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Reviews, Replies & Reputation

The curse of the customer comment

Having a good reputation has always been key to growing your business. Word of mouth works wonders for even the least-advertised restaurants. If a handyman comes with a friend’s recommendation, we are likely to use them even if they’re more expensive than the market average. Companies of all sizes still spend a fair amount of their acquisition budget on member get member programmes.

The shrinking of the world that has come from the growth of the world wide web has sharpened the focus on reviews even further. Trustpilot, Feefo and TripAdvisor exist purely to aggregate the complaints of the vocal. (And, let’s face it, people are more motivated to capture the negative than the positive).

A circle of fingers pointing into the middle

Businesses are encouraged to invite comments on their own websites. The idea is that you can manage what you see. And the way you manage comments can say a lot about your brand.

But what should you say?

We are going to look at a typical customer complaint. Then we will consider three different ways of responding. How you react says something about your business, and, more importantly, your brand.

The Customer Comment

(We’re going to use a restaurant, but the approaches work for any business.)

Your customer: We waited over half an hour for the food to arrive. When it finally came, the portions were tiny. There were three lumps in the gravy. And when the waiter leaned over to place the plates, I felt sick from his halitosis. We will never go back to this restaurant again.

Let’s look at the options.

The Business Reply

Option 1 – Apologising

Business Owner (You): Thank you for your feedback. We’re so sorry you didn’t enjoy your meal. We take all comments very seriously and I will be looking into this personally. Rest assured that we will work hard to improve in the areas you mention. I would love you to give us another chance some time and would be happy to offer you a free aperitif as an apology. Thank you for your custom.

The problem here is that it makes you all too eager to admit these are problems that don’t surprise you. It sort of says “Yeh, we are a bit shit, aren’t we?” Even if your service is awful, the chances are that you know this. That doesn’t mean you’re grateful for the comment.

And ask yourself, do you want these complainers back? Times are hard and every cover is welcome, but, again, that need does not translate into gratitude. You don’t want them to return. In fact, you’re probably thinking you know who the customer is. Chances are, you disliked them as soon as they turned up.

Don’t think that this isn’t implicit in your response. When you use a hollow thank you – one for which there is no substance – readers subconsciously notice the gap. It is the space between the lines where people are drawn to read.

The complaining customer will not feel better about you because you said thank you. Best case is that they feel they have, in some way, ‘won’.

Option 2 – Defending

You: Thank you for your feedback. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your evening. I should explain that as all our food is freshly cooked, waiting times of half an hour are common. If our meals were sitting ready to be microwaved when ordered, it would be detrimental to the quality of the dishes served. We are also very proud of our AA and RAC stars which rated us for our high level of service. It is unfortunate that you felt your experience was under par.

You believe in your business. You’re passionate about it. Getting a bad review is something you take personally. Like your mate calling your girlfriend fat. (She isn’t fat. She’s bubbly. And she likes chips.) So defending yourself is understandable.

But there’s a reason why being defensive comes with negative undertones. Though you are only communicating the facts, each one undermines the opinion the customer has given. Instead of explaining your position, it comes across as attacking theirs.

You may think customers will read your response and take away the various plaudits you mention. They won’t. All they will hear is you shouting “Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!” Which sort of undermines your whole point.

Option 3 – Acknowledging

You: I’ve read your comments and am saddened that you didn’t enjoy your time with us. Most of our customers have a great dining experience so it’s rare I hear such feedback. Your comments have been noted. We do hope you find other venues that better suit your requirements in the future.

This still acknowledges the customer’s feedback, which is a good thing. It doesn’t become overly defensive. There’s no anger towards the customer. It accepts their point of view but puts it into context.

(Of course, this supposes that most of your customers are satisfied but if they aren’t, language alone won’t help you I’m afraid.)

Ultimately, this is honest. It doesn’t kowtow to one person, but it is polite. It speaks from grown-up to grown-up. It conveys pride in the business without being defensive. If the customer comes back to you, dissatisfied with your response, you need not reply.

The angry bus is quite busy. Don’t jump onboard.

Reviewing the Situation

How you reply to customer comments is, of course, down to you. The best thing you can do is be honest. Make sure that your wording conveys the personality you want your business to have.

And be aware that the sort of replies you might think are ‘standard’ or ‘typical’ for a business to post are just that. Just standard. Just typical. You might as well not reply at all for all the value it gives to your brand.


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