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There are people who don’t like Walmart. Some of them post their feelings online—on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and any other site they can think of. For a long time, Walmart simply soaked up the criticism, figuring the best response was no response.
Then last year, it introduced a new policy: No free shots.
With this strategy, Walmart began reviewing all social media mentions and engaging directly with some of its critics. For example, last October, the company sent out a PR tweet that read, in part, “We are honored to employ #veterans & support them and their families in every way we can.” One veteran in particular took offense and tweeted back—in colorful and explicit terms—that he had applied at Walmart and never got a reply.
Rather than ignore the complaint, Walmart quickly responded, tweeting, “Please review our Welcome Home Commitment to learn more about opportunities & support efforts,” including a link to the site where veterans can apply.
Regardless of how you feel about Walmart, you should adopt the same approach to online criticisms of your business.
“Even if you do get negative feedback, you can turn it into a positive by engaging in a constructive way and showing that you’re a genuine business,” said Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group.
“People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”
So you know that the customer experience is often the primary driver that leads customers to find new brands or to continue relationships with them, but you don't know what you can do to make sure buyers will enjoy their interaction with the company. The answer could lie in the mobile Web.
Most customers won’t write you off based on one negative comment. Many, however, will gain respect for your business if you respond to the comment in a pleasant and helpful way. Of course, that’s not easy to do when you pour your life into a business and someone bashes it online. Your immediate impulse is to return fire. Don’t do it. Back slowly away from the keyboard and collect your thoughts.
“When you do get a negative review, the first thing you should do is take a breather,” Kabani said. “You don’t want to fly off the handle and do something to make yourself look bad. Especially if you think the customer complaint is false, your instinct is to react in the heat of the moment. But you’ll regret it.”
Take some time and formulate a polite reply. Acknowledge the person who’s complaining and say you appreciate the input. Explain your side and add a human touch.
Handled correctly, a negative comment is a great opportunity to draw attention to your business’s many positive qualities. “Turn the comment around by highlighting your strengths,” Kabani said.
“Like, ‘I’m sorry you had a bad experience. We’ve been in business 25 years, we serve thousands of customers a week, and we strive to create the best possible dining experience for the community.’ Responses are a great way to frame your story while still making the person feel heard and acknowledged.”
Never be defensive, even if a customer is clearly incorrect. “Online, the customer is always right,” Kabani said, “even when they’re wrong.”
Tim Devaney and Tom Stein write about technology and business for a number of publications. Tim has been a senior editor at Red Herring, Industry Standard and San Francisco magazines, and editor in chief at the Berkeley Monthly. Tom has contributed to leading publications including Wired, Business 2.0, Venture Capital Journal, AllBusiness, and Tennis Magazine. He has also held staff-writer positions at the San Francisco Chronicle, Red Herring, and InformationWeek.
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