New research proves that RESPONDING to negative feedback online benefits companies

by Mack Collier

One of the biggest misconceptions companies have about online and social media is that any and all negative reviews and comments should be completely ignored.  The idea seems to be that if companies ignore the negative response from customers, that it ‘goes away’.

A new Harris survey concludes that the opposite is true, if companies address negative reviews and feedback head-on, the customer often deletes the negative review AND sometimes even posts a positive one!

The Harris survey tracked customers that posted negative feedback or reviews during the Holiday shopping season on either sites that support adding customer reviews, or on social networking sites.  The survey found that 68% of customers that left these negative reviews got a response, and 18% of these people became loyal customers as a result, and made additional purchases from the company.

Now for the biggie:  Of the customers that received a response from a company after posting negative feedback about their shopping experience, 33% turned around and posted a positive review, and 34% deleted the original negative review.

These findings also support the notion that negative comments and reviews about your company can be a good thing, and something that can help your business.

The key point that companies need to understand is that the negative comment/review isn’t the most important thing, how your company responds to that negative review/comment is far more important.  And the above survey results supports this notion.

If you want to know how to handle criticism of your company online, here’s what you should do:

1 – Respond as quickly as possible.  Often, one negative comment that doesn’t get a response will lead to additional negative comments.  And 3 negative comments with no response from the company can quickly balloon into 10.  But if the company jumps in and responds quickly, that greatly reduces the chance of additional negative comments.

2 – Be thankful, polite, and respectful of your customers EVEN IF you think they are DEAD WRONG.  Common courtesy goes a LONG way here.  You have to understand that the customer believes they are RIGHT and YOU are wrong.  So if you get defensive in your response and start lashing back, you are going to make the situation quickly turn ugly.  Be polite, respectful and LISTEN to what your customers are saying.  It might help you actually….gasp…..understand why they are upset.

3 – If your customers have inaccurate information, feel free to correct them.  This often happens, and again, another way to minimize this happening is to respond quickly, before assumptions based on inaccurate information can spread.

4 – Tell the customers how you are going to address their complaints, and what the next steps are.  Let them understand that you take their complaints seriously, and that there is a plan in place to handle their complaints.

5 – Give customers a way to stay in touch with you, and invite further feedback.

One thing you have to remember is that many customers are WATCHING the interactions that you and other customers are having.  If they see that you are coming off like a pompous jackass, then that increases the chance that they will post negative criticism about your company.  And the flipside is true, if your company handles negative criticism in stride, and works to offer the customer a positive solution, that reflects well on the company, and improves the chances that customers watching these interactions will have a positive reaction.

So the bottom line is that companies that respond to negative feedback online, and do so quickly and appropriately, see huge benefits.  If you think your company needs help or training in handling negative comments or reviews online, please email me.  Or if you have a particular instance that you’d like to discuss, please leave a comment so we can help you, or feel free to email me if you want to discuss it in private.

Kevin Ekmark March 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

When pitching a social media marketing plan to clients, I believe that this is the area that makes actually having a social media presence worth the time, money, and effort.

I think that a lot of companies shy away from using social media because they are afraid of what people might say… Well, too late! They’re already saying it, but now you can fix it. This is a very important topic to discuss with your clients.

Lee March 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

Handled properly a negative experience can lead to creating a raving fan. Negative feedback is an opportunity to create a one to one bond with the brand. The best hotels and airlines understand this. Service recovery creates stories that endure and are spread.

Gabriele Maidecchi March 24, 2011 at 11:08 am

I think that customers should be an asset more than a burden for a company, and not just a cow to milk. It’s through customers feedback that a service or product can improve. It’s essential to allow, encourage and respond to customer’s feedback, and that’s the main issue with those platforms which don’t encourage this kind of interaction. I can think of Apple’s appstore, offering customer’s reviews for the various applications but making it impossible for the app creator to respond to them.
So my take is: yes to feedback, but the medium managing this feedback (be it social media or dedicated platforms like the appstore) HAS to offer a way to encourage replies, otherwise it’s just unfair to the brand itself.

Nic Wirtz March 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm

It never fails to surprise me that companies that refuse to enter dialogue with customers are happy there’s dissatisfied consumers walking around talking about them.

We’re content to believe that people cannot change their minds nor actions. And consumers that were used to writing a letter to head office to complain about a regional office can now get direct, local action.

Social media is a two-way street and just as much as corporate culture is changing in an oil-tankery slow way, individual customers need to learn too.

Meredith Lankenau March 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm

It seems so strange that more companies don’t get it! A large percentage of customers understand that mistakes happen- people are human after all. Customers aren’t necessarily judging a company by the mistakes they make but how they react to these mistakes.

Richard Keeves March 25, 2011 at 12:56 am

Hi Mack,
thanks for your post. The stats are interesting – especially the stats about people who have written negative reviews and then been handled well by the business concerned going on to then add a positive follow up or deleting the negative. Good one!

Thanks
Richard

Kasey Skala March 25, 2011 at 8:49 am

New research? I’d argue this is common sense. It’s sad that more companies don’t operate with common sense.

One thing I would argue, Mack, is with point #1. I don’t think you need to respond ASAP. Sure, it makes sense to acknowledge the question, but consumers want the right anwser in a reasonable time frame. Don’t respond right away just to respond. Nothing is worse than a quick, generic response that doesn’t solve the customer’s issue or informs them you heard them.

Mack Collier March 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

Kasey I think you do need to respond ASAP. To your point, that doesn’t mean you should RUSH to respond, but when customers are leaving negative comments, you have to treat it as a potential crisis situation, you can’t draft a response and then have legal approve it and have it up sometime within the next 48-72 hours. We both know that 1 minor negative comment can snowball into a full-blown crisis situation if left unchecked for 2-3 days.

I think the point is to have a system in place that allows for a speedy response. Because that’s what customers want, and expect.

Cara Rolinson March 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I agree a swift reply is critical depending on the platform. A negative comment on a corporate blog, Facebook page or as a mention via twitter are at the top of my list for quick replies. A negative review on a personal blog with very few readers, stll needs a response but not at 11:30 pm, the next business day is totally fine.

I have personally seen negative comments snowball in a matter of minutes and in the end the main complaint ended up being “where is the corporate response?” This leads to boycotts and negative media response tool… Not good…

Justin Goldsborough March 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

Mack, great post. This is really important research to have in hand. Kasey, it SHOULD be common sense, but execs don’t often respond to or move budget for common sense. They do so based on numbers.

The “respond right away” piece is tricky. I am a fan of the “we are listening, heard your complaint and are working on a solution” response even if you don’t have the answer. Taking the issue offline publicly works well too. However, part of the success of answering customer issues online is having the system offline to support it and actually solve issues, answer questions.

There is one type of complaint I wouldn’t respond to — if someone just says “Company so-and-so sucks” with no further explanation. Companies need a response protocol and they can’t respond to everything.

Mack Collier March 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

Justin I like your “we are listening, heard you complaint and are working on a solution’ response with the caveat that if you don’t eventually offer that solution, the backlash could be twice as worse. So companies don’t need to actually work on that solution and update customers on progress, instead of using it as a ‘stall’ tactic.

And you are exactly right about companies needing a response protocol, the monitoring team needs to know who needs to be alerted to customer feedback online, and then what the protocol is for responding. Great reminder!

jqp March 26, 2011 at 9:58 am

The advice above can be boiled down to “treat others as you wish to be treated”. Wise advice.

What the survey results fails to reveal is the context of the interaction between vendor and consumer. Consequently, the results aren’t very useful without that context.

I’d like to balance the pointers above with observations from my own extensive experience:

1. Loyalty is fleeting in the social economy. Don’t bank on your actions creating lasting loyalty with the individual. Rather, think of it as earning a favorable ruling in the court of public opinion. Your customers may not be loyal, but the overall opinion of your firm will be favorable.
2. If a customer is unhappy with the resolution (that is to say if theydon’t get their way) they’ll post negative comments anyway. They may air the entire transaction online with their own little spin on it. Don’t waste any additional time on them. Some customers cannot be pleased, and no amount of time will change that. Savvy consumers will see through their comments.
3. An unhappy customer’s friends may jump on the bandwagon, even if they’ve never made a purchase from you (or even if their personal past experiences with your company have been neutral/favorable). It’s a pack mentality. You’re not going to be able to engage them all, nor should you.
4. There will always be customers who want to get something for nothing, or at a huge discount. Don’t play their game no matter what the “experts” tell you. It’s a slippery slope and consumer “tips” travel quickly. There’s fair and there’s naive.
5. Never take it personally. Remain professional and respectful at all times. Everything you write or say may end up in someone’s post.

Helen Cousins March 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I work with the tourism trade & find that negative reviews really upset business owners, and they obsess over these reviews. However, I agree that a negative review can be a good thing for the reasons outlined. Moverover, a few negative reviews add credibility to postitive reviews. Customers can feel reassured to see that you can’t supress bad reviews and this makes positive reviews seem more plausible. Last week, I tweeted a dismissive comment about a brand and the brand’s subsequent handling of that on twitter was skillful – see http://xbs.ie/insights/56-insights/194-good-catch-how-to-handle-a-negative-brand-mention Good post here, thank you!

Mack Collier March 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

Helen you are exactly right in that a few negative reviews add credibility to the positive ones. If I see a product has 100 reviews and a 4-star average, that looks more credible to me than a product that has 2 reviews that are both 5-star.

Ty March 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm

This is a very interesting article. Most large reputation management companies will tell clients not to respond to negative comments as the response will keep the post alive and on top of search engine rankings. They recommend flooding the web with positive comments from blogs or micro sites that they have developed for the clients.

The problem that I have with the method of most reputation management companies is that their system works if you are a large corporation with several listings on search engines and you have a lot of extra marketing revenue.

I really think that an owner response to a customer’s negative comments will solve a lot of problems and would be better than not responding at all. I know that I am impressed when I see a response from an owner of a company that is getting beat up.

Also, Google is now considering negative reviews when ranking websites. You can read more about this on my blog.

Joel March 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Another key tip here that is perhaps implied in your list but is uber-important is to never, never belittle the customer no matter how wrong they are. Some of them are going to be off the deep end and will make crazy claims about you, your service, or your products. They won’t get it (or won’t agree) no matter how much you explain it to them. Sometimes you need to just walk away, but make sure that you do it respectfully the entire time. No snide comments about the member, their biases, or even how they’re refusing to listen to you. It’s a fast way to get the rest of the community to lose respect for you.

Patrick Allmond March 30, 2011 at 9:48 am

An excellent reminder Mack. I don’t even think this is an option – I think it is a requirement. A company I just started working with got a negative review posted by notable blogger recently. I was emailing everybody I could at the company begging them for a public response ASAP. I also told them that if what the person said was true the first words of their response should be “Yeah we really screwed this up big time”. When you respond online you should do everything to take the hostility out of the picture ASAP. Then move forward on the conversation and resolution.

Joe April 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

do your due diligence first and make sure it’s a real customer. getting trolled by a competitor or ex-employee can be a lasting and harrowing experience for anyone.

Paul Burani April 15, 2011 at 8:39 am

Couldn’t agree more. It’s about time more brands acknowledged the immense value they’re leaving on the table, by ignoring negative feedback in public forums.

We did a study on this as well, from a search marketer’s perspective: http://webliquidgroup.com/customer_complaint_index.html. Take a brand like Banco Santander in Spain… they were among the top brands on the list, in terms of complaint activity via search. The deluge of customer complaints in 2010 became bigger and bigger, to the point where they had no choice but to respond head-on, and lo and behold they managed to cut complaints by 20% at year’s end! No doubt there are countless examples of this kind of rebound…

LP99 April 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

You hit it right on, social media allows companies to deal with issues directly and swiftly.

99 April 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Interacting with your customers is never bad, it shows you actually care about what they think. While their thoughts may be negative, they usually appreciate you thinking about them. Social media makes this even easier.

Edith1334 May 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Unfortunately, people LOVE drama but like you mentioned in the article, it is the perfect opportunity to give the rest of the world a little information about what your image, brand, or company. It’s up to you to reveal what you are about when placed on the spot!

Rob Zaleski November 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm

A great post, and certainly something we consistently tell clients and prospects. Especially with the ability to write reviews on mobile devices, sometimes people haven’t had time to cool off when they write their review. So often we’ve seen people turn around their review after a simple outreach and apology.
Do you have the link to this research? I’d like to read more on it, but the link in the post is dead.

Mack Collier November 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Thanks Rob, and unfortunately I could not find the page on MediaPost’s site, so I edited the post to remove the mention to it. Thanks for the heads up.

Rob Zaleski November 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Ah, good to know. I tried Media Post and Harris itself, but couldn’t find it. Great post regardless.

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