If you care about what you do, a negative review from a customer may seem like the end of the world. It is a dissapointment to see that your product has caused such a bad experience. On top of that, you also have to handle the situation, which can sometimes be hard to do.

If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. Every business will face negative reviews at one point or another. Sometimes it’s your mistake, and on other (rare) occasions, a customer just might be out to get you.  

Whichever it is, it is important to remember that even the worst situation can be resolved.  

As someone who has worked actively on solving customer complaints for years, and watched others do it, I know that it can because I’ve seen it on numerous occasions.

The secret is to keep a cool head and have a proactive approach.

So here you are, after being given some feedback directly from the customer. What can you do about it? Here are 7 things to keep in mind.

1. Set an alert for all mentions of your company  

Remember that 59 percent say online reviews are as trustworthy as a review from a friend.

Customers search online for experiences from other people before they opt for a purchase. Many will come and check out your site or Facebook fan page or google company + review, but you never get to hear from them.  What they see will impact their decision on whether to buy with you.

By using social listening tools, you can set up real-time tracking for mentions of your business on the internet so that you don’t have to worry about missing a review. You are probably not using these types of services to their full extent. In addition to any notification you get from your Yelp, Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, Angie’s List, Twitter or Facebook account, they also enable you to see reviews on channels you don’t own, such as forums and review blogs.

A lot of Twitter users will also complain without directly addressing you with an @company or sending a direct message. With a social listening tool, you’ll make sure that you capture even those conversations, and respond on time.  

Here you can see an example of how McDonald’s responded to negative feedback even though they were not directly addressed:

2. Make sure the customer knows you heard their complaint

You can significantly reduce the initial frustration if you let them know, as soon as possible, that you have heard their feedback and appreciate it.

Particularly on social media (where customer expect a fast reply), your first response can even be on the lines of “So sorry for your experience, we are looking into what happened and I’ll get back to you with more details”. Then proceed to investigate and offer clarification as soon as you have a full story. 

Even when a customer doesn’t follow up, make sure you do – because other customers may come across and wonder what happened with the issue. If they don’t have a conclusion, they might think you did nothing.

Remember, you are not writing only for the complaining party – you are writing for everyone who might see it.

3. Always maintain a polite tone – other customers are watching

Never argue or accuse the person that they are wrong, even when you know for a fact that they are. Remember that many other people will see your response, and that may be their first contact with the brand. Maybe the negative review was from an ex-wife, a jealous competitor, or a downright bully. It doesn’t matter. You know that, but people who are watching don’t.

Anything other than a polite and calm response will come off as rude, even if that was not your intention. Customers won’t think you are passionate or standing up for yourself. More likely they are going to say “If they got angry at that person for complaining, maybe they’ll get angry at me as well”.

4. Remember to explain the situation to other customers as well

Before you post a moment, take a moment and read it from the perspective of a person who doesn’t know anything about the situation you are facing. Will they be able to decipher what happened looking at your conversation?

If there was an extraordinary situation, like a power outage due to maintenance, make sure to explain it, and let everyone know that you’ve taken measures to prevent this from ever happening again.

5. Try to move the discussion to other channels

If there is a problem that can be solved via a phone call, a visit to the store or return policy, ask the customer for the permission to contact them and resolve it offline. As much as you can, don’t try to troubleshoot complicated issues on social media directly. It is exhausting for everyone involved. More issues can be solved in five minutes of talking to a real person instead of three days of back-and-forth tweeting.

How Mailchimp manages customer support

6. Follow up with the customer on social media after the situation was resolved

You want your other customers to see that the issue was resolved. Once it is, don’t hesitate to ask the customer if they are now satisfied. It leaves a good impression.

In one instance, Innocent drinks forgot to do that after a complaint about mold inside of a cap of one of their products. While they contacted the lady and offered an apology and a gift certificate, the thread on social media has no indication that they even saw her complaint.

innocent negative review

What they could have done is first tell the customer that her problem will be solved, and then follow up asking if she received the certificate.

Most users are glad to leave a positive review after that.

7. Prevent further criticism by changing business practices

If a customer had a late delivery or their product was faulty, or their hotel sheets were messy, it’s time for you to conduct an investigation. Contact the person in charge of that particular part of your business to see whether this was an isolated incident or a regular occurrence. 

8. Archive complaints for analysis

When you have a list of all negative reviews in one place, you’ll be able to identify recurring issues. While you know you should be monitoring and analyzing all complaints, it’s a good bet that you are not. Presumably, because you don’t have the time. On the surface level, this may seem like the truth, but often this answer is just a more polite way of saying “I don’t see what good can it do”. The truth is, when marketers think something is important, they make time. Think about the last three-hour meeting you attended on the appropriate image to put on a banner without getting to a conclusion. You made time for that, but not for actual analysis of one of the most important aspects of your business: customer feedback?

9. Work on rebuilding reputation by incentivizing fans to leave positive reviews

This is also one of those aspects that people often forget. Once you resolve a symptom, it’s time to cure the illness.  Because online reviews live online, the antidote to your future customers getting a bad first impression is to work on getting reviews from customers that are genuine fans of your product. Don’t be afraid to ask; research shows that 70% of customers will leave a review when asked. Use that to your favor.

The truth of the matter is that, even when you’ve made a mistake, customers will give you a benefit of a doubt if you communicate properly, with respect and on time.

It is important that you remember that nobody is out to get you. People are too busy with their own problems to actively hate a company. When they complain, it is because they have a problem and they want it to go away, not because they are spiteful or secretly hate you.

If you look at things from this perspective, it becomes easier to see that you your main focus should be on how to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

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