I recently published an article on Green ID's home energy blog and in the DOE's Home Energy Pros on an energy efficiency product, giving a review of its effectiveness and ideal situations. The review was not a negative one but I did point out some weak areas of the product. The review made it on Home Energy Pros featured blogs and caught the eyes of the CEO of the product. He was obviously concerned about any negative press because he contacted me through LinkedIn.
He said some of my statements were incorrect about the product and I responded the next day to him asking him to send me what statements were incorrect so I could research and make any corrections necessary along with my personal email address. After that I never heard from him again but was surprised to hear from a PR firm hired by his company. I had made clear that I would be happy to correct any false statements but they sent me no such list and continued to annoy me by having the PR company trying to reach me by phone.
This is exactly how not to handle negative publicity. This also serves an important lesson to us as home performance contractors if we have a customer who is unhappy with the services your company provides, whether you think their compliant is justified or not and whether they complain publicly on Yelp or Angie's List or to you directly. I'm not saying the customer is always right, I've come across homeowners who try to take advantage of a situation and are not right. But let's say that you get an unhappy customer that writes a poor review of your company on Yelp. If that happens you need to reach out to that homeowner both publicly and directly for damage control. (Little known is that Yelp has a separate site for business owners where we can respond publicly in the comments section.)
When responding both publicly and privately there are 4 golden rules to follow
1. Contact the customer - you or the person involved need to respond both publicly and privately. Ignoring the compliant or comment is the worst thing you can do, it tells other potential customers you don't care and in today's world of constant advertisements your care and your time are things that cannot be bought and are meaningful and valuable to your customers. What you should not do is hire a PR company to do damage control for you. A good example of handling negative reviews online is from Seriously Social, where posted the "7 Reasons Not To Use Hootsuite". I've included a link to the original post. The interesting thing is not so much the article itself, but that the the VP at Hootsuite reached out and publicly responded to the article in the comment section. The author has since lightened heart and wrote an equally compelling post on the "7 Reasons Why You Should Use Hootsuite."
2. Apologize - "I apologize that happened and we will take care of it to your satisfaction." Or "I'm sorry. This is not how we like to do business." [and go on to explain tough situations that caused the problem if it is justified i.e. Tight attic space. A lack of training and your crew smoking in the attic should have no excuse.]
3. Empathize - "I understand how upset you must feel."
4. Make and plan for corrections - "I have met with our managers and we are developing a new training program to address the concerns you have brought to our attention." It is important that you actually make the changes you promise.
By showing you care, that you can understand why your customer is upset and that you will take corrective actions a customer really has to be hard nosed to not come around on their views of you and your company. If there mind is already made up and won't budge, by responding publicly you have diffused the negative snowball of PR that could easily get out of your control. Ignoring the comments and feedback you get is the worst thing you can do.
Let's face it, your company is your baby and any attacks on it can be painful to hear. I know I would rather have an employee steal a pair of snips before I see a negative review of my company online. The truth can hurt but the key is to not take it personal and realize that our customers feedback is actually valuable. It may be like a cold glass of water thrown in our face but it's better to shape up, fix the problems and keep moving forward. What do you think happens with companies that ignore their customers feedback? For a small business, word if mouth marketing always will be king and in a digital age where more of our customers are looking for reviews on the BBB, Yelp, Angie's List and Facebook if you have a bad reputation online, you are in a sinking ship unless you address head-on what your customers are saying.