Negative Feedback2Nowadays, customers believe they are entitled to excellent customer service, anywhere, anytime. Brands can thank social media in part for that. Social media provides customers with a public forum to lodge their complaints very conveniently in front of a very large audience. In fact, according to the Global Web Index, about 50% of customers now follow brands in order to access some form of customer service via social channels. It’s no surprise then that more and more brands are improving their image by providing customer support via social. But what sort of plan should you have in place to contend with negative comments when they arise?

There is no shortage of advice here: There are 5 tips for dealing with negative Facebook comments. Or if you want even more, you can easily find 8 ways to deal with negative comments in online communities. Can we go higher still? Social Media Today published an article that outlines the 12 principles for responding to negative online comments. For ease-of-reference, here they are:

  1. Move fast
  2. Be accurate
  3. Be flexible
  4. Be transparent
  5. Be sincere
  6. Be human
  7. Be focused
  8. Follow-up
  9. Add value
  10. Take control
  11. Avoid fights
  12. Don’t Censor

Let’s simplify. You don’t need 12. You don’t need 8. You don’t need 5. You need 3.

The ethic of Reciprocity.

The first six principles above should be self-evident to any customer-service, marketing or PR professional. They have to do with the most basic customer-service tenet. You can distill these six principles down into a singular recitation of the Golden Rule: treat your customers as you would treat yourself.

Be Opportunistic.

Turn your negative-comment lemon into lemon-aid. This includes knowing your top social influencers and addressing them appropriately (#7 above). It also means that you can turn a negative comment into a positive experience by following up with your disgruntled customer to ensure they got the answer they needed and that their problem was resolved (#8). Lastly, deepen the relationship to add value. Offer more information than they asked for, ask them for additional feedback, or tell them about new products/services (#9).

Manage the Conversation.

Be a judicious moderator. If someone steps out of line, take appropriate actions. It is, after all, your community (#10). Your page’s comments are your brand’s content. See how far you can go with this by listening to how the Atlantic Monthly’s Ta-Nehisi Coates moderates comments. Bottom line: if it’s not appropriate, you are empowered to remove it. But before you remove a nasty comment, ask yourself this: Will customers perceive us as being surreptitious if I remove this comment? (#11, #12). Always think of your customers first. If removing a comment would be more helpful to your brand than to your customers, you should probably leave it be.

But what about blatantly false accusations? Should you defend yourself? If those accusations begin to negatively impact relationships with other customers, it’s probably a good idea to stick up for yourself. Southwest Airlines pulled some punches with their own video response to some unruly and outspoken customers. It was authentic and addressed their customers concerns. It was also aggressive, but it worked in putting out the fire of worry among their broader customer base.

What do you think? Are there other principles you use when dealing with negative comments online?