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Dealing With Customer Complaints In The Age Of The Internet

When a customer complains about your business, what is your best course of action? Some freelancers ignore it and hope it goes away. Others get defensive. But the smart self-employed individual will deal with the problem head on. The best way to do that then necessarily depends upon whether the complaint is posted online or lodged in person.

Let’s consider the e-complaint first. What is the best way to handle it?

Handling Social Media Complaints and Posts

According to a recent Harris survey conducted for RightNow, maybe not surprisingly, the answer these days is is that social media is best way to handle online complaints. The poll looked at customers who posted negative feedback or reviews of a business. It found that almost 1/3 of all complaints received no response from the company being complained about. That alone is fairly surprising. But more interesting was this:

Maybe not surprisingly, the answer these days is is that social media is best way to handle online complaints.

When a business did in fact respond to the complainers issue, 18% of the complainers were so happy with the follow-up that they were converted into regular customers and bought more from the retailer! Even better: 33% went on to post a positive review of the business and 3% decided to delete their original, damaging post. How incredible is that? Given that a negative post can live forever online, that last fact is no small thing.

So the lesson regarding online complaints is clear: Not only does ignoring a negative social media post damage your business, but more importantly, the opposite is also true. Proactively responding to such posts vastly increases your chances of retaining that customer and even eliminating that negative review.

Let’s look at the actual process of how to handle such a situation:

1. Create a Google alert for your business. This will alert you when something has been posted about you or your business online. You could also use sites like Trackle, SocialMention, and Technorati to do this. You can also conduct a regular Twitter search to see what has been tweeted about you.

2. Discover any problems.

3. Intervene. Become part of the conversation. Seek out the offended party and see what you can do to reverse their opinion.

4. Do it.

It may seem simple, and it is, and it works. According to USA TODAY, more than half of all Fortune 100 companies now use social media to solve customer complaints. And the reason is that they see that responding to online criticism quickly and strongly makes a difference. It works.

Handling live complaints and criticisms

When the complaining party seeks you out in person, then you know you have a potentially serious problem on your hands; they would not do so if they were not sincerely aggrieved.

In most cases, the solution is simple: Say you are sorry. Even if you are not sorry. Even if its not your fault. If you want to keep the customer, let them feel like they were heard. And if the problem is on your end, make sure it’s not systemic, and if it is, fix it. If it’s a one time deal, chalk it up to a bad day. Either way, the complaint is a blessing because it 1) allows you to keep a disgruntled customer, and 2) helps you learn what you are doing wrong so you don’t do it again.

Either way, if handled right, customer complaints are one of your business’ best friends.

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