Julian Gratton

7 strategies for dealing with difficult online conversations and feedback

We’ve all seen them. The Mr. or Mrs. Angry reviews that litter places like Trip Advisor, Twitter and Facebook etc. How we answer these people online is massively important, especially as a large proportion of people judge a company on how they handle online responses.

We’ve all seen them. The Mr. or Mrs. Angry reviews that litter places like Trip Advisor, Twitter and Facebook etc. How we answer these people online is massively important, especially as a large proportion of people judge a company on how they handle online responses.

So to help you handle negative reviews and comments online, I’ve compiled together 7 tips to help you construct a response. Check them out below and feel free to suggest any others in the comments box at the bottom of this page.

1. Thank the reviewer

Whatever the reason for posting, good or bad, starting off with a ‘thank you’ is a no brainer. Especially as they have taken time out of their lives to give you their thoughts.

Remember though, there are better ways to say ‘thank you’ than saying those two words. Be inventive with your thanks, more human and genuine… it will go a long way to putting them off-guard.

Here are some examples for you:

“Thanks for getting in touch. Naturally I’m very concerned to read this and very keen to look into exactly what happened for you…”

“Hi Rosie, I’m glad you’ve taken time to get in touch with us. We want to make sure everyone who eats with us enjoys the experience…”

“Hi Tom, having people like you take time out of their busy day to message us about their experience is something we really appreciate… even if the feedback isn’t great…”

2. Sandwich the negative

By sandwiching your response to the negative remark with positive statements you will decrease the importance of the negative message. Study the comment or review you’ve received closely and look for any opportunity to highlight a positive about your company or offering.

Take a look below at how you can do this:

“Hi Kerry, thanks for getting in touch. You know I think the fact that we change our menu every few months is great as it means we can always surprise people with new and interesting dishes. I’m obviously concerned, though, that the new Salmon dish you ordered did not meet your expectations and you felt ‘short changed’. I’ll make sure that your feedback is raised at the next Staff meeting where everyone at the pub gathers round to hear feedback just like yours to help us become better at…”

3. Turn the negative around

This is similar in a way to sandwiching the negative in that you’re looking to find a positive within what’s been leveled at you online. Handled correctly, a negative comment is a great opportunity to draw attention to your business’s many positive qualities if you can use it to highlight your strengths. See below to see exactly what I mean:

“Hi Rosie, I’m glad you’ve taken time to get in touch with us. We want to make sure everyone who eats with us enjoys the experience. I’m sorry to hear your comments about the service you received and how you felt we fell short on your last visit. The guys at that particular restaurant serve hundreds of customers a week, and they strive to create the best possible dining experience for everyone who walks through the door. I know they’ll be gutted that you feel you were treated badly as the feedback they often receive is full of praise for how they stay calm during our busiest periods…”

4. Be human

Conversations among human beings sound human’, and are ‘conducted in a human voice’ that is ‘typically open, natural and uncontrived’. The problem with many customer service responses to comments is that they sound wrong to our ‘online ears’ especially as they are written in a tone that seems stifled and robotic.

Look to use language that is accessible, engaging and empathetic while remaining at core professional and objective. Avoid jargon and respond direct to the individual or group using their actual names. ‘Dear valued customer’ doesn’t wash it with customers increasingly expecting personal attention.

“Hi Jennie, first of all thanks for taking the time to tell me about your visit to our store in {location here}. It came as a bit of a surprise to me to read about your experience and I’d like to find out more about what went on. I’ll speak to some people at that particular shop and find out if they can remember your visit. If you wouldn’t mind just telling me a bit more about what happened that would be great… you can email us here if it makes things easier for you…”

5. Avoid the non-apology apology

When you need to say sorry online then make sure you say sorry properly. Refer back to the reasons why that person has complained and cover off all the points they have raised. Also demonstrate with an action how you are going to deal with the issue that they have raised… see point 7 with regards a tip on actions.

Notice how in this response we are now speaking to The Managers at the store and not just ‘some people’ as in the previous response in point 6. When you need to say sorry properly make sure you escalate titles from standard responses.

“Hi Louisa, first of all thanks for taking the time to tell me about your experience at your local {store name}. It does sound from reading your review that there are some issues that need to be addressed and I would like to apologise if you feel that we have fallen short on this occasion with our {specific reason here}. I’ll speak to the Managers at the {store name} for you so we can make sure our high levels of service are maintained at all times. If you could just message me so I can arrange for someone to give you a call to discuss this matter further that would be great…”

6. Make the negative personal to them

We’re all different. What annoys one person might not annoy another, so if there is a way to highlight this then do so… usually the easiest comment to do this on is one involving price. See below for what I mean… I’ve highlighted the relevant sections of the response for you.

“Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to write to us here on Trip Advisor. Our new Summer menu has been a big hit with lots of customers. I’m sorry to hear though that you felt the Salmon dish was over-priced. Like you say, it’s good that we source this salmon locally as like you we believe big companies like ours should support local suppliers… sadly sometimes a result of this is that we do have to charge a little more for some premium products and we generally find that customers don’t mind paying a little more if it helps local traders…

7. Tell them how you have acted or how you will act

Ok, this is one that many people may have a problem with as I’m essentially telling you to lie in your response. Not a big lie, though, just a little one. So think of it as more expedient exaggeration!

People love to know that their voice is being heard, that their complaint has ears and is being taken seriously or used in a staff meeting or training session. So give them that satisfaction… they’ll never know that it’s not the truth!

“I’ll make sure your issue is raised at the next weekly staff meeting…”

“I’m due to speak with the Manager of that pub this week so I’ll be sure to mention your visit…”

“I’ve already spoken with the Manager at the restaurant and she’s looking into this matter for me…”

The most important strategy of all

A business is nothing without its customers. So consider every communication you have with your customers as an opportunity to impress them. Keep in mind that all feedback is good feedback. Anything that sheds light on how your customers perceive the product or service you offer is valuable information. So treat it so. Whenever a customer complains remember the three-take rule: take it seriously, take the time to respond properly, and take action.