A recent New York Times article lays out exactly how companies should not respond to negative reviews online. In short, don’t sue people who don’t like your services.
The article details how Justin Kurtz, a Michigan resident, had his car towed from his apartment complex even though he had a valid parking permit. The error lead to Kurtz having to pay $118 to T&J Towing, the company who had towed him in the first place. Needless to say, he was pretty pissed. So he created a Facebook group devoted to T&J’s transgressions. It became very popular with over 800 members who shared similarly unhappy tales as Kurtz.
How did T&J respond? Did they reach out to Kurtz and try to make it right? Did they start responding on the Facebook group and being proactive about changing their reputation? Nope. They sued Kurtz for $750,000 for defamation.
Obviously this is an extreme reaction and T&J are lucky because they’re in a state that doesn’t restrict these type of lawsuits but really, I think it’s hard for most companies to deal with critical customers.
At my other company, I did kind of a terrible job of reaching out to upset customers when negative reviews would appear. Customers who tried our products and were unhappy would post negative reviews to various forums and I found it hard to not take what they said personally. I rarely tried to engage these customers and so, the only thing that stood was the negative review. My response wasn’t out there. People viewing the review would assume that the customer’s experience was typical because I was silent.
The thing that I realized after a few years is that, although negative reviews sting quite a bit, they’re not really personally aimed at you. They’re opportunities to impress the complaining customer. Opportunities to impress folks who come upon the unflattering review. A chance to make things right. My team now tries to reach out to upset customers and make sure we can satisfy them.
Obviously, that’s not always going to be possible. Some people are just upset and the more you try to help, the more upset they get. But by being proactive, you can show you care and that their experience was atypical.