Lessons on responding to negative online comments

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negative online comments

By Amber Osbourne, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Recently, I saw the movie Chef. People had encouraged me to see it for months, because of its social media connection.

I was surprised by the lessons on business and social media in its messaging. It’s a great story with a subplot of how social media can make or break you as a business owner. I’m not going to give too much away about the movie, since I highly recommend anyone with a small business to see it for themselves. But one of the major points revolves around a food critic giving a bad review and the main character choosing some lesser ways to respond to the online feedback. By the end of the movie he embraces social media and sees how it can support and help his business flourish.

Negative online comments are tough to take. But if you’re in business, sooner or later it’s going to happen. Every business, no matter how hard it tries, will make mistakes or displease customers sometimes.

As a community manager myself, I get asked all the time about dealing with this type of situation. Maybe it’s a bad Yelp review, a negative comment on your Facebook page or an irate customer on Twitter. Many of us might want to go on the defensive … but that usually just ends up feeding the fire instead of extinguishing it.

One thing to keep top of mind is to react with your mind, not your gut to mind to help turn the negative situation upside down. Here’s some tips I’ve put together  to help you deal with negative online comments.

Cool off first

When you receive negative comments, especially if the commenter was rude or aggressive, you may be tempted to fire off a long reply defending yourself and pointing out why the commenter is completely wrong. Don’t.

Dealing with negative commenters is like dealing with angry customers at your store. Fighting with them won’t do you any good; it’ll just make you look like a jerk. Thankfully, with online commenters, you can step back for a few hours while you process your feelings. Don’t reply right away; take some time to calm down and think about your response.

Make the commenter feel heard

When you do respond — and you should, within 24 hours — focus on validating the commenter’s feelings before you do anything else. The best way to do this is to summarize the commenter’s complaint in a few words.

For example, if a commenter is ranting that your business is terrible because he didn’t get an order on time, start off your response with something like, “I can understand your frustration with long order delivery times.” It’s important to take this step before anything else because it shows the commenter–and all the other people reading–that you care about and understand what the commenter said, as well as the person’s feelings.

Offer a solution for negative online comments

Demonstrate your commitment to customer service by offering a solution on the spot. “Since it took us so long to get you your book, how about you order another book on us?”

Offering a solution shows that you are willing to take responsibility for the problem and solve it. You may also want to demonstrate that you solved the problem behind the customer’s complaint, like, “We switched shipping companies, so now you should get your orders much more quickly.”

Make yourself available

End the communication by asking the customer to email or call you to talk about this further. Put your phone number or email address into the comment. This shows that you’re open to talking with customers and responsive to their needs.

I remember meeting someone at a conference who remembered my company from the time we took to handle his problem, he was astounded that the CEO reached out to him personally and worked with him step by step to fix his issue.

Communication is key

These steps may sound formulaic, but they work. It’s important to communicate authentically throughout this process. Don’t offer a solution that isn’t reasonable just to show you did it or offer a phone number that you don’t plan to ever answer. Instead, communicate honestly and openly while staying focused on the commenter who is complaining. You can actually help your business by doing this; your other followers will see how committed to customer service you are and that you aren’t scared to deal with complaints.

How do you handle negative online comments?

amber osborneAmber Osborne a.k.a @MissDestructo is the CMO at Meshfire, a social media management platform out of Seattle, WA. She’s worked previously in online marketing with clients ranging from bands to brands. Check out her adventures at MissDestructo.com.

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