The Do’s and Don’ts of Handling Haters

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Last week I stopped by my local Chipotle, preparing to indulge in a giant bowl of cilantro lime, chicken, salsa deliciousness. Much to my dismay, it took 15 minutes to get my food and check out, despite being the only one in line. Before I had a chance to complain, an employee handed me a few cards for free chips and guacamole and a burrito. I forgot I was irritated almost instantly. (Who doesn’t love free chips and guac?)

Handling dissatisfied customers can be fairly straightforward in person, especially since you cannot ignore them when they’re standing in front of you. But how do you respond to brand criticism in a public forum such as the Internet?

Your instinct may be to delete the criticizing post, if possible, or just ignore it all together. Perhaps placating the customer with an apology is your preferred response. Maybe you’re even driven to lash out because you feel they are in the wrong. Words to the wise — tread very carefully.

Let’s face it. You’re never going to make everyone happy. With the prevalence of social media and review sites like Yelp, word travels fast if a customer is unhappy. Luckily, customers are unlikely to dismiss you based on one negative comment. In fact, negative comments can be turned into an opportunity to gain respect if handled correctly.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts on handling negativity on the Internet:

  • DO add a human touch. Canned responses are obvious and do not appear sincere. Customers are more likely to respect you if you are genuine.
  • DON’T get angry or defensive. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong, especially on the Internet. Getting defensive only adds fire to the flame.
  • DO take some time to write a genuine, helpful reply, but…
  • DON’T take a long time to respond. Responding in a quick and timely fashion is crucial, especially during a crisis. Take no more than 24 hours, preferably less.
  • DO document complaints. If the complaint escalates into something larger, it’s always good to have proof, especially since comments can be edited or deleted.
  • DON’T delete negative comments… unless they are flagrantly offensive or discriminatory. Deleting comments has a tendency to escalate the problem and even move the conversation beyond your reach, which can result in a PR nightmare.
  • DO respond in the original comment stream. Seemingly unresolved complaints may raise questions with potential customers. Sending a response such as “Please email me so we can assist you” shows that you are tending to the matter while allowing you to resolve the problem more privately.

What are your best practices for managing negative comments and reviews?