Dealing with Complaints, Haters and Online Trolls
Or How to Win Loyal Fans for Life!
One of the biggest fears that small business owners have about being visible online and on social media is attracting negative reviews, complaints or trolls. But this is really not actually a big problem at all, in fact it’s an opportunity…
Customer Reviews on Facebook
I always recommend making this feature available on your Facebook page so that customers can leave reviews. If you give good service, then you honestly have nothing to fear from this and it’s a really important marketing feature for attracting future customers.
If you do get a bad review then simply deal with it! If there is a genuine cause for complaint, then own it publicly. No one loses customers by admitting mistakes and putting them right. If the situation is complex then publicly acknowledge it and ask the customer to provide contact details via a private message so that you can follow up immediately and put things right.
You will also find that other customers will actually leap to your defence and counter any poor reviews that are left. Also, Facebook tends to favour showing good reviews anyway. So honestly, don’t sweat it.
Customer Complaints are Business Opportunities
Customer service is your biggest marketing tool but sadly many companies simply consider it a pain in the ass. Seriously, this should be THE main thrust of your marketing campaign. After sales and repeat sales are a phenomenal way to grow through repeat business and personal referrals.
Customer complaints are then a result of doing more business; it is a fact of life. Even with the best of intentions things don’t always go to plan so we have to roll with the punches and accept the hiccups that may or may not be of our own doing.
Customers with complaints are of course a pain to deal with but it’s important to react quickly and reassure an upset or nervous customer. And hey, it’s also a nice opportunity to tell them you appreciate their business. Everyone likes to hear that.
Avoid Escalating the Arms Race
Not all customer service issues are quite so placid and easily resolved. Sometimes customers are really upset and often our first reaction is to be defensive and respond in kind. But let me ask you to reconsider your approach, because whilst you cannot change someone else’s behaviour, you can control your reaction to it and that can make a huge difference to the outcome.
If someone is shouting (or SHOUTING online) and you respond in a similar fashion, then before long you have an arms race and there is no where left to go but up up up. By de-escalating the situation – being the first to be understanding, polite and reasonable (which also means taking their complaint seriously) – the shouty behaviour soon looks out of place and a bit ridiculous and the shouter will normally self-moderate their actions to feel less awkward.
Behaviour breeds behaviour so start with your own and act with the end in mind. By taking the heat out of the situation you can steer it to a more conciliatory resolution, quickly.
Create a Raving Fan
When someone complains then actually you have a perfect opportunity to turn them into a customer for life. I know when I have had cause for complaint then the way in which my gripe has been handled has actually made the difference between me never purchasing again (and bitching to everyone I know about it) and becoming a number one fan (and raving to everyone I know about it).
Mostly, people with a complaint just want to be taken seriously and want to be informed regarding the steps being taken to address it. That doesn’t mean that you have to take responsibility for a situation where you weren’t at fault, but often ‘owning’ the situation is the best way to resolve it anyway, and win a loyal fan in the process.
So, next time your customer service line rings, don’t cringe and steel yourself for an argument. Think of it as a marketing opportunity and make your number one goal to have that customer rave about how you dealt with them. Answer in a good mood and exude a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. It feels good. It does good. It’s infectious. Consider it your Customer Happiness Department.
Trolls or Spiteful Comments
If you are working your social media channels as part of your marketing strategy, then there will be times when something you post online is controversial enough to provoke a bit of a reaction. I personally don’t shy away from this as it’s great for engagement but I’m brave enough to face the consequences and I don’t post anything I don’t actually stand behind (and I’d advise you to do the same).
People have opinions and are entitled to voice them, as long as they are not inciting any kind of hate crime (pretty rare). Your Facebook page is YOUR property so you don’t have to leave the comments on there, but they can often be a great way to win new fans if you allow a bit of gentle and constructive debate to unfold.
However, you do need to moderate the comments and not allow them to become a full blown argument or worse, an angry mob bullying a single person. Ideally use your influence to draw together areas of common ground or highlight differences of opinion that are interesting and valid.
If anyone posts things that are downright spiteful, racist, homophobic or pornographic, simply report them, ban then and remove the post. You do have absolute editorial control. Don’t be afraid to use it!
Challenging Beliefs vs. Changing Opinions
Social media is a hotbed of strongly held and loudly shared opinions, some of which can be a bit unpalatable. But no one likes to have their opinions and beliefs directly challenged. They are often formed from experiences or influenced by the media (not ideal) but they are personal and therefore important. You don’t have to agree with someone but direct confrontation is not always the best way to win someone round and effect change. Don’t allow a disagreement to become an argument. There is a difference.
Start by listening and accept that the experiences that have led you to your opinions are going to be different to someone else’s. You cannot know what has caused them to formulate their opinion so tread carefully and most of all listen out for common ground. There is usually more of it than you think, but you have to actively look and listen for it, and then highlight your areas of mutual understanding.
For example, if you want to encourage people to give up single use plastic, then calling them out for something they have recently purchased and making them feel awful is no way to bring them on board. Instead look out for something they did that directly resulted in not using plastic (e.g. taking canvas bags to the supermarket) and single it out for praise – encourage them to see themselves as a pioneer for environmental changes and someone that others look towards as an example. A bit of genuine flattery goes a very long way.
Remember, you can either prove a point or you can win someone round. But you cannot ever do both. So think carefully about the best outcome and be canny about how to bring it about. People who genuinely change their opinions often become very evangelical about seeing the light and therefore become passionate ambassadors for your cause.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Everything I know about diplomacy, persuasive influence and customer service, I read in this book which was written in 1937! It could have been written in 2018 for our testing times of fake news, polarised opinions and the soap box of social media. The lessons contained within are as relevant today as ever.
My favourite and most read part of the book is Section Three: Chapter One: You Can’t Win an Argument. I’m going to quote directly from the book because Dale Carnegie puts it so eloquently:
“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man* and shoot his argument full of holes and prove he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And –
A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.”
*ok, this book DOES need updating to be a bit more general neutral.
If you don’t yet have a copy, then I urge you to buy one immediately and read it in one go with a highlighter in your hand. This book for me is the bible of customer service, managing online conversations and negotiating your way through the world exerting gentle positive influence.
All You Need is Love
Let me leave you with this final thought. Start your day on the basis that people are on the whole nice, kind and want the world to be too. If you get a crappy email or comment from someone, first laugh it off (if its not a complaint) and then consider what sort of a rubbish day they might have had that put them in a place to write that in the first place. Who knows what personal hell they are going through right now. Rise above their negative comments and consider yourself a purveyor of joy. You might just make someone’s day. Or at least you won’t allow them to ruin yours.
Go forth and be kind, understanding, spread love and win some loyal fans.