How to respond when clients attack your business online
Social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic marketing channel to engage with clients. But on the other – it could turn ugly fast.
For social hell to break loose, all you need is one disgruntled client with an axe to grind.
And how you handle this situation could make all the difference to your business’s reputation.
Forewarned is forearmed
Even the best-run businesses occasionally mess up, which may cause clients to publish online complaints.
A solution is to have a strategy in place before this happens. That way, you won’t panic and worsen the situation.
So what’s the best response strategy?
1. Understand the issue
First, determine what caused the issue:
- Was your business at fault?
- Was it a misunderstanding?
- Was it the client’s mistake?
Then, respond accordingly.
For example, if a buyer complains about a real estate agent because their offer to buy a home was rejected, the real estate agent could:
- Tell the buyer they had a legal obligation to work in the seller’s best interests, not the buyer’s
- Explain to the buyer there were better offers, and explain why some offers are accepted and others not
- Suggest the client contacts a buyer’s agent, who could help them purchase a property
The first response, although accurate, is probably going to make the complainant angrier, because their problem isn’t solved and they won’t know how to solve it.
In the latter two cases, the potential buyer has more information and could act on it. The information will also help other buyers who are similarly frustrated by having their offers constantly rejected, which could make the real estate agent look good.
In this scenario, having scripted responses could be helpful. Make a list of common complaints and relevant responses that are polite, concise and helpful. (Hunter & Scribe could write them for you if that’s something you struggle with.) Then, all you need to do is select the right response, and publish it.
Another tip is to always respond with an apology first, even if your business did nothing wrong. The apology acknowledges the person has a right to be upset, and indicates you understand. For example, in the above example, a real estate agent could write:
“I’m sorry your offer wasn’t accepted. The seller was fortunate to have multiple offers. Although we’re not able, for privacy reasons, to discuss the details of the offers, you can read my blog on why offers are rejected to gain more insight. You could also consider talking to a buyer’s agent.”
2. Act fast (but not too fast)
Given the lightning-fast nature of social media, it’s important your business responds promptly to any complaint. But don’t fire off the first response you think of. Take your time to compose an appropriate reply and get someone to proof it before hitting send.
For example, if you have scripted responses, don’t immediately copy and paste a reply – wait a few minutes.
If you immediately publish a reply, the complainant might think you didn’t even bother to investigate the matter or take it seriously.
You could also calm the situation by writing:
“I’m sorry you had a bad experience with us, please give me a few minutes to investigate.”
(Even if there is nothing to investigate – the goal is to indicate you take the complaint seriously.)
3. Don’t be defensive
This follows on from point number two. Don’t immediately rush to defend your business. First, try to think about the problem from the client’s perspective.
Say a client complains about a mortgage broker because they couldn’t get a home loan. If the mortgage broker immediately responds with – “We couldn’t get you a loan because of your bad credit” – they’re going to make the situation worse.
The client is going to be upset that their dream of buying a home has been shattered, so address that first.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t help you get a home loan. We discussed your scenario with multiple lenders. Perhaps you could talk to a credit repair agency to check if anything can be done to improve your credit. It’s possible there are mistakes or duplicate entries on your credit report which are preventing you from getting a home loan.
You could also consider saving for a higher deposit. Although this is going to delay buying a home, it will save you money long-term because you’ll be financing a smaller loan.”
This reply is helpful because:
- It acknowledges the person has a problem
- It lets them save face, because you’re not telling them directly they have bad credit
- It tells them what to do next
Even if the response doesn’t calm the complainant down, it should make your business look good when others read your response.
4. Avoid sarcasm, insults and aggression
People will often side with the underdog or the perceived victim. So if you respond with aggression, you’re going to look like a bully, which will give the complaint more legitimacy – even if their complaint isn’t valid.
It’s also possible the person won’t know you’re being sarcastic, especially in a typed response where they can’t hear your tone of voice.
5. Be careful with humour
It’s okay to laugh at yourself to diffuse a situation. But don’t make the client the butt of the joke. When the client is already angry, a joke at their expense could add fuel to the fire.
6. Take it offline
Where possible, suggest continuing the conversation in private either through direct messaging or by phone call. That way, if you need to point out it’s your client’s mistake, you won’t publicly shame them.
7. Don’t delete
While it’s tempting to delete negative comments, that will probably make the client angrier and they might continue attacking your business.
Anyone who saw you deleting the post might also assume the complaint was valid and you didn’t want to admit or fix it.