Business Advice

Handling customer complaints online? Turn them into a positive with these tips

- June 7, 2019 3 MIN READ
man drawing sad face on transparent whiteboard

Every small business will encounter the unpleasantness of negative feedback or customer complaints online, but how you choose to handle it can turn the situation into a positive for your business, writes digital growth marketer, Nick Brogden.

Naturally, there’s a lot of focus on positive business reviews. It reinforces what you are doing right, and makes for a great story in marketing and PR campaigns.

But negative feedback is bound to happen. When you do get it, it makes all the difference if you take it as constructive criticism.

Consider a negative review as a lesson on how to be better. And then, use that negativity to improve your business and your brand.

4 steps to manage negative feedback

Before going into ways to handle negative feedback, one of the best ways is to ensure you are getting as many positive reviews as possible so when the inevitable bad reviews show up, they are not as damaging.

Whatever the feedback, it’s important to take these four steps to manage it:

  1. Respond, don’t ignore: Whether it’s in person, on the phone or online, it’s important to hear what the negative complaint is and respond with respect and a good attitude. More importantly, it’s essential for the customer to feel heard.
  2. Don’t make excuses: And don’t argue. Deflecting blame isn’t going to help you build any brand credibility, and it certainly won’t diffuse the situation.
  3. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns, then offer next steps: Whether that’s an apology, a discount or a refund, work with the customer to turn a negative encounter into a positive experience.
  4. Apologise and say thank you: Apologising helps a customer feel heard, but thanking them for bringing it to your attention is important too. After all, their feedback is helping you do better business.

Getting negative feedback might seem like a blow. But remember, it gives you an opportunity to learn more about your business – and more importantly, how to improve on it.

Here’s what it really means when a customer complains

Woman checking phone for social media comments

It means they care

If a customer didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother engaging with you. So, in a sense, even negative engagement can be a positive sign. It may mean they expected more, but the act of engaging gives you a chance to make things right.

It means you have time to restore trust

When a customer leaves a negative review or alerts you to a negative experience, it’s the beginning of a conversation. Their very act of opening lines of communication means that they want their trust restored, and are giving you an opportunity to do so.

It means you have a wider audience to impress

These days, when customers get angry, they’re likely to turn to social media channels. Suddenly the whole world – full of current and potential customers – can tune in to see how you handle things.

If you try to deflect the blame or turn it around on the customer, it will reflect poorly on your business (even if they’re in the wrong). Those watching don’t really care who’s right – they want to see if your business can be gracious.

Handled delicately, a negative situation can win hearts and minds, and when the time comes to sell, it may provide a positive signal to someone looking to buy your business.

It means you have an opportunity to build a better business

Take the complaint as a first step in doing business better.

If complaints relate to slow delivery times, it might be worthwhile to examine your logistics to find ways to tighten things up. If it’s a product malfunction, it gives you an opening to check in with your manufacturer and revisit quality control protocol.

Starbucks and Sephora, for example, have recently used customer complaints about profiling to offer across-the-board diversity training. They took negative feedback and sought out positive ways to improve their relationship with their customers. By acknowledging flaws and working to correct their customer service, each company in their own way let the public know that they are working to do better.

Don’t be afraid to be transparent about your business’ shortcomings. Use a negative review as a learning curve or teachable moment. Then, use your platform – whether it’s a sign at the cash register or a post on social media – to acknowledge the feedback and declare how you are working to make the problem right.

No business is perfect. But you may find customers are very forgiving, so long as you show you’re trying to build a better business.


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Now read this:

How to get potential customers to know, like and trust your brand – and why it’s important

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