As search engines and smartphones continue to make researching businesses even easier, it should come as no surprise that what other people write about your business online is extremely important. Whenever anyone is going to try a new restaurant or store, for example, chances are they’re going to look up reviews before ever entering the establishment. With that in mind, we cannot stress enough how much more weight customers are going to put on online comments (particular negative ones!) compared to your business’ messages.

That is why it is so important to handle any online comments in a professional manner. Even if you believe negative comments are completely unfounded, that does not mean you should simply ignore them, or worse try to call out the customer as irrational. Rather, you want to respond to complaints in a public manner that both maintains your reputation and increases customer loyalty.

The following 3 techniques come from Gina Watkins of the American SBDC’ Biz Blog’s steps on ‘How to Handle Negative Online Comments’ –

1. Don’t Remove Negative Comments

Photo Credit: RonPloof

Photo Credit: RonPloof

More often than not, removing a negative comment from a review site or social media is even worse than ignoring it. The thing about the internet is that there never truly is a delete button; people who have seen the comment will recognize that it’s gone. In the end, this technique will only raise suspicions and ill-will towards your business.

Rather than delete it, respond to it! A recent Harris Interactive survey actually found that around 1/3 of the people who received a response from a company after leaving a negative comment ended up both deleting the original complaint and writing a positive review. It is also okay to ask an individual to simply update their original comment after an issue has been resolved.

2. Acknowledge the Complaint

Even if you don’t like or agree with what people are saying, let them vent and acknowledge their side before presenting your own. For example, you can start your response with “I understand why you may feel that way,” before apologizing, giving your side, or asking how to improve. Remember, most customers will do business with you again if you reach a solution with them quickly!

3. Focus on the facts and be grateful

Even if you feel a person is being rude or harsh in their delivery of a comment, look past HOW they are writing the message and focus on WHAT they are saying. If you separate the delivery from the facts, you will be left with just the problem that you can hopefully fix. Without complaints, how will you ever know why that customer and possibly others choose not to return?

As Watkins put it “while it’s impossible to please everybody, you can learn to appreciate complaints as warning signs and opportunities to build even stronger ties to your customers.”