5 Steps for Handling Online Complaints

Unfortunately, online complaints are a fact of life for today’s businesses. You strive to provide an excellent experience for customers, so it’s natural to feel a little down when you see a negative review or complaint pop up online. When you receive a negative review or a complaint on your social media pages, local listings, or review sites, the best thing to do is to respond so you let your prospects and customers know you care about their feedback and want to resolve any issues you can, and to improve your business’ overall web presence when people discover these sites online. Here are five steps you can take when responding to complaints online.

Step 1: Identify the Main Complaint

Read through the online complaint and take a few seconds to digest what you just read. You might be upset with what the reviewer said – it’s never fun to read something negative about your business – but it’s much better to respond rationally after you’ve collected your thoughts. Then, see if you can pinpoint and isolate the primary issue the customer had with your product or service. The reviewer may insult your business, but you’ll have to look past that to discover what their main complaint really is – maybe you got their order all wrong or they had to wait an extra 45 minutes at an appointment. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to know precisely what upset them so that you can respond appropriately and take action to resolve the underlying problem.

Step 2: Write a First Draft

Now that you’ve figured out the main problem in your online complaint, sit down and write a draft to start the response process. When you’re responding, it’s important that your response is:

  • Professional: Your response will be visible to anyone who visits the review site or sees your reviews appear in search results, not just the reviewer, so you want to make sure your response is giving people a good impression of you as a business owner. There’s nothing less professional than getting defensive and arguing with the reviewer. Even if a review has incorrect information, steer clear of getting defensive.
  • Empathetic: Empathizing with the reviewer doesn’t mean you have to agree with them – it simply means you’re responding in a way that is opening the lines of communication in hopes of reaching a resolution. Things like “I’m sorry to hear that,” “I was disappointed to read this,” “I apologize,” provide the reviewer with a sense of understanding and a feeling that they were heard.
  • Realistic: Be realistic in your response. If you feel the review identified a problem you can solve, let them know that. If the problem is bigger, or in some cases, doesn’t exist, don’t promise something you can’t deliver on in your response.

Step 3: Take the Conversation Offline & Try to Resolve

One of the key goals of responding to an online complaint is to let the reviewer and other prospects and customers know you are listening and want to provide a resolution – but the review site is not the place to solve it. So, try to bring the conversation offline in order to get to the heart of the issue and offer some suggestions to resolve the complaint. Ask them to send you a private message, and provide the reviewer with a phone number or email address where they can reach you away from the review site to work out the complaint. Roll these reviews into offline conversations that can help improve your business.

Step 4: Post Your Response

Once your response to the online complaint is ready to go it’s time to post it. Remember that your response will be public and can be viewed by anyone, including current and potential customers. Depending on where you receive the complaint, you could be responding on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or a local listing site like Google+ or Yelp. If you’re responding on a local listing site, make sure you use your business account. If you don’t have one already, set one up following the instructions on the listing’s website. If you’re responding on Twitter, make sure you take the character limit (140 characters) into account when responding.

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Step 5: Follow Up

It’s important to follow up with the reviewer after responding to an online complaint to ensure a positive experience moving forward. If you’ve agreed upon a resolution after talking with the reviewer, make good on your word in a timely manner. For example, if you told the reviewer you would give them a discount on their next purchase, send their offer as soon as possible. Following up shows that you’re proactive and willing to do what’s needed to make your customers happy. You can also ask the reviewer to follow up their review or complaint with a positive comment or edited review so others know the issue was resolved.

You want your customers to have the best experience possible and think of your business positively. Responding to negative reviews and complaints can resolve issues with current customers while giving potential customers a good impression of your business and you as a business owner. What tips do you have for responding to complaints online? Let us know in the comments!

Stephanie Heitman

Stephanie is the Sr. Marketing Manager for USA TODAY NETWORK | LOCALiQ. She has experience in digital marketing, social media management, and content creation for SMBs. Stephanie specializes in helping businesses improve their online reputation and appreciate the impact social media and digital marketing can have on their brand. When she isn't researching the latest online marketing tips and trends, she enjoys watching reality TV with her husband and her dogs.

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