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Posted on 05.09.2012

Managing the Digital Suggestion Box: Five tips for pleasing your most vocal customers

"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Growing up in the South, my mother instilled this bit of wisdom in me at a young age. And I try to take her advice to heart - even if I don't always follow it to the letter. For example, when the neighborhood restaurant we regularly order take-out from recently messed up my order for the fourth time in as many weeks, I chose to email the manager directly rather than blast the business on Facebook.

However, as business owners and brand managers everywhere can attest, I am not your average customer. Social media and sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp and Insider Pages have created a new breed of consumer - one that not only has plenty to say, but more forums than ever in which to say it. Negative tweets and posts have long ago replaced comment cards at retail establishments and, in hospitals, they've become the new nurse call button. While negative posts can take a toll on a brand's reputation, research suggests they also affect the bottom line. According to a recent survey, more than 80 percent of consumers say they are heavily influenced by online reviews and search results. It's a fundamental power shift that has caused many businesses to think twice about embracing social media.

Though engaging directly - and publicly - with consumers is scary for many brands, it's increasingly necessary. Businesses simply can't afford to bury their heads in the sand by ignoring negative comments. However, responding to an unhappy customer or a negative review requires a special kind of cool - not to mention a solid strategy. Here are five tips to help brands - large and small - make the most of these interactions.

Silence speaks volumes. The first thing clients facing a negative post often ask is "Should I respond?" The answer is almost always yes. People want to feel heard and they want to know what you’ve done to fix the problem. In fact, research suggests that 88 percent of consumers are less likely to do business with a company that fails to address customer questions or complaints. Providing a timely response shows customers that you are not only listening, but that you also care. On the flip side, positive posts can be opportunities to show customers you appreciate their feedback too. 

Cooler Heads Prevail. It sounds simple but never respond to a negative post while angry. It's easy to take criticism personally but take a deep breath - or a long walk - before responding. 

Sorry works. When answering a complaint or bad review, follow many of the same rules you would use to respond to a negative media story. Don't make excuses or place blame. Apologize and accept responsibility as appropriate and briefly explain what you have done to fix the issue. Keep it simple and move the conversation offline to discuss details.  

Be human. I've blogged about the importance of humanity in PR before, but it's especially important when engaging online. People want to deal with other people. This isn't the time for corporate speak. Identify yourself as a representative of the company, keep the focus on the customer and make sure your tone is warm and conversational. 

Listen. Really Listen. Perhaps the biggest mistake a business can make in dealing with a negative commenter is moving on too quickly. It's human nature to want to resolve the issue and put it in the past, however doing so without taking the time to understand what went wrong (or right) is a huge missed opportunity. Businesses have a unique window to mine valuable insight from their most vocal customers - so take advantage of it! While you'll never make everybody happy all of the time, common sense and good digital manners can earn you the respect - and business - of your most vocal customers.

Wouldn't Mom be proud?


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