The online world is abuzz with activity. Unfortunately though, the social world is not necessarily all that rosy as it is made out to be. Yes, I’m talking about that negative review. In the olden days (before the Internet really set in), an upset customer would spread the word to perhaps ten others. In a worst case scenario, the count would go up to fifty before the customer lost steam. But with the Internet, the situation is very different. A single post can reach a lot of people. The bigger problem is that the virtual world cannot be controlled. Yes, that bit has been extolled as a virtue but it does have a flipside. While negative reviews are justified at times and keep customer service standards high, there are times when people are just up to pure mischief. Justified or not, criticism can harm your brand, and it needs to be tackled immediately. So what can you do?

Don’t react immediately – The worst thing you can do is to react immediately after reading the post. It is better to read the post a few times and try and get to the root of the matter and determine how you can make things better.
Do respond quickly – If you feel the complaint is genuine, acknowledge your mistake and try and rectify the situation through taking it to a private channel. Offer a solution that is satisfactory and take steps to ensure that it is implemented.
Stay in touch – Take time to communicate with the customer after the solution has been implemented. Request the customer to either remove the negative review or provide a follow-up one that is positive.
Explain your side – There are times when the customer isn’t right. Be prepared to explain your side of the story, citing policies and examples where appropriate. But keep the tone polite and respectful and always stick to the facts.
Don’t blow your cool – There will be times when the matter remains unresolved or the complaint isn’t genuine. The worst thing to do in these cases is to spew venom. Once it goes online, you never know how far it can spread.
Bury the problem – There will be customers who simply refuse to be reasonable. These are the times when it’s best to back off graciously. By doing this, you are not drawn into a long conflict. It also displays your professionalism, something that won’t be lost on the readers.

The Internet is here to stay. And it is best that businesses give up their mentality to control. But yes, it does become necessary to monitor everything (to the extent possible) that is written about your company. It is also important that any negative press is effectively countered through generating positive PR. However, PR should also happen otherwise, to build up your brand and create a line of online advocates as well. There will always be people who complain, even against the best of brands. It’s your job to be prepared and resolve the issues before they get out of hand.