Responding to customer complaints posted on the internet.

In Business Tips by Larry DonahueLeave a Comment

Business owners who have been around for more than 20 years can’t help but wish for the good old days.  You know what I am talking about; the days when if a customer was unhappy with your product or service, they might call in a complaint, author a strongly worded letter or even go so far as to tell their friends not to do business with you.  Welcome to 2019; where everyone who has access to the internet has the potential to be either a critic or a troll.  With a few strokes on the keyboard, any consumer can pontificate to anyone who cares to listen about you, your employees and your business.   Sometimes the critiques are fair and helpful to a business owner.  However, often they can be downright insulting, nasty or at their worst, have nothing to do with your business.  

When dealing with online criticisms, keep in mind the necessity to remove emotion.   It’s hard to do when it is your business or employee is being drug through the mud but keep composure in mind.  The rapid firing back of insults, non- apologies or denials can only make your business look bad.  Take a few minutes to evaluate the legitimacy of the poor review and keep in mind that how your respond will send a stronger message to the public than what the criticism itself.

Keep the following points in mind:

Is it a valid criticism or is it a Troll? Do you know how to tell the difference?  Generally, legitimate complaints tend to contain lots of easily verifiable information.  For example:

I was at a restaurant last Friday night.  It was very busy.  I ordered the steak and potatoes.  It came out cold.  I sent it back to the kitchen.  When they brought it back it was still cold and inedible.  Our waiter, Todd was very apologetic yet did not remove the charge for the cold steak from my bill

This story is compelling, verifiable and makes sense.  More likely than not, this is an actual client and criticism.   

 In instances such as these, thank the customer for letting you know about the problem. Apologize that it happened and empathize with the situation.  Let them know that this is not up to your usual level of service and ask them to give you another shot.  Ask them to contact you directly so you can make it right.  

For example:

I am so sorry to hear this was your experience.   We strive for perfection, but obviously in this instance we fell short.   It is not the norm that our food be served cold or customers leave feeling disappointed.  I encourage you to reach out to me directly here at the restaurant.  My name is Mike and I am the Manager.  I’d love another opportunity for you to experience our food the way thousands of satisfied customers have over the last 3 years.

Trolls or those out to harm your company or an individual associated with your business tend to paint with a broader brush stroke.  For example: “Todd is a jerk and he ripped me off!”  Ok, Let’s put the anger aside over the insult and go a bit deeper.  Mybe Todd is a jerk- but was he a jerk at work? to a customer? or was he a jerk who ripped off his former roommate? Or recently made his girlfriend mad? That may be the person who actually submit the scathing review. Since you’re not certain, in situations like these, try responding directly back to the complaint and attempt to get more information.  Explain you are sorry to hear they had a bad experience.  Empathize with how disappointed they must have been.  Ask for more details about the experience so you can train your team better. Ask them to contact you directly.   To the readers of the review, it shows that you care and are interested in legitimate feedback.   If the person who left the negative review doesn’t follow up with you, note that as well.  Post in an additional response that you have been trying to contact them.  Note if their email or contact information is even valid.  Essentially, call the Troll out-politely.   Trolls tend to be brave, at home angrily typing away… not so much when they are called on directly or challenged to make their case.  

For example:

I am sad to learn that you had a bad experience in the restaurant. Obviously, as you can tell by our many outstanding reviews, this is not the norm.  Please help me to rectify this situation with you.  Please contact the restaurant at 999-9999 and ask for Mike, the Manager.   I would like to learn what evening you came in and more about the details of your experience.  Thank you.

Follow up if they don’t respond to you:

I am still waiting to hear from you so I can address the situation you briefly described.  I have noticed your email address wasn’t valid.  Perhaps you posted your review to the wrong restaurant?  My offer still stands to discuss in person.  Thank you.

Depending on where the review is posted, this line of follow up may even give you the evidence you need to have the negative comment removed from the website.

Online reviews are less about what is stated by the individual but more how other readers or potential clients will view it.   Rational, legitimate prospects or clients tend to approach online reviews with some understanding that it is hard to please everyone all the time.   So, one bad review out of hundreds may say more about the person who wrote it rather than your business.  Taking the time to respond to reviews, good or bad, in a professional way is key to showing that as the manager or owner of a business you are engaged in all aspects of your business.  It also lets the public know that you are trying hard to make sure your clients have a great experience with your business.

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