I’m sure most people have experienced negativity showing up here and there on a product review, Facebook page, twitter stream or comments on your blog. If you haven’t, I can only assume you’ve worried about what to do if and when it does happen.
Social media (and the internet as a whole) is a highly public setting that allows us to reach our customers must faster and increase our reach much farther than we could 20 years ago. Unfortunately, this highly public forum makes it difficult to bury little things under the rug. Just ask politicians.
What Not To Do
If a negative claim or comment is posted on your Facebook wall or addressed to you on twitter, the worst thing you can do is ignore it.
Some of the standard first-gut reactions (completely off the top of my head) might be:
- Ignore the comment
- You’ll “show them” by totally unfollowing
- Delete the negative comment
- Publicly humiliate them
- Track them down and throw bread crumbs on their lawn every week for a year
I am in no way endorsing any of these as a way to handle bad press (although the last option might be really fun, I think it might be a bad idea in the long run).
Is the customer always right?
I’ve never been a huge proponent of the sacred “customer is always right” viewpoint. It’s like saying “I’m never going to watch American Idol again… ever!” It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
I am in favor of “the customer gets the benefit of the doubt until you’re able to discuss the situation in a less-public forum that Facebook” philosophy.
Sometimes, the customer isn’t always right and you have to protect your business, your employees, and your policies.
Larger disasters may be better left up to professionals so ideally you don’t want to try to handle an oil spill or political scandal on your own (although simple honesty would be refreshing sometimes, we all know that’s not going to happen).
Here are things you should consider when reacting to bad press, negative comments, horrible reviews and the people with the ever-present generally crappy attitude.
First, remember it’s not personal. These people are talking to a company, not you. You’re a label on their peanut butter jar or another web address listed on the cable company’s bumper sticker. Talk to them from a personal point of view:
- Remind them that you’re human (be personable)
- Remember they’re people too
- Be honest with them if there’s a situation, but don’t place blame
- If the company (or you) really did screw up, take the heat and deal with it
- Accept the situation and try to resolve it as best as you can
- Try not to have an entire conversation online; appease them and try to take the conversation offline.
Schedule another discussion
The rest mostly comes down to basic customer service skills. Fix the problem. If the customer is the problem, work with them to politely realize how they can fix the error. If the customer is belligerent and absolutely unwilling to drop below DEFCON 1, try to continue the conversation in a day or two.
What is this costing you?
How much time is this taking? There comes a point when the customer has endless perseverance. Hopefully the customer was already taken care of by this point if he did, in fact, have a valid complaint.
But, if the customer is just full of vinegar and still harassing you and your staff, keep in mind the longer the ordeal continues, the more money this is costing the company. Consider not just the salaries you’re paying your staff, but the opportunity cost as well. If it’s within reason, give them what they want so you can move on to more productive and profitable activities.
When all else fails
Sometimes there are just unhappy people who will not and cannot be satisfied. I’m pretty sure physical retaliation is still frowned upon, so if you run into an overly demanding, systematic complainer and resource waster then find out if it’s within company policy to fire them as a customer. I’m not kidding. I’m not suggesting you shout it from the rooftops that you fire customers, but every once in a while we have to realize that not everyone is a good fit. Sometimes we have to cut the cord.