How to handle negative comments on social media

More and more catering equipment firms are taking to Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels to drive awareness of their services and engage with customers.

But what should you do if you receive a complaint or a negative comment about your business? The experts at hospitality marketing blog ‘Well Travelled’ give their tips for dealing with grievances.

Everyone knows the growing importance of social media for commercial businesses, such as those in the catering equipment market. It can increase brand awareness and remind customers of who you are, increase orders, and support your promotional activities.

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But what happens if it turns sour, and you start receiving complaints or bad reviews on social media? For a start, you shouldn’t just ignore bad press and hope it goes away.

Once someone has negatively interacted with your business, it is out there for the whole world to see. Customers only need to run a search on your brand on twitter and everything is there to see, warts and all. You don’t want this to be impacting business.

The speed and reach in which information is spread online is also an element that makes negative comments dangerous, especially for the fast-paced hospitality industry. Within minutes, one comment could have been re-tweeted dozens of times, potentially reaching thousands, and damaging your reputation.

The key to handling these negative comments is to deal with them quickly and professionally.

Ensure your social media accounts are active

Nothing is going to irritate an already disgruntled customer than if their tweet or comment is ignored.

Research by US firm TARP shows that for every 26 dissatisfied customers, only one will file an actual complaint. The real distress for hospitality businesses however, is that an average of 1,560 people will hear about at least one of these unhappy customers’ experiences. On average, it is reported that each unhappy customer will tell 10 people, who in turn will tell five others. That’s really bad news for any business in the customer service sector.

This is probably more of an issue for a hotel or a restaurant dealing with the public than a catering equipment seller serving trade accounts, but it illustrates just how quickly a comment or remark can spread.

So, make sure you appoint a specific person (or people) to handle the job of maintaining and monitoring your social media accounts.

A quick and concise reply generally will help ease the negative situation. By responding quickly this also helps to diffuse the situation, especially when multiple people are complaining.

Be sure that your staff are qualified to handle this responsibility and know what they can and can’t say. A poor response to a negative comment is often as bad as not replying at all. So be timely but take the time to prepare the response and seek approval if required.

Show your personality

When O2 received a tweet from an unhappy customer, they replied using similar slang language. Swapping from a business tone of voice showed the fun and creative side of O2 and the complaining customer found humour in the negative situation, and also reduced the customer’s angst.

Don’t worry about it

If you are new to the world of social media and you get your first negative comments — don’t panic! It is fairly normal for people to complain when things don’t quite go how they thought.

The recovery paradox theory suggests that consumers will actually end up happier if they had a problem with a business or service and it was resolved well, than if there was no problem in the first place. This shows the importance of customer service and that how you deal with issues matters, especially in an online public arena like social media.

Imagine if there was a problem with the food someone had ordered in your restaurant and they sent it back. At the end of the meal if you said they didn’t have to pay for the dish and gave them a 50% off voucher for the next time they visited, they’d be pretty likely to come back, right?

And, they’d also be likely to tell their friends on social media about how great that is, instead of complaining about the initial problem.

To remove it or not?

If the comments are appearing on your own website or profile page, then you can simply remove them. Some negative comments may not be about a particular issue or problem and just be someone’s opinion. If this is the case, then there is no harm in just ignoring and removing them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion — and you can choose whether or not you display this.

However, I would strongly advise you not to remove and ignore a negative comment if it is about a genuine problem. This would probably annoy the customer further and potentially lose their future custom, and others that they may tell as a result.

Acknowledge the problem publicly and suggest the customer private messages you with their contact details so you can deal with the problem offline.

Apologise and offer a solution

Sometimes it is best to just hold your hands up and admit when you were wrong. If you cannot wriggle out of a situation, be honest with your customers. They will appreciate that more. The best thing to do in this situation is to apologise and then offer a solution. If you can resolve the problem quickly and efficiently, most people will be happy once their problem has been resolved.

Well Travelled is a marketing blog for marketers and professionals working in the hospitality industry. www.welltravelled.co.uk

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