No matter how well you run your business, it’s hard to avoid having an occasional dissatisfied customer. Even the top-ranked companies on the popular Garden Watchdog website aren’t immune. “Only” 95% of the rankings for the Garden Watchdog Top 30 companies for the last year were positive ones.
With the growing popularity of online communities, customer forums and buyer reviews, consumers now have their own megaphone. How you respond to complaints posted in open forums can have a far-reaching impact on your business. Here are the four most common mistakes I see companies make when responding (or not) to online customer complaints:
- Not responding at all. It’s amazing how many companies fail to monitor and respond to online customer complaints. In today’s world, customer service is no longer confined to customers contacting a company representative and the representative responding. Companies also need to monitor comments posted on online forums and communities wherever they appear. Set up a Google Alert so you receive notification when your company name is mentioned, and put someone in charge of answering them.
- Responding selectively. It’s interesting to review responses to customer complaints posted on Garden Watchdog. You can tell which companies are on top of what people are saying about them, which are not, are which have a look only infrequently. Unfortunately, those who respond to customer complaints only on occasion leave the impression that those complaints that went unanswered also went unresolved. To a prospective buyer deciding whether to do business with the company, it looks like the company just doesn’t listen.
- Not remaining professional. Customers can be unreasonable and exasperating sometimes. But no matter how difficult the customer, replying in a courteous, professional manner speaks well of your company. Among the unbecoming responses I’ve read are: “I give this customer a D minus,” “Most people would have appreciated [the plant we sent you],” and “That comment stinks.” It may be tempting, but don’t go there! Other readers realize that some customers are illogical troublemakers, but they still judge you by the professionalism of your response.
- Not responding to the customer. While some companies have learned that the world is watching how they respond to customer complaints, they’ve forgotten that their first job is to take care of the customer. A surprising number of the responses don’t speak directly to the customer. Instead, they defensively present the company’s side of the story to the world at large. Even if you’re right, not replying directly to the customer before addressing anyone else who may be reading makes it look you’re only paying lip service to customer satisfaction.
The next time you need to respond to customer complaints in an online forum, here are a few best practices to follow:
- Address the customer first. It’s fine to post additional comments for all readers of the forum, but only after you’ve addressed the complaint at hand directly.
- Give specifics. Don’t get defensive. Simply spell out the facts and let them speak for themselves.
- Apologize sincerely. Sometimes things are our fault, sometimes not. Even if you have nothing else to apologize for, you can always say, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed with your experience.”
- Explain your resolution. In an effort to streamline online responses, some companies post a boilerplate response to every complaint, such as: “We’ve been in touch with this customer and are working to resolve the situation.” This response is better than none, but spelling out the resolution, when possible, would do a lot more good.
- Thank the customer. We should all be grateful for customers who care enough to bring problems to our attention. If we don’t know about problems, we can’t fix them. Thank customers for helping hold your company to a high standard.
- Include contact information. In only one of the cases I reviewed did the company representative include her full name, phone number and email address in every response. That simple addition suggests she really cares about her customers!
Customer complaints have always presented an opportunity to improve. How you handle online customer complaints presents an opportunity to gain the trust of prospective customers. Don’t ignore the opportunity — take advantage of it!