situation.

As you can see, a negative post or online comment is not the end of the world.  Addressing the situation promptly and in a professional manner can determine the impact it will have on your company.  Remember, if you handle the situation with sincerity and grace, your critics could become your best customers!

Gina Smith is a marketing strategist and public relations consultant.  She writes freelance articles for magazines, online outlets and publications including Global Response. Smith covers the latest topics in the business, golf, tourism, technology and entertainment industriesh4

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