In the early days of Social Media marketing, negative feedback posted online had many a business owner avoiding Social Media.

If you remember, before the early 2,000s anyone wanting to make a complaint to a business would visit the premises, phone or send an email. And for the most part, the problem, whether legitimate or not, was contained within the walls of the business.

Social Media changed that! 

As social media became an everyday part of life and the public by then viewing a business with zero online presence as a red flag, business owners had to embrace social media whether they liked it or not.

From there consumers began interacting with businesses in a way they had never done so before.  Today it is the norm for consumers to post feedback, comments reviews and of course complaints on to company social sites.

Now given we know enough negative feedback is enough to harm a reputation or even ruin a business, negative feedback posted publicly to a company social site cannot be ignored or taken lightly.

The Travel Agent “What Should I do?”

Most small business owners are often intimately involved in their business and will remember the person complaining from their initial visit to the shop or conversation over the phone.  For them, a subsequent complaint posted on Facebook can feel like a personal blow to them.

A few years ago I received a call from a Travel Agent who was genuinely upset about activity on his Facebook brand page. He told me about regular clients of his, a couple in their 60s, who he’d booked on a trip to Greece.  Arriving into their hotel the couple called and asked for a change of room.  The Travel Agent responded by telling them the best course of action was to go down to reception and request the hotel do it on their behalf.

Now listening to the travel agent share that story I thought it a reasonable response but then I’m a fairly independent traveller and couldn’t imagine making a call like that in the first place.  But it wasn’t good enough for this couple who took full umbrage with the Travel Agent and called home to share it with their adult daughter.

The daughter followed that with a call to the Travel Agent who explained as he had to her parents, getting a room changed was better managed at the location itself.  Unhappy and angered with that response the daughter took to the agent’s Facebook page to vent about the “deplorable customer service”, “attitude of the Travel Agent”, and “overall bad experience.”

What happened next was like throwing petrol onto a simmering fire.

The Travel Agent, who is located in a small town in Ireland, where everyone knows everyone, deleted the comments posted by his client’s daughter.

Now the problem in doing that is, the person venting is waiting to see how you (page administrator/business owner) react to their online complaint.  They’re already all fired up so how you respond is crucial.  The worst possible thing to do is delete the comment.

We’re Looking for a Reaction

Think about it.  If you’re in an argument in the offline world, or instigating one, you want a reaction of some sort from the other party.  Someone shutting you down, i.e. ignoring you, walking away is going to make you even angrier.  In the online world, deleting a comment is the equivalent of walking away or ignoring the person.

After deleting the comment on his Facebook page, the client’s daughter now thoroughly enraged jumped back on the company Facebook brand page, repeated her earlier grievances while adding it was a company who, if they didn’t like your comment, would remove it from their page.  At that point, the post was beginning to draw unwanted interest from other followers of the page and that’s when I got the call with the question “What do I do?”

Containing the Problem

As a rule of thumb, when a complaint is posted on your page, a good way to begin your response is,

“We’re sorry you’ve had that experience…”

Follow that with whatever is relevant to the complaint bearing in mind that aside from showing a desire to resolve the issue, your objective should be to move the complaint offline.

An example as follows

We’re sorry you’ve had that experience.  We pride ourselves on offering an excellent customer service at all times and this comes as a surprise to us.  We will of course investigate your complaint so please PM (private message) us your contact details (or details of what happened) and we can proceed’

When a customer is reasonable this should help to move things offline. However, if the customer has another agenda like pushing for some form of compensation, they may persist with further comments on the page, even insisting investigation results are posted online (which you won’t do).

If this happens, keep your cool, stay professional and respond with something along the lines of

“We are in the process of investigating this matter *name* (use their name – it makes it more personal) but we do need to check some more details with you.  Could we ask again that you PM (details) your contact number.  Many thanks.”

Perception Can Kill a Business

The purpose behind responding like this is about consumer perception.  Perception can kill or enhance the success of a business.

If a new visitor to your site checks visitor posts (and they do) what you want them to see is a company who responds to comments and tries to resolve issues – which can be critical to them making a judgement call about buying from your company.

If you find yourself dealing with someone who is hell bent on keeping the communication on the page and you’re struggling to remain calm, get someone to take over or go get a coffee and give yourself a few minutes to regroup.

It is all too easy to let our emotions take over as we can feel insulted or attacked when being battered online.  But you need to avoid hitting the keyboard and posting an angry response from the business as this will escalate things to another level altogether.

Tone & Language

if the Travel Agent had not deleted the first comment posted to his page and responded similar to above, he had some chance of containing the issue instead of escalating it.

When he called me, we were into damage control – and the last comment posted by the client’s daughter needed a response and quickly.

Together we crafted a message along the following lines,

“We’re so sorry (name) that you feel we haven’t been helpful.  Your parents (name) and (name) have been travelling with us for many years, we know them well and they’re important customers of ours.  When your parents called asking us to change their hotel room, our suggestion to ask reception to do that was based on years of experience and knowing it was the better option for a faster result. We meant well in our advice rather than it been a shirking of responsibility as your parent’s travel agent.”

As others will see your response, the use of neutral language and the personalising of your response can help to dampen down the fire.   That’s your primary objective for if you reach that point it becomes easier then to achieve a resolution or compromise.

The Exceptions

There was a time when I’d say, “Whatever you do, don’t delete comments” and follow the steps I outlined above.  However, over the years the public has become extremely aware of the impact negative posts can have on a business and some will use a number of tactics in order to receive a resolution that suits them.   Therefore I’ve altered my advice and say, ’there are exceptions!’

One example is the person who has made contact with a business but not liking the company response bombards the Facebook brand page.

One tactic (and there are lots of others) is the poster copying and pasting the same message to several of your page’s post.  In this scenario, it is sufficient to reply to just one of those messages e.g.

 ‘Hi *name* we have already responded to you (by phone/email) and ...’

Follow that with a some details about how you tried to resolve the problem.  Remember, others will read what you post.

In this scenario, it is absolutely fine to use Facebook’s ‘Hide’ option on the repeated posts.  If the poster continues spamming your page, you have the option on Facebook to ‘snooze’ them for 30 days or ban them outright.  That last option I tend to leave for those who have crossed the line like using profanity or becoming personally abusive.  (Note: Do you have House Rules set up?)

Minimise Online Conflict

Finally, if someone is complaining online, a timely response from your business will go a long way to nip further conflict in the bud.

If someone is already steaming about an issue they have with your company, leaving a message, or a post unattended will annoy them further.

Do you remember the days of heading into a service of some kind, queuing up  and when you got to the counter, the person dealing with you took a call from a customer and proceeded to handle them while you stood waiting? How did you feel? Who had priority…you or the person on phone?

In this very digital world we live and work in, I hear businesses say walk-ins,  phones calls and emails are priority with online contact often left for hours even days before getting a response.

The thing is, the customer contacting you online wants you to prioritise them just as much as any other customer.  You need to know that and particularly so if you have someone kicking off on your social sites.

To your success!


Carole Smith, SynNeo

Carole Smith is an online marketer who helps businesses learn how to effectively use the social channels to grow their business. Her company, SynNeo offers 1-to-1 and group training delivered online or onsite at your chosen location.

To contact us for more details


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