“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That saying has been making the rounds on playgrounds for well over a century. It’s an adage that implies that words and insults can’t hurt whoever is the brunt of the comment.
In the age of digital marketing and social media, this doesn’t hold true any more than it ever did. Words certainly can, and have, hurt plenty of companies over the years. Many people rely on social media reviews when they’re making purchasing decisions. So when they see a bad review that was handled poorly or ignored, they’re likelihood not going to trust the company with their business.
The potential negative impact of bad reviews often leads companies to misguided fears and results in the aversion to all bad reviews. But avoiding any and all negative reviews is not the answer. It is impossible to make everyone happy, and if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you are going to have someone out there who is unhappy with something. Reasonable consumers understand this and will take it into consideration when scanning reviews.
So what do you do? Use negative reviews to your advantage. Take a bad review, handle it with respect and stellar customer service. Turn the situation around. You have the opportunity to mend any damage with the reviewer, build your reputation for making customers your top priority, and build trust with anyone that sees your response.
Bad reviews have been shown to improve conversion by 67%. If you handle them properly, having negative reviews can actually build trust with consumers.
Step One: Keep your ear to the ground.
Make it a habit to check social media accounts for what people are saying about you. Don’t just rely on customers to post to your business page or to tag you, because many won’t. Choose a social media tool, such as Google Alert, that will tell you every time your name is mentioned on a blog, website, or in the news. There are other sites available that will also track social media sites for mentions as well.
Step Two: Don’t take it personally.
Remember, it’s not you that the customer is upset with, it’s the situation. Take a few minutes to read through all of your reviews and mentions. Reply to the positive ones first. Then, when you’ve had a chance to process things, take a deep breathe and go back to the negative ones.
Step Three: Respond publicly, promptly, and personally.
Try to reply within an hour of receiving a complaint. Facebook is tracking business response times and displaying it as a badge on their pages. Customers want to know that you care about them and are reading what they have to say. Do not delete negative reviews. (Of course, if they contain inappropriate language or are otherwise offensive, then you should delete it. Or report it.)
“When you answer a negative review and address the upset customer, you are also speaking to the hundreds of other consumers that want to know how you conduct your business. Consumers understand that mistakes happen, so when they see a business trying to do the right thing, it builds trust.” ~Phil Penton, President of Social Integrations
Acknowledge the customer’s issue and let them know that it’s being looked into. Give them a sense of when and how they can expect a response. Don’t just copy and paste an automatic response to issues. Customers can spot those immediately, and they’ll feel as though they’ve been brushed aside. Keep your tone conversational, include their name, your position with the company (it gives you credibility), and mention their issue in your response.
Look into the issue and assign the appropriate person to handle it. Having an escalation plan for employees is helpful and will ensure more consistent customer service. The plan can tell staff who deals with various types of complaints, what can be done at each level to alleviate the issue, and who has the power to issue refunds or offer other compensation.
Step Four: Acknowledge mistakes and go the extra mile.
People know that no business is perfect and that mistakes happen. Take ownership of what went wrong so that you recognize the problem and prevent further blame from being thrown at you. Owning the issue will allow you to focus on finding a solution instead of stemming a flood of anger.
It is vital to make sure to keep your tone conversational and natural and come across as genuine. It takes time to build trust with a customer but only seconds to lose it. Understanding, empathy, and honesty without blaming the customer can fix almost every situation.
You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you need to be willing to help the customer find them. Referring a client to another source might be all you need to do to make them happy.
Don’t rely on free products and services to fix the problem. You’ll find your policy will be abused if this is your first line of defense. Helping them find an answer or fixing the original problem should be your default action. Offering coupons, vouchers, or replacements can go a long way toward earning you a second chance. Follow up by encouraging the client to update their review if their second experience is better.
Step Five: Take it offline.
After your initial response to a complaint, see if you can take further conversations out of the public eye. This will give you a chance to work with the customer one on one, be more personal, and avoid other commenters from dog piling on top of you. Private messages, email, or even a phone call are ideal ways to continue the conversation.
Step Six: Follow Up
Don’t assume that an issue is resolved just because you responded to it. Follow up with the customer to make sure that they’re satisfied. Taking the extra time to touch base is a personal touch that lets them know that you really do care about them and their relationship with you in the future. It also provides you with an opportunity to gain some feedback about your processes and make changes to prevent future hiccups.
You can’t make everyone happy all of the time. But you can be honest and open when dealing with your customers, making them feel more valued. If you take the time to make amends with customers who have had a negative experience, then you’re more likely to get their business again, and they’re also more likely to recommend you to their circle of influence.
This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated.