The digital presence of organisations has undoubtedly been a boon to maintain customer relationships. However, it has been a curse at the same time. Today, customers not only have the ability to boost a business using their commendable reviews online, but simultaneously have the power to sink a brand's future. There is only one thing more disastrous for your business than critical, complaining, and abusive comments from customers—and that's a poor response to them.
Here are a few tips on handling negative comments online as sanely as possible.
When people realise that they've been heard, they are much better listeners. Instead of immediately attacking the individual, direct your replies as a means of starting a conversation, e.g. “We understand your problem and thank you for reaching out” or “I hear you and empathise”. This helps calm the person down and shows mutual respect and understanding.
Criticise the idea, not the person
A common mistake is expressing instant hatred towards the person who is voicing the opinion or problem, instead of focusing on the core message that they convey. This only spews further abuse and tasteless banter (often going as far as threats). Exchange information and ideas that ultimately lead to a holistic solution, rather than pointless disagreements that may drive the individual to make the issue go viral on the internet.
Be inquisitive to find flaws, not faults
Ask questions. Simple questions show your interest and concern in the individual's suffering. It may also help uncover the root of the problem—be it real or not—allowing you to decide the gravity of the situation. More importantly, polite questions almost always have the power to calm people down.
Keep calm and be kind
It is of utmost importance that you keep your calm and maintain it all throughout the incident—surely you can't calm the customer down when you're breeding further negativity. Given the vague nature of online communication, focus on conveying as much kindness and politeness in your reply. Emotions and the tone of your language are often lost in translation, and a harmless message of “Wow, that's too bad” may appear cold and ruthless, even if it's written out of sympathy.
Go the extra mile to appear kind. Use an extra dose of words, friendly emojis, and see wonders happen in your customer's temperament.
Take their side
Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Criticism gives you the drive and need to improve. Don't be blinded by your ego and fail to recognise the core issue. Through the dramatic and perhaps exaggerated comments, accept that there might be a pinch of truth to it.
Dealing with clients and customers requires a certain level of maturity. When there is a responsibility to carry the reputation of a brand with graceful professionalism, you need to be capable of recognising the moment to step back and apologise. Sometimes this will be necessary even if the blame was not yours to take. You do not deal with an angry customer like a two-year old child throwing tantrums.
Do not make the mistake of deleting comments—it shows that you are trying to hide something instead of facing an issue up front. Be as transparent as you possibly can. However, some inappropriate comments do need to be deleted based on the business's code of conduct and policies, so it's best to use one's own judgment (or consult someone).
It is often good practice to take screenshots of the complaint. Documenting these situations will help train others in the business or be useful when a follow-up is required at work.
Always proof-read and edit the drafts of your replies before sending them. It is also crucial that after the issue is taken care of online, further monitoring be carried out to ensure that the problem does not re-occur.
Mistakes happen. We are all human after all. Nobody expects businesses to be perfect, but what people do expect is rectification of what goes wrong.
The writer is a junior at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.