What to Do When A Customer Attacks Your Business Online
If this is as far as you get in this post, just remember: online criticism will happen NO MATTER WHAT. And it will all be ok.
Earlier this year, a woman orchestrated a coordinated social media attack on my business and me personally. It left me gutted for hours. I could tell soon after she messaged me that she was attempting to get a rise out of me for social media attention, which was confirmed by the other reviews she had been recently leaving local businesses.
However, I was able to take (most) of my own advice and quickly diffuse the situation. I didn’t handle it perfectly, but I have absolutely come a LONG way from my early years as a business owner, and I am proud of my response to the situation and still stand by it.
I am not perfect, in this area especially. I have made some major mistakes in dealing with online reviews and criticism that still haunt me to this day. My temper is HOT (like the SUN hot) and I often take reviews very personally because I care so deeply about my business and think of it as an extension of myself.
Even though I am not a perfect role model in this area, I do have a lot of experience and a lot of insight to share. I’ve talked about this topic before, but I want to revisit it because responding harshly or letting your temper get the best of you WILL impact your business negatively. Remember, some things can never be deleted.
The most important thing to remember when a negative review hits the internet is that you should NOT respond immediately. Handling the situation will become much, much easier if you give yourself a few hours (at MINIMUM) to gather your thoughts and respond appropriately. The person on the other end is hoping you respond in a non-professional manner that will make their point admissible. This is NOT a time to show your emotions.
Instead, stuff down those firey feelings and do your best to validate the customer’s emotions. Remember, most people who post angry reviews are projecting their feelings about either themselves or about another area of their lives.
When I, myself, left a raging 1-star review, I was about 10 weeks postpartum with my second child and I was exhausted. I was FINALLY able to coordinate with my husband’s work and travel and schedule myself a hair appointment, which was lucky because we had a fancy event to attend the next day. When I got there, I waited for over 30 minutes. After I checked in at the front desk for the 3rd time, they informed me that they double booked an appointment and I would not be able to get my hair done that day.
I was fuming and so hurt that I posted an absolutely HEATED review on their Google page. They had messed up, sure, but most of my frustration was coming from other areas of my life. From their point of view, I probably blew the situation out of proportion and seemed to be attacking them.
But remember, hurt people hurt people (and businesses). Try and remember that almost anyone who truly “flies off the handle” on social media or a review app feels as though they are losing control in another area of their lives, and are desperately trying to regain it by submitting their “feedback.”
Even still, as a business owner in this situation, you must respond to the situation at hand with future customers in mind. You cannot just comment on a negative review telling a customer, “Wow, you must be having a bad day.” Instead, business owners must look at the situation at hand. Did they encounter a rude staff member? Did you fail to deliver on a promise? Were they overcharged? Have they tried other channels to resolve the issue and have been unsuccessful?
Look at this matter objectively. I suggest asking an outside source if you can. If it merits a sincere apology on your part, by all means, offer it publicly. Then, take to private messenger to work out details (like offering a free open play pass or a cup of coffee for their troubles). Even if you do NOT feel you or your business did anything wrong, education can go a long way. For example, if they are angry about a policy you have, take the time to explain WHY it’s in place.
If there was a misunderstanding, ask if you can contact them privately to clarify. Failing to “fall on your sword” as an owner will never serve you. While I don’t necessarily agree that the customer is ALWAYS right, I do agree that again showing empathy and attempting to address their concerns is the best way to not only salvage the relationship with that customer, but all those future customers reading.
Many times, when a customer has a negative experience at a business, they try to entice their friends and family to bash and review the offending business as well. The more you respond and “fan the flames” of the fire, the worse it will get. Screenshots will get posted, your replies will get shared, and the interactions will start popping up into groups.
When an orchestrated attack on your business like this occurs, take a pause and move the conversation to a 1-on-1 format. And above all, remember that remaining professional will help reduce the likelihood that the original poster will continue sharing and garnering support. Even if screenshots from the private conversation are shared, you will still look like the bigger person.
Nothing hurts more than working long, hard hours and making sacrifices no one sees, only to open up your inbox to see criticism from a customer or client who has NO idea what goes into your business or how much you truly care.
If you still struggle with this as I do, establish a separate inbox for feedback and complaints, and have a manager take a first pass at it before you can access the customer sentiment. Even one unfavorable review in a sea of positive feedback can drain our creative juices as business owners and hold us back from growing our business.
Above all else, be kind and your ideal customers will continue finding you.
I talk more about handling online criticism in a new BONUS video in my Play Cafe Academy course. Click here to enroll today!