Feeling the Burn?

Has one of your customers gone negative online? Don’t get mad. Also, don’t get even. Try these tips for turning a negative into a positive.

The biggest fear many small businesses have about social media is how to handle negative posts. And though negative feedback can feel like a slap in the face, it’s important to seize the opportunity to quickly turn around the situation.

When I was asked to write about this topic, I remembered a comment Donny Seyfer, ASA’s chairman, made in a previous article I wrote for AutoInc., titled “Fear Factor” (June, 2014). He stated his fear of the negative comment on social media that would “never go away.”

I think we all agree on this, and now that social media continues to spread quickly and has entered all phases of our business lives, it seems even more daunting. So how can you, as a business owner, deal with negative feedback by turning it into a positive?

The No. 1 rule of this game: Don’t get defensive. We all know that defensive posturing can set up a dynamic that will easily escalate. Once you’re aware of a negative comment, it’s helpful to think of it simply as a complaint and let it sit for 24 hours until some of the “sting” has dissipated.

You might be tempted to shoot off an immediate knee-jerk reply, but it’s best to resist that urge. It’s important to take time to fully understand the incident and compose your thoughts. Determine the purpose of your reply – and, as tempting as this may seem, the purpose is not getting back at the person. Also, remember that by just allowing a bit of time to go by, other people could give you some creative inspiration or offer an idea for how to respond that you might not have considered.

Try these ideas for dealing with a negative review:

Identify the complaint. This helps focus the possible positive solutions. Is the comment about a misunderstanding, a customer service issue, an issue of trust or a business error? And, yes, sometimes a comment will come from a customer who your gut told you to stay away from, but with whom you got involved anyway. Now the problem is yours to deal with.

Six Tips to Counter Negative Reviews

1. Don’t be Defensive
2. Stick to The Issue
3. Ask for Clarification
4. Own the Mistake
5. Make a Peace Offering
6. Move On!

If you did make a mistake, don’t ignore it. Deal with it publicly by apologizing on social media after you’ve spoken directly to the person who posted the complaint. However, don’t try to resolve the issue on social media because it opens you up to even more problems. The best resolutions take place on a person-to-person level, because we’ve all learned the hard way that typed words can easily be misinterpreted.

Will a peace offering move the situation forward? If the customer is still unhappy and an explanation doesn’t change the dynamic, the situation requires patience. Remember that the goal is to move the customer away from the complaint and toward reaching satisfaction. If it’s a customer you want to keep, keep trying. The key questions to ask are, “What did I do to make you dissatisfied?” or “What do you think I did wrong?” Stay focused! These types of issues easily can spill over into areas that are unrelated to the problem.

Be strong but open. The best customer-service coaches recommend asking customers what they think is the right solution. Only they know what prompted them to post negative comments on a public forum, and only they know what they want to get out of the situation. Stay connected to the solution so everyone can move on.

Getting a Good Review

“To get a good review, ask for one! Ask your customer if they have a Gmail account, because without one they can’t post on Google. If they don’t have Gmail, then ask them to post on your website or Facebook page. You could make a handout for them to use with all your social media on it so it’s easy for them.”
– Amy Mattinat, owner of Auto Craftsmen Ltd, Montpelier, Vt.

One tip I learned from a social media workshop: If you’re not sure there are negative comments about your business, type your company name into Google to locate information on review sites. And set up a Google Alert to keep you informed so that you can stay on top of all comments.

Amy Mattinat, owner of Auto Craftsmen Ltd. in Montpelier, Vt., and president of the Car Care Council Women’s Board, shared her thoughts, “For many shop owners, social media is a good follow up because not all shops make follow-up calls,” she says. “Social media provides an opportunity for feedback.”

Mattinat’s shop guidelines are to deal with feedback directly and quickly. Don’t let it linger; make a plan to deal with it. The vulnerability created by a negative review is too great. Call the customer and start with, “I’m so sorry you feel this way.” After you try to resolve the situation to the best of your abilities, ask them to take down the post.

Amy also shared that she’s received two negative reviews from folks who have only negative things to say. Like me, I’m sure you’ve encountered those folks from time to time – the ones who only write bad things on TripAdvisor, Yelp! or iATN. Some people believe it’s their right to complain publicly. You just have to live with this.

My husband, Craig Van Batenburg, once printed a negative review and a positive one, and then had them both framed side by side with the tagline: “Some folks love us! Some folks don’t!” He hung it in our waiting room at Van Batenburg’s Garage. It was a hit!

Another piece of advice comes from a shop owner who asked to remain anonymous. He advises you to investigate a negative comment. Once, on Google, he found a negative comment that had been posted by the wife of a competing shop owner. Naturally, this woman thought if she gave the owner’s shop a black mark, it would help increase business at her husband’s shop.

I want to thank everyone who helped out with this article. My long-time ASA friends and my other business-network buddies: the Women’s Board and EBP Business Consulting of Dallas, Texas.

Social media adds a difficult new wrinkle to the idea of “the whole world is watching.” How you address and resolve those issues speaks volumes about you and your business. But if you always focus on keeping your personal credibility at a high level, you’ll overcome the negatives and continue to accentuate the positives.

Quick Reference Guide

1. Resist the urge to delete, report or hide the negative post. Unless the post uses profanity, obscene images or violates the social media site’s Terms of Use, getting rid of the post only invites criticism that you are participating in “censorship” (a real social media no-no). Furthermore, nothing prevents the original user from reposting the negative comments someplace where you can’t respond, such as on a private website they own.
2. Thank them for taking the time to give you feedback. Even if their post was angry or impolite, thanking them for their time shows all your users that you’re responding in a measured, professional way and makes rude comments seem unnecessarily vitriolic in comparison.
3. Take a step back and see what specific complaints the post mentions. Acknowledge these in your reply. This will let your users know that you are reading feedback and open to constructive ideas for improvement.
4. Take the conversation offline by providing another way for the complaining customer to get in touch. Don’t send them to a “no-reply” inbox. This will just throw fuel on the fire. Ideally, choose a phone number or email address where the customer can get in touch with you or the person at your business who can best deal with the situation and address it directly.
– Kelly Pfiffner, business consultant, Executive Briefing Programs