Many people consult online reviews before spending money with an unfamiliar business. Whether they come across testimonials on Yelp, Google, or your Facebook page, word-of-mouth from other customers can be a powerful driver – or deterrent – when it comes to growing your business.

Knowing what people are saying about your business online is imperative to protecting the company’s reputation. Tweet This  Addressing critical reviews can preserve customer relationships, while listening to feedback may provide a window into challenges you didn’t even know your business was facing. When it comes to managing your company’s reputation online, there are several best-practices to be aware of.

Dealing With Customer Complaints

In all likelihood, your business is going to receive negative reviews and complaints online. There are several factors that influence this. One, of course, is the quality of your goods and services. If you’ve cut corners, expect to hear from dissatisfied customers. Even if you’ve delivered exactly what was promised, customer misunderstandings may cause them to vent their frustrations on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter. Finally, a certain segment of people may just like to complain. So what can a small business owner do to manage these reviews and comments?

In a word, respond. Encourage the customer to contact you privately via email or a direct message. More often than not, a humble apology and the attempt to fix a situation will go a long way to smoothing over hard feelings. If you’re in a position to do so, you might also offer them something like a gift card, or a second trial of your product or service, so that they can take away an entirely different experience. When things have settled down, consider reaching out to ask the customer to weigh in again. This can demonstrate to other online readers that you take customer service seriously.

Keeping Complaints Private

Ideally, you want frustrated customers to contact your company directly. Your Facebook page shouldn’t be a running log of complaints followed by apologies from customer service. Provide a contact email on your site and all receipts, then ensure that your employees understand how to respond to feedback. It’s much better to take a discussion private than risk an argument breaking out in a public forum.

You Can’t Please Everyone

There will probably be situations where you know the business is in the right, but a customer refuses to budge. Maybe you’re being attacked by someone who just wants to get a rise out of you. Resist the urge to fight dirty or badmouth them via email or social networks. You could be seen as a bully, and small disputes can get a lot of attention online. If someone continues to badger you with complaints, consider responding to their public posts with a respectful, matter-of-fact account of the situation. This can show others that you did your best to satisfy an unreasonable customer.

Can I Pay to Remove Negative Reviews?

Certain consumer websites exist to host complaints about companies. Many of them offer to arbitrate disputes for a fee, while other services promise to clean up bad reviews in exchange for your dollars. Business owners should be cautious when considering this kind of reputation management. No one can “erase” results from Google, and neither Facebook or Twitter offer this kind of service. Your money is probably better spent on other aspects of the business, rather than obsessing over one irritated customer.

Mine Reviews for Customer Pain Points

Some customers might have legitimate grievances. Keeping an eye on reviews about your business can clue you in to quality-control issues, logistical hiccups, and other challenges. Taking online complaints seriously may help you address problems that have been flying under the radar. In this respect, online reviews can provide valuable insights into how your business is doing.

Photo Credit: bugwugsmom, Twenty20