customer service

I have had several requests to write about handling negative comments on the web. Certainly this is a frightening prospect for many companies!

First, let’s emphasize that if you have you house in order, most fears of negative comments are over-blown.

I just conducted a study for the hospitality industry (a lot of people complain there) and found that negative Facebook comments represented just 2 hundredths of a percent of the total, People are generally supportive on the web and receiving negative comments can be a valuable of customer insight into legitimate issues.

When people bring a complaint to your “turf,” it gives you a chance to show your community what you’re made of. And some research shows that a few negative reviews can enhance credibility and actually increase sales.

As we have witnessed in many examples, if you develop a strong and active community, chances are your advocates will “shut down” any extremists trying to get attention through negative comments.

And yet, you will get complainers. Here is an outline of an approach I recommend with my clients:

  • The first, and most difficult, step is to make sure your company culture is ready for this. Are they ready to make a commitment to respond to all complaints? It doesn’t have to be a full-blown response approved by the legal department, but it has to be a short and timely acknowledgment that the complainer has been heard. As I wrote recently, that takes care of 98 percent of the customer service problem!
  • Demonstrate patience and empathy. Try to defuse the emotion by saying something like “Yes, I’d be upset if that happened to me.”
  • Apologize if warranted. And, probably even if it isn’t warranted.
  • Empower employees to solve the issue on the spot if it is something simple, or have the respondent offer to take the issue offline through a phone call or email. This is important because you do not want to be drawn into a prolonged public exchange.
  • Follow up. Assess specifically what is needed to make the person feel better. If you drop the ball in this phase, expect the emotion and response to escalate.
  • If the problem persists even after if you have offered a reasonable remedy, either escalate to skilled internal resources or abdicate based on the risk and legitimate severity of the problem.

Business life on the web can be complex, but it can also be an opportunity to create a point of differentiation and undying customer loyalty if you get it right!

Does this plan seem solid to you? What would you add?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
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