Let’s get this out of the way right now: negative comments will happen, no matter how hard you try to make all your customers happy. They will even happen if you choose not to have a social media presence for your business (which is a whole other mistake we will touch on later). The thing to remember is that it’s not the negative comment that will hurt your reputation and business the most. What hurts the most is a bad response or lack of a response at all.

You might be thinking that nobody would ever leave you that terrible of a review on Facebook. Your customer service is stellar last time you checked, right? You always put customer satisfaction at the top of your priority list and you literally bend over backwards to make people happy. It doesn’t matter. People will still find something to complain about online. So what should you do—and not do—when negativity hits your Facebook page?

REMEMBER, IT’S NOT PERSONAL. REALLY, IT ISN’T.

Businesses have always had to contend with complaints, but Facebook makes them public, and that’s what frightens us most. However, it’s imperative not to take negative comments personally. Seriously, yes. Personally, no.  Yes, it’s concerning when a customer is upset, but they aren’t upset with YOU. Once you disconnect yourself from the issue, you can move forward in uncovering the problem, making amends, and offering a solution.

ALWAYS ACKNOWLEDGE THE COMPLAINT

Yes, it’s tempting to delete the negative comment, but that’s the very thing you should never do. Ostensibly, you want your customers to trust you. Part of that relationship is acknowledging that something went wrong and being sincere in fixing the mistake. And please, don’t confuse robotic responses such as “thank you for your feedback” with actually acknowledging your customer’s issue. That approach is patronizing, insulting, and doesn’t instill faith in your brand. If your customer’s complaint isn’t clear, ask for more information with the goal of providing a solution.

KNOW WHEN COMPLAINTS HAPPEN

I can’t begin to tell you how many people have told me that they have decided not to have a Facebook page out of fear of negative reviews and comments being left on it. They live under the assumption that if they don’t have a Facebook fan page, the comments wouldn’t ever come back around to them. Here’s the thing to remember…people are going to complain no matter what. Wouldn’t you want to be aware when it happens so that you can address the situation immediately?

On top of addressing reviews left directly on your Facebook page on a daily basis, general reputation monitoring of all review sites is almost a requirement in today’s world of business. You absolutely must be monitoring your own social channels as well as all of the major review sites such as Yelp and Google+ so that you can address every single comment, good and bad, quickly and positively.

APOLOGIZE…AND MEAN IT

Now that you’ve listened to your customer’s complaint, apologize. Sincerely apologize. If you’re not truly sorry, how can you be truly forgiven? Once you’ve apologized, offer a solution or ask how you can best make amends. Offering a sincere apology will go a long way in defusing the situation, and it’s important to remember that your other customers are watching to see how you handle complaints. Which leads me to my next point…

THE WORLD IS WATCHING

Ok maybe not “the world”, but YOUR world certainly is paying close attention. Never forget that you have a paying audience. They already like your brand and products or they wouldn’t be on your business page, but how you interact with negative customers will leave a lasting impression. The last thing your business needs is to be put on blast for ignoring legitimate complaints, or worse, being rude and dismissive to customers. Reframe the situation and use it as an opportunity to put your customer service commitment on display and convert a complainer into your greatest advocate.

TAKE IT OFFLINE

Once you’ve publicly addressed the complaint, invite the customer offline to discuss a resolution. Whether you private message them or offer them a phone number to discuss the issue, it’s generally best to have a personal conversation. Plus, sadly, if you offer solutions such as special discounts publicly it can lead to other people creating problems just to get special treatment, so it’s best to keep these practices off the wall.

TO DELETE, OR NOT TO DELETE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

With apologies to Hamlet, it’s a fair question. Should you delete negative comments once a resolution is reached? In my opinion, no. First, it shows your customer base that you care enough to listen, apologize, and offer solutions. No business is perfect, and showing that you’re willing to address missteps inspires confidence. Plus, a business page with zero unhappy customers isn’t realistic and may have the unintended effect of suggesting you routinely ignore and delete comments that aren’t 100% rave reviews. A better option is to reply to the initial post that while you’re sorry the mistake occurred, you appreciated the opportunity to rectify it, and hope they’re now satisfied and you look forward to the opportunity to serve them in the future.

SOMETIMES, YOU HAVE TO SAY GOODBYE

It’s true that no matter how hard you try, there are just some people who insist on being nasty despite your best and most sincere efforts. If the angry customer is unreceptive to your customer service attempts, blatantly hostile, and only active in your community to start arguments, banning the individual is a last resort option. And it goes without saying that anyone leveling expletives or racial slurs against your staff or other fans should be banned immediately. Your staff and your fans don’t deserve to be subjected to the abuse, and in the end, they will respect you for taking the initiative.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Responding to negative comments is as simple as these three steps (ok, four if you count not taking it personally):

  1. Acknowledge the complaint
  2. Sincerely apologize
  3. Seek resolution

Really, it’s that simple. Rather than fearing negative comments, accept that they will occur and reframe them as learning opportunities and a chance to let your commitment to customer service shine.