The consumer world has gone online and companies have done their best to embrace the changes. Web sites have been developed. Online orders are accepted. Reviews are requested to build positive rankings online. But what happens if the online reviews don’t you get positive?

Negative reviews and complaints his mighty powers. Customers like to read about the experiences of others on online review websites to get the measure of a company before spending their money. But frustrated customers also love to leave reviews, which can make a business owner falter. For a company working to increase its reputation, public and prominence customer complaints calling feels like a death knell.

But negative complaints are not all bad. Even if they bite and create a ripple effect for your business, reviews complaining about customer problems 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 no one wants to tell you, you’ll keep singing and they’ll 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’ll just politely avoid you. When customers avoid you, they shop with your competitors and you fail to understand why your business is failing and constantly losing customers.

When a customer leaves a negative review, they want you to fix it. They care enough about your business and what you do to give you negative feedback in the hopes that you will change and improve something. That’s constructive criticism, even if they offend your manager, your adornments, and your fashion sense in the process. Remember, they just couldn’t have said anything and walked away.

Complaints are therefore 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-solving skills, which is where marketing comes in. But the most important way you put those complaints to work is by solving the problem.

By the time someone has bothered to leave you a detailed online complaint, rest assured that many others have experienced something similar and decided not to complain. They just don’t come back.

A negative review is a gift. It’s an opportunity to solve a big problem that others have surely noticed and who simply haven’t bothered to tell you.

So if a complaint comes in, take it seriously and resolve the issue.

It’s easy to dismiss a complaint as a freak incident or problem with someone who had a chip on their shoulder or was having a bad day. However, you won’t know until you’ve gone through the process of investigating the complaint and then paid some attention to the problem they had.

You may have a problem that you didn’t know about in your business. It could also be that there is a known issue that no one in your company brought to your attention before a customer drew their attention to it.

When you see a negative review, it raises your anxiety level. You want to “fix” it by making the rating disappear. But the real way to fix the review is to see if it’s valid and then address the bigger problem in your business if it does come to light.

Customer Complaints as Marketing Opportunities

There is no such thing as bad publicity. The old adage still sounds mostly true, but knowing how to do it effectively resolve customer complaints in the public eye is what turns negative attention into brilliant marketing opportunities.

The gift of a negative review is twofold. You will receive valuable feedback on your business practices and the overall performance of your team, and you will have the opportunity to more effective brand online. A brand focused on customer service.

While we would all like to be perfect all the time, we know that’s impossible. Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone gets bad reviews from time to time. It’s what happens after the reviews that makes such a powerful difference.

Consider a few scenarios.

  • In scenario one, a customer leaves a bad review. The review is there online, unaddressed. Other customers see the review and start responding. They share their own stories. They speculate about what went wrong. They offer sympathy to the original poster who had such a crappy experience. The wound of a negative review continues to fester online.
  • However, scenario two has a response from the company. The bad review has been posted. A smart company waits for the review and immediately intervenes by sending a response asking the customer to contact them by phone or email to resolve the matter. The company pats itself on the shoulder for being so quick and handling the negative publicity and getting it out of the public eye. Any further action is up to the customer and the customer service center, who may or may not resolve the issue.
  • The scene for scenario three is almost identical. Negative review. Quick response from the customer, but this time the customer service representative doesn’t just paste a general message on the post, but instead tries to publicly engage the customer in a live chat† The representative will publicly apologize to the customer for the accident and may even ask questions to better understand the issue. The response is private and public.

In all three scenarios, there are the same three players: the consumer, the company and the public. It is only in the third scenario that the company sees the true power of the public by using the complaint as an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with the company.

All those who left stories and complaints in the first scenario watch as the customer service representative communicates with a co-affected customer. They empathize with the customer, and as the skilled customer service representative communicates individual responses and apologizes personally and professionally, they feel the impact as well.

A company that may have been considered indifferent and even negligent in scenario one or indifferent in scenario two has become a company that cares about its business, is willing to apologize publicly and does what it can to make things right according to scenario three.

The company in the third scenario engages in a trade with the consumer and its audience. They trade a public apology for positive brand recognition. They also trade a little egg on their face for publicity. By making expert use of 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 terrifying. But they are common and part of doing business. Instead of waving them away, put them to work as powerful feedback and a perfect opportunity to build the business your customers want most.

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