Tips for managing negative publicity in today’s socially connected world.

They say the “golden rule” is that no matter what, the customer is always right. And now, with the rapid growth of customers giving feedback online, each customer has a public loudspeaker. Obviously, favorable comments will help any company, but the truth is that sooner or later, your business will be publicly attacked by an unsatisfied customer. It is up to the company to figure out how they are going to respond.

A study done by Forrester, an independent research company, shows that most online shoppers use the reviews made by other customers to help them decide whether or not to buy a product. When Forrester surveyed over 4,000 reviews on Amazon.com, they found that only 20% of the reviews were negative, but were actually the most useful and helpful to buyers. Even though this information came from one of the biggest online shopping sites around, some of these patterns may be the same smaller sites, in nearly any industry.

Online, reviews can develop a life of their own, whether they’re negative or positive. Because search engines index them, the reviews can show up when potential customers look up your services or products. In addition, many product review sites like Yelp have search abilities which make it easier to find both good and bad feedback on products.  Add in social networks like Twitter and Facebook, where users freely give their friends and followers a positive or negative review and it will affect your business.

As a responsible business owner, you need to be on top of dealing with your feedback. But how do you handle negative—and even irate—customers online? Here are five points that every entrepreneur needs to know.

    • All reviews, even negative ones, can help create loyalty with your customers.
      Business owners shouldn’t overreact when negative feedback appears, but you should actually accept it as an everyday part of doing business. Your clients need to feel like they’re able to speak their minds freely, even if their thoughts of your merchandise or services aren’t good. Business owners often tend to make the wrong decision in posting only good reviews and omitting the negative ones. Having only positive feedback without any negatives can actually make potential shoppers suspicious of your company. In fact, negative feedback can help build loyalty, as the negative reviews give the companies the chance to do something exclusively for discontent clients—like offering to give them a full refund, or the same product at no additional cost.
    • Know when to reply.
      The chief branding officer of a New York-based online-marketing firm states that all bad reviews aren’t the same. Sometimes conversing with an upset client can help better your company, and it can sometimes put the spotlight on someone who doesn’t deserve to have it. Here are five examples of when a comment requires a reply from you directly:

        • You have actually made an error and you need to fix the problem, and apologize to your customer.
        • The person has all the wrong facts, and is bashing your business for something you never agreed to (or for something your company doesn’t even offer).
        • A client is genuinely angry with you.
        • A negative review is getting other buyers worked up.
    • Know how to reply.
      Once you’ve decided what reviews you need to reply to, you must do so in a professional manner. You should read through and comprehend the customers’ attitudes towards your business, keep calm, and consider using these strategies to responding:

        • Instead of just reacting, actually listen to what your upset customers have to say. The complaints are mainly about how your clients were let down. Look through the ‘angry’ and work out the problem that you need to confront.
        • Remember, honesty is always the best policy. You need to be sincere when replying to negative feedback and apologize for the errors you’ve made—and then decide on how you’re going to fix the mistakes and satisfy your clients.
        • Keep calm. If you’re easily angered, you probably shouldn’t be in social media, or running your own company. When you ascend to the explosiveness that your customers may be displaying, you’re just going to make it worse, and you’ll probably never patch things up with the client who ‘started it’ in the first place. Acting like this publicly will also cause others to think again when it comes to doing business with you.
        • Get personal. Your customers don’t really care about your credentials or for your fancy corporate lingo. You just need to apologize to them for your mistakes as if they were a close friend or member of your family.
        • Make a vow to improve. Any reply to a poor review should show your interest in bettering your company for the benefit of your clients.
    • Reassure your positive customers.
      Negative feedback won’t have as much impact on your company if you have a lot of good reviews. You should urge your contented clients to post feedback about their positive encounters with your business. This will help make good testimonials for your company that will go on to help bring in more great clients.
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About the Author

Though his chief ambition is to one day control the entire Internet, Jim busies himself in the meantime running our little web development and marketing agency. He's a certified super nerd who ranks coding in old, outdated languages and watching Star Trek reruns just a bit too high on his list of fun things to do.Outside of work, Jim enjoys Hockey (Tampa Bay Lighning, to be specific), more genres of music than most people realize exist, riding his Harley (he calls it "two wheel therapy") and exploring the world through travel.