Handling Negative Comments: A Quick Bootcamp For Business Owners

So we all know it’s going to happen.  Somewhere on your Facebook page, your Google Place page or somewhere on the web, the complainers are going to come out.  No matter how good your service is, no matter how great your product is, at some point someone is not going to be a happy camper.  So when that day comes, what should you do?  The question comes up all the time, and it seems like in this new world of social media, business owners just aren’t sure how to handle it.  I’ve written in the past about how to avoid the very popular “head in the sand” strategy and create a simple proactive reputation management plan.  Here I’ll get even more basic to give you a quick boot camp on some of the best
advice I’ve come across over the years on getting ahead of your cranky customers and turning what could be a bad situation into a positive one for your business.

1) Respond quickly: the faster you’re on it, the better you’ll look

The very first thing you should do when a negative comment appears is respond quickly.  A timely, fast response shows anyone looking at the post that your business is responsive and customer oriented.  On the flip side, a negative post that is allowed to sit there with no response for days makes it look like you couldn’t care less.  It also can quickly generate “piling-on”- more negative comments added by others who see the first post- making the problem look increasingly worse.  At that point you are in a truly tough situation of trying to respond to a whole series of negative posts.  Do yourself a favor and get on the first one quickly before anything gets rolling.

Another good strategy is to outline responses to common complaints ahead of time.  That way when one appears, you’re already ready with a quick response.

2) Turn the comment into an opportunity: show your future customers how you respond

Everyone makes mistakes—there’s nothing wrong with that.  Following up
with an apology and an offer to make things right can make you look even better
to everyone in the future who comes across the post.  Matt McGee did a great interview with reputation management expert Andy Beal, who explained his advice:

Respond to negative comments with sincerity, transparency, and consistency. Apologize for the incident. Explain how it happened, why it’s not the normal way you treat customers, and how you’re working to ensure it never happens again. Ask the customer for an opportunity to serve them again and provide a better experience. All of this will leave a positive impression with anyone reading the initial negative review.

I also like the process Ted Paff of Customer Lobby uses for responding to negative reviews and comments (it’s worth reading his full guest post on Mike Blumenthal’s blog).  His advice:

Step 1:  Own the issue. Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about. Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue. A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

A third optional step he also advises (if necessary) is to offer to fix the problem. When you respond, ask them to contact you directly (which quickly takes the problem off of a public forum and allows you to work with them directly to diffuse the situation).

3) Think twice before ignoring all this advice and just deleting the comment

I’ve heard this question many times from businesses– particularly related to Facebook comments: “can’t I just delete it?”  The challenge is if your customers have seen the comment, and they see you get rid of it, you come off with the customer service reputation of the Soviet Union circa 1967.  Not good Comrade.

Lisa Barone also wrote a great post on the 5 reasons you don’t want to delete a bad comment on your Facebook page.  Her advice in a nutshell: you want the conversation to happen on your facebook page, not a more public forum (where customers will then go if you delete their comments); you get the chance to turn a negative into a positive and change the conversation; you get to show off your customer service; you look more real (and have “street cred”) versus companies that have 100% glowing reviews and come off as phony; and you have feedback you can act on to make your company better.

That is my quick bootcamp on the basics of handling your critics in social media. If you’re looking for more info on the topic, you can also check out my post on setting up a simple and automatic strategy to track what is being said about you online.


John’s digital experience dates back over two decades, to before the web was born. He is currently VP Marketing for Advance Digital, and is a regular writer and speaker on topics including Search, Social Media, Content Marketing, Local Media and the Digital Marketing Revolution.

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