It feels like a nightmare when it happens to you – a negative comment appears on your website or social media and everybody is seeing it. Although you may want to crawl into a hole and forget all about it, that’s not the thing to do. When someone posts something negative about your company and it’s highly visible, you have to react quickly and with some thought. The time to think about your strategy is now while there is no crisis. Not under the pressure of a negative comment that has already been set free on the internet. Be smart and have a plan in place.
A Deep Breath
First, take a deep breath. You need to act quickly, but not rashly. If you’re feeling any anger or defensiveness, hold it in check. It’s important that none of that comes through in your response. If you’re not ready to deal with the situation yet, work off some of that anger before you get started. You’ll find it easier to stay detached when you’ve had to handle something like this more than once. Take a walk, get away from your desk and really try to understand where the comment is coming from.
Assess the Comment
Before you respond, it’s important to know exactly where the comment is coming from. The Internet is full of haters that just like to insult people. If it’s just a hateful comment that has no substance, you can usually ignore it. However, if it’s a genuine complaint or real criticism, you need to deal with it. Try to understand the emotions and motivation of the person making the comment. Also, assess the essence of the comment and what the person really means to tell you. Are they upset in the heat of the moment?
Next, you’ll need to determine just how bad the damage is. While you may feel personally attacked, it may actually not be as negative as you think. If it’s a comment that has no substance, you can ignore it. People can tell when someone is just enjoying being nasty. Responding would only make you look petty and defensive.
However, if the comment has any truth to it, you should address it. If other people have already commented on it, it’s serious and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible and as skillfully as possible. The same is true if it’s going viral and getting shared across the Web.
Responding to Negative Comments
When responding to comments, always be as friendly, positive and professional as possible. Employ the best customer service practices. Start by addressing the person’s concern or comment with empathy. Try to imagine how they feel and empathize with them without admitting to any wrongdoing. In other words, don’t start off by apologizing and admitting it was your fault. Ask them for clarification if there’s more information that you need, and offer a reasonable solution that you think will make them feel satisfied.
You may also consider moving everything to a private discussion. Don’t do this because you want to hide the conversation from others, but rather because it would be easier for the person commenting to share their feelings. You can even leave a post of your own saying that you’re making the discussion private so that you can better resolve the situation.
Whenever talking to angry customers online, always remember that everyone else is listening. You’re not only writing to the person commenting, but to all of your other customers and prospects. Formulate your responses with this in mind. If you handle it well, you can turn a reputation disaster into a positive PR opportunity.