yoda do or do notIn business, you are what you are perceived to be.  Your customers not only have their own opinions of your business, but they can also influence other potential customers. How you actually run your business is certainly important. Just as important, however, is how customers that have never stepped foot in your business perceive you. Before they ever step foot into your business, many consumers will research it online. Every single website that contains feedback from other consumers about your business will help shape their perception. Every review they read; Every comment on your Facebook page; What people are saying about you on Twitter; All of these will contribute to form a business profile for these new customers.

Most businesses nowadays understand the importance of monitoring comments and reviews for problems. Some will outsource this monitoring. Some will do it themselves. Regardless of who does it, if it’s not done properly, you can do more damage than if you had done nothing. As a public relations expert, my job is to gain exposure for companies. I can issue press releases and white papers until I’m blue in the face. However, all of that can be undone by improper communications between the business and its customers.

I don’t believe that any consumer expects a business to be perfect. What they do expect, however, is for someone to care when something goes wrong and to assist them in fixing the problem. Many times, consumers lash out with a negative review, tweet or Facebook comment simply out of frustration. Most of these upset customers can be diffused if the situation is handled properly. And a proper and appropriate handling will also show potential customers that you care and are paying attention.

Here are a few simple guidelines that you should take to effectively communicate with, and diffuse, angry customers online.

  1. It’s not personal – Whether you’re the owner of the business or an employee, it’s very easy to take negative reviews and comments personally. If you get angry reading the comment, don’t respond immediately. Calm down and think before you act. This is important as replying in anger or inappropriately can actually hurt you more than had you never responded. If you think it will take awhile for you to be able to respond calmly, have someone else in management take over, especially in instances where you may be specifically named and criticized. You want an impartial person who can objectively assess the situation and take decisive and prompt action.
  2. Respond promptly – In most cases, you want to be in a position and have the tools you need to monitor and respond to consumers as quickly as possible. Except for the situation I mentioned previously where the comment involved you personally or made you angry, you should make every effort to respond fast. There’s nothing more impressive to a customer, whether they are saying positive or negative things about you, then having a swift response.
  3. Stay positive publicly – Every time you respond online, you add another piece to your online personality. Always respond positively, let the customer know you are listening, and offer your assistance in helping fix the problem.
  4. Take the conversation private – Once you’ve responded to the customer and offered assistance, move the conversation to private, whether that’s via private messaging, telephone or in person. The public doesn’t need to see every detail of what went wrong. Nor do they need to see the discourse between you and the angry customer. The important part here is that you are making an effort. Most customers will give you an opportunity to correct the problem.

By following these 4 basic guidelines, you’ll find that you’ll minimize any damage to your online “personality” that you could create yourself.  In addition, you will leave a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the web in which people can see that, while you may not be perfect, you care about your customers and are willing to make an effort to fix any issues that arise.

And that speaks volumes.

Sara Callahan | Carter West Public Relations