How to reply to negative feedback online

It’s impossible to please everyone, so at some stage it’s inevitable that you will run into negative feedback from your customers. When this is via email, in person or over the phone, it’s pretty straightforward to calm the customer down, get to the core of the issue, and try to resolve it for them.

Unfortunately, with the increasing amount of time spent online, it’s more and more common for people to go online to publicly air their grievances. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to retire to the safety of the keyboard and avoid the potential conflict of having to complain at the time, but customers are now more and more likely to make leaving a negative online comment or review their first and only response.

How to respond: DOs

  • You might be annoyed or upset at the feedback. If this is the case, give yourself time to calm down before replying so you can ensure you’re always responding in a calm, respectful and professional manner.
  • Thank the person for their feedback and if appropriate, apologise.
  • If the situation can be easily and reasonably explained, do so publicly. If not, take it into a private context straight away. For example, “Please contact our manager Jane Smith on {phone number or email} so she can work with you to resolve your issue.” Alternatively, send the person a private message (and state in the public message you’ve done so) to ask for their contact details so that your company can contact them directly. Do not ask for their private details in a public message.
  • Keep people informed. If appropriate, say what you will do to resolve the issue, and then do it. Make sure you’re giving a timeline and sticking to it.
  • Ensure that your customers are also always showing respect to you and your staff. You have every right to remove comments using abusive or insulting language immediately.

How to respond: DO NOTs

  • Even though you might think negative comments or reviews are damaging to you, simply deleting them can actually be more damaging than leaving the feedback (unless obscene or abusive).
  • Don’t get angry or disrespectful with customers. This will do much more damage than the original negative comment.
  • Don’t get drawn into a petty back and forth. Know when to just let the issue lie and not argue your point, even if you feel you are in the right.

The three Ts of customer engagement

As with any customer interaction, the three Ts are once again important when responding to criticism or negative reviews.

Timing

When discussing negative feedback, the basic rule of thumb for timing is as soon as possible. Responding to negative feedback immediately is important in turning the situation around. However – if you missed this opportunity, a late response might end up adding fuel to a fire that is dying down. In these cases it might be better to avoid responding at all, and put plans in place to ensure you do better next time.

How can you tell if you’ve missed the moment? There’s no hard and fast rule, as it will change depending on where the feedback was left. Some places will be more persistently visible than others, such as a reviews section as opposed to a news feed, for example. The severity of the complaint might also determine how pressing it is that you respond to an older criticism.

Target

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not always wise to respond directly to the person who is directing criticism at you. Depending on the nature of their commentary, this can dignify their criticism and give it a status it doesn’t deserve. If you find yourself facing this sort of situation, it might be best to respond in a generic way to your whole audience.

Tone

As noted above, if appropriate your tone should be apologetic and conciliatory. Make sure you sound sincere and authentic when apologising. If you can pull it off, a tone with a bit of humour and personality is often the best path. But use it with caution, because if you misjudge the situation then humour will seriously backfire.

Negative comments and feedback are a fact of life for anyone in business. How you deal with these sorts of comments says a lot about your business. Viewed in the right way, criticism can be an opportunity for your business, rather than a threat to it.

Take advantage of the opportunity to firm up your relationships with your existing customers, to show that you are sincere, professional, respectful and down-to-earth, and maybe even to learn something about the weak points in your business.