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7 Ways to Soothe a Customer Complaining Online Customers can complain anonymously but you have to respond publicly. Be nice and patient.

By John McAdam Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You work hard serving and acquiring customers. Then one day, someone posts a negative comment about your business at Amazon, Yelp or Consumer Reports. How will you respond?

The growth of online communication challenges how we deal with customer complaints. Ten years ago, it could be fun to deal with customer complaints. The customer would call you on the telephone or demand to see you in person to complain. I enjoyed turning an angry stranger into a loyal customer, or even a friend, by giving him or her solutions. Back then, every customer had an identity. Today, the complaining customer is more anonymous—and often more hostile. The complainer might even prefer to vent anonymously, and anonymity allows someone to be more comfortable when posting negative comments.

Your initial response might be to call the online complainer a coward or troll. You might think, "This review is totally unfair!" If you remain angry, then the best response might be no response at all—at least until your anger subsides. Either way, we should deal with an online complaint quickly. Let's explore seven ways to respond:

1. Pause.

"First, take a step back," suggests Hannah Tighe of Chatter Box Social Media. The point is for you to remove negative emotions from your response.

Related: How to Fire Back at an Angry Customer on Social Media

2. Be polite and apologize.

"If the complaint is legitimate, then they need a sincere apology and politeness even if they are not being polite in the moment," says Tighe.

3. Go offline.

Give them an opportunity to contact you offline to resolve their complaint. The complainer might not cooperate, but offline communication is more powerful than online communication. With quicker resolution time, opportunities for productive dialogue increase.

4. Communicate directly.

"Call them or email them directly," suggests publicist Jennifer Sherlock of Jenna Communications. "Show them that you care!"

Related: Listen Up: How to Respond to Customer Complaints

5. Show results.

"Let others online see how you are resolving the complaint," continues Sherlock. "We craft messages for clients and use the negative situation as a real-life marketing opportunity to let others know how good our clients are at what they do, even if the complainer continues to complain."

6. Refund.

Offer the customer their money back, a discount on a future purchase, or a replacement. You want them to feel better about your business.

7. Stay alert.

Set up an online alert system such as Google Alerts to stay on top of online complaints and manage your brand.

It's OK for a business to make mistakes and be vulnerable. Businesses are made up of people, after all, and people aren't perfect. Moreover, do you really trust all the five-star reviews and glowing testimonials when you consider making a purchase? We've become a bit jaded when reading testimonials, and we instinctively distrust the overly favorable ones. Observing how a business deals with a problem customer after a purchase is almost as important to me as the purchasing decision. At least I can feel more confident that if a problem surfaces after the sale, the business will take care of problem customers responsibly.

Related: How Should I Handle Negative Online Reviews?


7 Ways to Respond to a Negative Online Comment

7 Ways to Respond to a Negative Online Comment

John McAdam

Strategic Business Planning Expert for Established Business Owners

John McAdam has decades of business experience as a hired CEO, serial entrepreneur and instructor. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School and has taught strategic business planning at the Wharton Small Business Development Center for years. McAdam is the author of The One-Hour Business Plan (Wiley) and advises businesses on strategic business planning, corporate culture changes and new business initiatives.

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