THE BLOG

How to Answer Customers in Social Media

06/20/2013 12:10 pm ET | Updated Aug 20, 2013

Our teenage children know they should never do or say anything that they would not want to appear on the front page of the NY Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, or most importantly to them... Facebook. In business, it can be challenging to always be polite, and to always think before you speak or act. Having the wrong response can hurt your reputation and stall revenue.

Restaurants used to be worried about whether or not the person seated at table 34 was a secret restaurant critic. Today, each and every person with whom you do business has that power and more. Customers can share their experience via Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Facebook, Google+, and dozens of other services before they walk out the door.

Bad reviews are not a death sentence. In fact, a small number of negative reviews in a crowd of positive ones makes the positive reviews more believable (you can't please everyone). But, how you deal with customer feedback and how you respond can mean the difference between a great recovery, and slipping on the proverbial banana peel.

Bite Your Tongue
Even if their comments annoy you, focus on results. Your primary audience is the potential customer, not necessarily the person who wrote the negative comment. "The main reason to respond publicly to a negative post is to demonstrate to onlookers your willingness to promptly resolve customer service issues in a professional manner," says David S. Wachen, a partner at DC area law firm Shulman Rogers, and an expert on helping clients protect their reputation and speech rights online. "Dealing with the specifics of a customer complaint should be done in private communications with the unhappy customer," Wachen says.  This is exactly how you see the best brands handle issues.

I have had the good fortune to spend many nights at the Four Seasons Philadelphia.  If you go onto TripAdvisor.com, you'll see that across 650 reviews, any review below four stars (a very low percentage) has a written response from the general manager thanking the reviewer for their feedback, apologizing for a less than stellar experience, and asking them to contact him to personally resolve the matter. Even when it appears to be a false review, they simply say "I'm having trouble locating your reservation. Is it possible the reservation was under another name?"

On The Other Hand
Have you ever seen a company that responds to a negative review by attacking the customer? It's not pretty. If you attack your clients who have left feedback, do you think other people will want to do business with you tomorrow? If you have an establishment with many positive reviews, the online world will take the isolated negative review with a grain of salt. If you get nothing but negative reviews, you may need to take a closer look at how you show up for your customers.

Above All, Be Responsive
I was in Boston this week and when I showed up for my Hertz rental, the car was not ready. I was upset. I sent a tweet to Hertz. Within minutes, I had a reply offering to help. The issue was resolved. They turned a negative into a positive. They even followed up again to ensure everything worked out fine.

I was booking a flight on United recently. I sent a tweet about a booking issue. Within moments, I had a reply. I asked if I could speak with someone, and my phone rang within two minutes. Their effort and responsiveness scored points with me. Both Hertz and United used social media to turn a potential negative into a positive. In United's case, I bought a high priced ticket from them instead of another company.

Don't Forget the Positive Ones
It is much more common for people to write about a negative experience than to take the time to share a positive one. Reward the ones who take the time to say something nice by reaching out to them and acknowledging their participation. You might create a raving fan.

What Can You Learn?
Each person who interacts with your business is now as powerful as the restaurant critic from years ago. If they have a negative comment, demonstrate your desire to fix things. When they say something positive, show your appreciation. Above all, if you want to say something nasty, say it to yourself... and then write something polite. You might just turn a negative into a positive.

Your Turn
When did a company do a stellar job of responding to you via social media, and when did they make matters worse?