In 2016, what scares entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business managers the most? Some may say a downturn in the economy, while others may be concerns about the effects of a presidential election on consumer confidence. While those that own and operate small businesses must contend with any number of concerns, problems and challenges on an ongoing basis, there is one thing that can literally instill fear in a small business. And that’s the looming specter of a negative online review, comment or post from a customer. To make matters worse, online negativity isn’t a hypothetical threat to your business – it’s an almost certainty that at some point, you will be faced with the very real challenge of responding to a negative review that appears prominently on your Facebook page, your Twitter mentions or on a third-party website or service; worse, the review may be dishonest or even fraudulent. What can you do to mitigate the effects of online negativity that is directed at or connected to your business? It’s all about how you respond.

Don’t Let Anger Or Frustration Get To You

Discovering a negative review, post or message online can be disconcerting and upsetting experience, no matter how many years you’ve been an entrepreneur or how often you’ve had to address customer complaints in person. If you’ve dedicated yourself professionally to a business, reading negativity online can almost feel like a personal attack, but it’s important to remember that the first and often worst mistake you can make is to respond out of anger or frustration. If you need to take a break from your work in order to calm down and collect yourself mentally and emotionally, it’s imperative that you do so before proceeding.

Objectively Evaluate The Substance And Merit Of The Complaint

Before proceeding further, you must objectively determine if there is any substance or merit to the complaint or negative review. It’s important to note that if you determine that the complaint doesn’t have substance or merit, that will not fundamentally change the tone or nature of your response, as informing the dissatisfied customer and your online followers at large that the complaint or review is invalid is confrontational and will just exacerbate the situation. Instead, evaluating the substance and merit of the complaint will determine if there is an actual customer service-related issue that must be resolved or if your response will be entirely focused on mitigating the damage to your online reputation.

”I’m Sorry” Is Only Nine Characters

Negative online reviews and complaint, especially anonymous ones, can make a small business owner feel as though the system is stacked against them – if you’ve spent months, years or even decades building your reputation, having someone impugn it in a manner of seconds with an online post can be infuriating. However, almost all platforms and services provide you with the same opportunity and tools to respond, and your online audience (both now and in the future) will evaluate you and your business just as much on your response to a complaint as the complaint itself, which means you have the power to resolve the situation!

While you will need to tailor your response to the platform or service, “I’m sorry” is only nine characters, and it should always be the first thing you say in response to a negative review or complaint. Be polite and empathetic to the dissatisfied customer, no matter how frivolous or false you believe their allegations to be, and either provide a clear solution in your response or provide an email address or other method to facilitate further communication.

In our next post, we will discuss the finer points of addressing a customer’s complaint or concern online, and how to determine whether or not a discussion should be moved to email or another semi-private platform.