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How to Handle Online Complaints

One of the worst fears business owners face is seeing a complaint or negative customer review posted online. Whether it’s on a review site such as Yelp or Ripoffreport, social media, or even a relatively unknown site that happens to show up near the top of the search results for anyone researching your business, it’s extraordinarily frustrating for entrepreneurs. So when small business resource site RabidOfficeMonkey asked me to help their readers understand how to handle this tricky situation, I was eager to contribute.  Here’s a brief summary of some of the key takeaways, but you can read the complete text at their site here.

How many times have customer reviews or online feedback influenced your purchasing decision? We all know how important these can be and how much a negative review can impact your business; studies have also been done confirming this. Yet, no matter how much you can try to provide excellent products and services and have no intention of ever disappointing a customer, it’s likely unavoidable that at some point during the life of your business, a customer will still post something unflattering online. The important thing is what you do next.

It’s tempting to engage the complainer, especially when it comes to defending your business, employees, and even yourself. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, because your response is likely to also become public and can further escalate the situation if not handled properly. Alternatively, a great response can be an opportunity to demonstrate your customer service values and attract new customers as a result.

  1. Stay Calm: A calm, collected approach will help appease even the toughest critic and make you look good, should your response be made public. Often customers need to vent and want to be heard. Keep your emotions in check and don’t make the situation worse. 
  2. Acknowledge and Apologize: Express empathy for their situation, even if you don’t believe you are completely responsible. The customer feels that way for a reason. Don’t make the customer feel like you’re blowing them off. Show that you understand and respect their concern. Sincerely apologize and reassure them that you will help rectify it.
  3.  Explain, Solve, and Appreciate: If you can, explain how and why the customer experienced the issue without placing blame. Accept responsibility for whatever your role was in the situation or for their negative experience in general. Describe clearly the steps you will take to rectify the situation. Exceeding their expectations with your proposed solution can really delight the customer and convert them from angry to thrilled. Show appreciation for bringing the issue to your attention and mention how you might use their feedback to make improvements to your business. This can reinforce that their voice was heard and fosters the relationship with your brand.

Often the most vocal critics become the most enthusiastic brand proponents when you solve their problem. So look at online complaints as an opportunity to discover ways to improve your business and showcase your customer service skills. Your business and your mental state will reap the benefits.

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