With much business done online today, your online “handshake”- the way you answer an email or what you say on social media - directly affects people's perceptions of you as a person and as a professional.
If your business has a social media presence, it may only be a matter of time before someone issues a complaint online. Eventually, your reputation might be at risk of being launched into fame when a bad review, or a response to a bad review, goes viral.
Good news: Handling the situation in a mannerly fashion not only can take the sting out of negative feedback and improve enterprise status, but also can lead to improved client relationships.
“It makes professional sense to consider your response carefully before firing off an angry retort you might later regret” Nathalie Andraos says, while we sit with her to chew the fat on what it takes to competently respond to online customer complaints.
Andraos is a Certified Etiquette and Soft Skills Trainer, and founder of 11 Minutes for Etiquette Consultancy & Training; she herself enjoys her active online presence through which she promotes kindness, manners and professionalism.
So, what are the most proficient etiquette tips for navigating negative comments online? You got it now.
Manage your company’s online presence
Wanted or not this is the era of online presence “and if you don’t update, you are out of date.” Having a social media strategy and effectively engaging your online community takes time to monitor and update; responding online to customers’ complaints or inquiries is even more critical than when it’s face to face interaction. Be aware of what others are posting about your business, do frequent check-ins, create alerts so you know when someone has posted to your page, tweeted you, or left a comment on your blog. Not to forget those on other sites that offer crowd-sourced reviews, such as Yelp or Trip Advisor.
Deal with negative comments quickly and professionally
“What happens online stays online”: Not only does this show that you are closely monitoring your page, doing so will also help minimize the damage from an online remark. When people are complaining, their first objective is simply to be heard. Ideally, try responding in an interval of 1 hour even if you don’t have the solution right away; it is chance to tell the customer you are aware of their dissatisfaction, care about their feedback and will be taking the necessary steps to fix the problem. The three key strategies to “how to” respond to customers are as follows: First acknowledge the problem, second clarify and then offer a solution.
Stay positive on the receiving end of an angry or unfair remark
It’s hard to remain calm when you are on the receiving end of an angry or unfair remark; right!? It’s here when you give your business some character. Make every effort to stay composed and avoid responding in a similarly negative way. To start with, don’t worry about whether you agree with the evaluator or not. “If you need a few minutes, step away from the screen and let a cooler head prevail, choose your wording wisely, and read your message a couple of times before clicking the ‘send’ button.”
Take the discussion out of the public round-table
Often dealing with negative comments online will encourage others to join the conversation and that might aggravate the problem; if someone has a complaint, ask them to direct message you so you can learn more about their concern(s) and respond appropriately.
Explain to customer in complaint how the situation is being handled
A chance for professional manners to blow! Thank your customers for taking the time to contact you, apologize, let them know why it occurred, and what you are doing to ensure it won’t happen again. Here’s one way of doing it:
@customer: “I can’t believe that you billed me without letting me know ahead of time! I was not expecting a charge at all, let alone that was SO EXPENSIVE. How can you guys get away with this!?!?”
@enterprise: “Thanks so much for writing about this—I’m sorry to hear that you were caught off guard by our billing.” “I can totally get how it can be frustrating to receive a charge that you weren’t expecting, especially when you’ve just started to use our tool.” “Could you share a bit more information with me so that we can get to the bottom of this? For example, would you mind sending me the username associated with your account along with the date that you received the charge? Using that, I can take a look in our system and see how we can get this fixed for you. You may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be glad to get back to you the soonest.
In some cases, further action is needed; you can offer a refund or a discount on their next service or ask how they would like to see things resolved. Interestingly also, some expressions can do wonders to help cool off the anger of a customer – because you don’t want to use those deadly phrases – like:
“I can understand why you’d be upset;”
“This is important — to both you and me;”
“Here’s what I’m going to do for you;”
“You’ve come to the right place to get this resolved;”
“Thank you … (for bringing this to my attention, being straight with me, for your patience with us, your loyalty to us even when things go wrong or your continued business).
Look for the lesson
No one enjoys hearing negative feedback; yet we have to agree that no Business is perfect! Humans are here performing, so there’s always a room for error. Take the time to properly assess the information related to customer in complaint, and look for ways your company can make positive changes. On the lessons learned from a certain complaint, are there any improvements to be made?
Block obnoxious complainers
Some people are never happy, no matter what you do. An online presence provides anonymous users with a platform to leave harassing or belittling remarks, while assuming there will be no recourse. “Blocking and reporting the behavior of anyone posting insults or profanity is a smart option. There is no need, however, to block someone who is expressing a viewpoint in a respectful manner - whether or not you agree with their opinion.”
Lastly, for most companies, the occasional negative comment is a small price to pay for the many benefits of connecting with customers online. When handled properly, it can turn into an opportunity to strengthen a damaged customer relationship and may even win you a fan for life. A complaint resides an opportunity to grow and as etiquette entails:
“The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with the bad ones; and business protocol is never far from this,” Andraos adds.