Dealing with negative online comments

Any company that has been in business more than a day has had an unhappy customer. How you deal with it is a reflection of your character. The lack of control over what people say online makes many businesses uncomfortable. I’ll let you in on a secret: The Internet didn’t take away your control. That you believed you had control was an illusion. The only thing you do control in any situation is how you react.

A television show called “Kitchen Nightmares” recently featured a struggling business in Arizona called Amy’s Baking Company. The owners’ atrocious behavior on the show caused the public to unleash a deluge of negative comments on all their social media channels. But it wasn’t the exposure from the show that caused complete destruction to their reputation. It was their childish, vulgar, insulting, and rude responses towards the public that damaged them more than anything else. It’s a classic case of what not to do.

According to the Opinion Research Corporation, 84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions so this is critical area for you to monitor. You must know how to deal with critical mentions because it can turn into your own personal nightmare.

The way we address online feedback should be similar to the way we handle it face-to-face. You use the same customer service skills but in a new “location.” The additional benefit of successfully handling unhappy comments is it lends transparency to your process. Others can see what happened, how you handle business, and can make their own conclusions about the service you provide.

Many businesses ask their employees and friends to write positive reviews as a way to build up an online reputation. This practice is called astroturfing, when individuals disingenuously create reviews for a service that come from someone other than an actual customer. Lifestyle Life, a cosmetic surgery clinic in New York, was required to pay $30,000 in civil penalties after an investigation by the state attorney general’s office. Employees had been found guilty of posing as plastic surgery patients and had written wonderful reviews. Even if you think it can’t hurt, don’t do it. This includes promising services or products for reviews.

Steps to prevent negativity*

Provide good online support. 45 percent of retail customers prefer social media support, according to ZenDesk. Do you know what kind your customers prefer? Ask them. The important part is to know their preference before it gets to the bad review stage.

Listen constantly. Make sure you are aware of what your customers are saying every day of the week. If you’re afraid of what you’ll find, you’re sticking your head in the sand and that could be the end of you.

Acknowledge the complaint. We all want to be validated and being polite goes a long way. In addition to loyal customers and potential clients, you will hear from people that have very few other things going on in their lives. Your kind response can diffuse a situation that, if ignored, could spiral out of control. Sometimes you will need to make a correction – not to start an argument - but to provide accurate information.

Fix it fast. Your audience knows it has the power to destroy your reputation. Everyone at your company should be trained on how to treat each client, caller, and individual contact as if they are a VIP. Manage expectations about the timeframe for resolution.

Take it offline. Offer to communicate with the commenter in a more private setting such as email or by phone so that you can take away from the public stage. When there is resolution, return to the original online comment location to update audience members that are following the situation.

Be honest. Care about your customers, engage when they want to hear from you, and offer to fix problems. Provide great customer service online and off.

*It’s impossible to eliminate all negativity. Sometimes people are cranky and take it out on the wrong person. Those that have limited human contact can pick fights online to satisfy their own needs. Some have unresolved anger issues. If you handled the person with respect, your public can see that and will be able to differentiate a true service request from an unreasonable communication. If you have a harassment situation on your hands, each of the social media platforms has recourse for reporting and protection.

Why Can’t I Just Delete Negative Posts?

It is tempting but it’s a bad idea to remove a post just because you don’t like what that person has to say. The whole purpose of using social media is to have conversations and communicate with others. We won’t always agree.

By having a stated public comment policy, it is justifiable to remove posts that violate your guidelines such as those that are racist, sexist, hate speech, obscenities, spam or another trespass on your policy. Deleting simply because a comment is negative shows immaturity, damages your credibility, shows an inability to provide customer service, and can further anger the person. Remember, there is always someone watching your actions and the members of your audience who will notice. Transparency wins.

The way you deal with unhappy or negative people is proof of your character. It’s not the end of the world and it can be a learning experience if you are open. Have you ever had cruddy customer service, complained, then received excellent treatment, and it changed the way you thought about the company? It happens to me all the time. Take every opportunity to provide a stellar experience. Because the only thing you actually control in any situation is how you react.


Kerry Rego 707-520-4572,, is a social media trainer, technology consultant and keynote speaker in Santa Rosa. She is the author of What You Don’t Know About Social Media Can Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation.

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