The consumer world has moved online, and businesses have done their best to embrace the changes. Websites have been developed. Online orders are accepted. Reviews are solicited to help establish positive rankings online. But what happens when the online reviews you get aren’t positive?
Negative reviews and complaints are powerful forces. Customers love reading about the experiences of others on online review websites to get the measure of a business before spending their money. But frustrated customers love leaving reviews also, which can leave a business owner reeling. For a business working to boost its reputation, public and prominent customer complaints call feel like a death knell.
But negative complaints aren’t all bad. Even if they sting and create a ripple effect for your business, reviews that complain about customer issues are two powerful forces: constructive criticism and a marketing opportunity.
Customer complaints as constructive criticism
Nobody gets better by being lied to. If you’re a terrible singer but nobody is willing to tell you, you’ll go on singing and they will politely avoid you.
Customer satisfaction works the same way.
If you have a terrible customer service department, you want complaints. If your employees are horrible but customers never say anything about it, they are simply going to politely avoid you. When customers avoid you, they shop at your competitors, and you can’t figure out why your business is failing and constantly losing customers.
If a customer leaves a negative review, they want you to fix it. They care enough about your business and what you’re doing to leave you negative feedback in hopes that you’ll make a change and improve. That’s constructive criticism, even if they insult your manager, your decorations, and your fashion sense in the process. Remember, they could have simply said nothing and walked away.
So, complaints are really a gift. How you use that gift is up to you. One way you use the gift of complaints is to market your business and customer resolution skills, which is where marketing comes in. But the more important way you put those complaints to work is by fixing the problem.
By the time someone has gone through the trouble of leaving you a detailed online complaint, you can be sure that many others experienced something similar and decided not to bother with a complaint. They just won’t be back.
A negative review is a gift. It’s a chance to fix a major issue that others have surely noticed and simply didn’t bother to tell you.
So, when a complaint rolls in, take it seriously and fix the problem.
It’s easy to dismiss a complaint as a freak occurrence or an issue with someone who had a chip on their shoulder or was having a bad day. You won’t know, however, until you’ve gone through the process of investigating the complaint and then focusing some attention on the issue they were having.
It may be that you have a problem you knew nothing about in your business. It might also be that there is a known issue that nobody in your business brought to your attention before a customer called attention to it.
When you see a negative review, it raises your anxiety level. You want to “fix it” by making the review go away. But the real way to resolve the review is to see if it has any validity and then address the bigger issue in your company if one does, in fact, come to light.
Customer complaints as marketing opportunities
There is no such thing as bad publicity. The old adage still rings mostly true but knowing how to effectively resolve customer complaints in the public eye is what turns negative attention into brilliant marketing opportunities.
The gift of a negative review is two-fold. You get valuable feedback on your business practices and the overall performance of your team, and you get a chance to build a more effective brand online. A brand focused on customer service.
While we’d all love to be perfect all the time, we know that’s impossible. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. It’s what happens after the reviews that make such a powerful difference.
Consider a few scenarios.
- In Scenario One, a customer leaves a bad review. The review sits there online, unaddressed. Other customers see the review and start to engage. They share their own stories. They speculate on what went wrong. They offer sympathy to the original poster who had such a rotten experience. The wound of a negative review continues to fester online.
- Scenario Two, however, has a company response. The bad review is posted. A savvy company is waiting for the review and pounces immediately by sending a reply asking the customer to contact them by phone or email to resolve the matter. The company pats itself on the back for being so speedy and getting the negative publicity handled and out of the public eye. Any further action is up to the customer and the customer service center which may or may not resolve the issue.
- The scene for Scenario Three is almost identical. Negative review. Rapid customer response, but this time, the customer service representative doesn’t just slap a generic message on the post but instead tries to publicly engage the customer in a live chat. The rep publicly apologizes to the customer for the mishap and might even ask questions to further understand the issue. The response is personalized and public.
In all three scenarios, there are the same three players: the consumer, the company, and the audience. Only in the third scenario does the company consider the true power of the audience by using the complaint as an opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue with the company.
All of those who left stories and complaints in the first scenario are watching the customer service representative interact with a fellow wronged customer. They are empathizing the customer and as the skilled customer service agent communicates individual responses and apologizes personally and professionally, they are feeling the effects of that as well.
A company that might have been viewed as noncaring and even negligent in Scenario One or indifferent in Scenario Two has become a company that cares about its company, is willing to publicly apologize, and does what it can to make things right by Scenario Three.
The company in the third scenario is making a trade with the consumer and its audience. They are trading a public apology for positive brand recognition. They are also trading a bit of egg on their face for publicity. By skillfully using the public complaint, the company has shown customers that it has exactly what modern customers want: responsive customer service and a personalized consumer experience.
Negative reviews on review websites are anxiety-producing. But they are common and a part of doing business. Rather than waving them away, put them to work as powerful feedback and a perfect opportunity to build the business your customers want most.