How to Deal With Negative Comments Online

by Sydney Stone

You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

When Benedictine monk and poet John Lydgate penned those words centuries ago, he had no idea how much his advice would resonate in modern times. Especially, in this, the most modern age of the Internet.

In order to be a successful business, you must have an online presence. With that presence comes an online reputation that you have to protect and manage. You can go out of your way to ensure the best customer experience every single time, but sooner or later, it’s inevitable. You’re going to get a negative review.

Here are a few best practices when it comes to managing your online reputation and dealing with negative comments.

1. Designate a CLO (Chief Listening Officer). 

You need to have at least one person in your office who is responsible for monitoring all your social media, email, website and blog accounts. Think of the various ways a customer can contact you, mention you, or post a review and make sure your CLO is set up to get alerts when this happens. 

There are several online tools that can help you automate this process, including Perch, Google Alerts, and TweetDeck.

2. Make sure you clearly understand the situation.

I was once trapped on an airplane while it was parked at the gate for almost two hours. It was July, the sun was scorching, and the air conditioning was not running. I thought I was going to pass out. Not once did the flight attendants offer us water. So I tweeted directly to the airline explaining we were stuck at the gate, extremely uncomfortable, and asking if they could either let us off the plane or get us some water.

I received a pretty prompt reply from the airline that read, “We are sorry. Our flight attendants are not allowed to get up while the plane is on the tarmac.” 

This response was a massive fail for two reasons. Number one, it was dismissive and showed a lack of professionalism by the airline for not actually reading and understanding the problem (we were not on the tarmac, we were at the gate.) Number two, that particular airline lost me as a customer. I travel a lot (2-3 times a month), but I have not booked this airline since that incident. (I also shared my bad experience with my 17,000+ Twitter followers.)

The moral of this story is that once you receive a negative comment, take a few minutes to read it, understand it, assess the situation, and plan the proper response. 

3. Respond promptly (the sooner the better) and personally.

Once you understand the situation and have crafted your response, send it promptly and make it personal. Use the person’s first name (if you have it) in your message. Say that you are clearly aware of the situation and their frustration, and then state what you plan on doing to make the customer happy. Offer them an email address, phone number or other way to contact you offline if they wish. 

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, show genuine concern, do everything you can to make it right, and you might just turn an unhappy customer into one of your best advocates. There’s also the added bonus that if they are impressed with the way you handled their complaint, they will share the experience on social media, showcasing your business as one that truly cares about its customers.

4. Use humor.

Humor is the great neutralizer when it comes to disputes or embarrassing situations in general. I’m the first person to start laughing out loud when I trip and fall (and I’m known to do this quite often).

While you certainly want to be serious about your business, you don’t want to take your business (or yourself) too seriously. If you can admit your mistake in a humorous way and elicit a laugh or a chuckle from the complaining party, you’ve won the battle.

5. Take the high road. 

high road, noun – an honorable or ethical course

Remember the old saying that there are three sides to every story? Yours, theirs and the truth? Sometimes people are going to make comments about you or your company that just aren’t entirely true. This can be extremely frustrating when trying to manage your online reputation. The best course of action is to respond to the comment in the most professional manner possible, explain your side of the story, apologize (whether you are in the wrong or not) and move on.

Resist the temptation to say bad things in return about the customer. Always take the high road.  

One last thing…

Dealing with bad reviews and negative comments on social media is just a cost of doing business these days. If you have a proper plan in place to manage your online reputation that includes listening, understanding and responding in a timely manner, you’ll be rewarded with happier customers and a healthier bottom line.