5 Key Rules for Handling Customer Complaints on the Internet

This past October, a restaurant in Kansas City found itself involved in a “Yelp battle” of sorts after a disgruntled customer questioned their takeout policy. Now while this back and forth may be entertaining to read, was it good for business? Here are 5 tips to live by when addressing an angry customer online:

1. Create a policy for responding to online criticism, and stick to it.
The chances are high that an unhappy customer will take to the Internet to voice his or her complaints. It’s important to recognize this, and be prepared for it. Have a plan in place before incidents occur. That way, you’re less likely to lose your temper and perhaps write something you’ll regret when you see a rude or unfair review. And once you have a policy in place, you can use internal tools and tricks, such as rating the nastiness of a particular review from 1 to 5 and then having a standard response already outlined for each level.

2. If you plan to respond to a negative review, draft your response, wait at least 2 hours, and then re-read it before posting.
After a few hours, you’ll have cooled down, which will help you see your response with fresh eyes, and if necessary, delete or soften any language that’s too defensive or overly combative.

3. While the substance of your response is important, remember to proofread!
Grammar, punctuation, and other sloppy errors will undermine the authority of your reply, and make your business seem less credible. Remember, anything you put online is visible to the general public. Make sure that anyone who reads your reply will come away thinking that your business treats its customers (even the unhappy ones) with respect, and that you’re capable of communicating in a professional manner.

4. Know your desired end result before engaging in a back-and-forth exchange with an unhappy customer.
The customer complained online. You responded. He or she responded back. What now? If you’ve dashed off yet another response, are you continuing to engage just to prove a point? Do you want to win an argument? Do you want to make the customer happy at all costs? Do you want to stand up for a particular aspect of your business that you feel is being unfairly criticized? Have a desired outcome before jumping into the fray, otherwise an online exchange can easily devolve into a brawl.

5. If you say something hostile or angry, take responsibility for it.
Things can get heated very quickly online. It’s easy to get pulled into reacting in anger, particularly when your business is being insulted. Keep in mind that you’re speaking as a representative of your company, and that it’s your job to stay accountable and own up to mistakes. Apologize when necessary, and work to de-escalate rather than escalate the discussion. Remember: you’re playing a bigger game, and the goal is the success of your business. Fighting with a customer on the internet is not a way to win it.