Battling Negative Criticism

Jan 04, 2010

By Tom

to a survey from Econsultancy and bigmouthmedia, nearly one half (47
percent) of companies personally engage with consumers when dealing
with online negative criticism. The second most common response (mentioned
by 33 percent) was to focus on improving products to further address
any negativity.

few chose even more proactive methods:

  • Seventeen
    percent encouraged others to speak more positively about the company;
  • Fourteen
    percent attempted to get the offending comment removed by the publisher/blogger;
  • Twelve
    percent created content to push offending results down search ending

a sizeable 30 percent chose “None of the Above” – either not directly
addressing the negative criticism or not intentionally countering negative
comments with a focus on improved products or services.

asked about how they use Twitter, 47 percent said brand monitoring
and 27 percent said reacting to customer service issues and inquiries.
The highest use of Twitter was for publicizing new content, at 62 percent.

address this, there needs to be more education around how to deal with
negative PR and social media crisis management, as well as best practice
on how to engage in the first place,” according to the report. “There
is clearly an opportunity here for agencies to better educate their

Questions: What should and shouldn’t companies be doing when dealing
with online negative criticism from consumers?

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11 Comments on "Battling Negative Criticism"

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Max Goldberg
11 years 4 months ago

Dealing with online criticism is not a matter of agencies needing to educate their clients; it’s a matter of corporate culture. Brands need to be open to dialogue with their consumers. Social media is a great way for brands to engage. This means responding to complaints, trying to understand the problem and whenever possible fixing it. It does not mean using social media to push advertising messages to consumers. Brands that are afraid to engage consumers in dialogue will find that they have been passed by those that do. Ignore the opportunity to dialogue at your own risk.

David Zahn
11 years 4 months ago

The question is OUTSIDE of engaging consumers and improving product–which removes the best answer available. I am leery of the “gaming the system” approaches–while they are potentially successful currently, the cynicism that it evokes will quickly catch up with any company doing that.

Having said that, the more positive comments the better–but only if LEGITIMATE positive comments. Otherwise, it is transparent and not at all going to be a successful effort. In fact, it may taint the company, the brand, the product beyond what it would otherwise have had to endure based on a lone negative opinion.

Getting the negative comment removed is a good way to go–provided that the problem that led to the initial post is corrected. Turning a negative into a positive is always beneficial. But paying the poster off will eventually catch up with the company.

The issue is to address issues forthrightly and directly and acknowledge issues and then provide a corrective path. Anything short of that is poor customer service, bad business, and destined to fail.

David Biernbaum
11 years 4 months ago

Dealing with negative criticism about your company on message boards, blogs, etc, requires excellent training or assistance from well trained communication experts, in order to accomplish your true objective without making the situation much worse.

A few suggestions right off the top:

1. Give some true thought first and be objective to what the critic has written.

2. Post your responses in a professional but conversational manner. Avoid being either too “corporate,” but also avoid being overly emotional, defensive, personal, or resentful.

3. Write to the criticizer but also keep in mind that you will be judged by all the other readers besides the one that criticized your product.

4. Be sure that the responder in your company uses proper grammar and doesn’t misspell words. Clumsy responses will destroy credibility.

5. Don’t “scream” in your response but definitely address the issues.

6. Avoid phrases such as, “you’re not being fair” or “no one else has ever made that complaint.” To do so will almost for certain invite more trouble.

Phil Rubin
11 years 4 months ago

While there is usually no substitute for direct customer engagement when dealing with negative criticism via social media, there is often an opportunity to publicly address these issues as well. The more genuine (i.e., human) a company can appear in dealing with published negative comments, the more positive a company can appear, even when a company has clearly messed up.

Companies, customers, and people in general make mistakes. When mistakes are owned up to, they are much more easily forgiven.

Of course, at times there is negative criticism that can’t be helped, either because of circumstances (e.g., someone has to take the blame) or because the customer is not being remotely rational. These occasions are best left alone, as long as they are isolated.

Alyson Anderson
Alyson Anderson
11 years 4 months ago

I am amazed that almost 50% of companies said they respond to criticism online. I would guess it’s actually much lower and this was 50% of those surveyed and they were a technologically advanced bunch.

That said, retailers should be addressing criticism whether online or otherwise. It should be done in a positive and genuine manner (not bumping negative comments lower by adding in more positive ones! That will get you into a scenario like Yelp where no one trusts the comments as real.)

The comments are a bit concerning as I don’t think someone needs proper “training” but just general common sense and ability to communicate. Wherever possible, an unhappy customer situation should be diffused and turned positive. In cases where you are dealing with an irrational customer then you need to at least show the rest of the public reading comments that you can be above that without being disrespectful. Online comments should be treated the same as someone who came into the store disgruntled. You wouldn’t ignore them, would you?

Michael L. Howatt
Michael L. Howatt
11 years 4 months ago

I would like to know what companies were part of this study. I can assure you that the banking and telecommunications industries, and most creditors were not. Surely, the majority of companies monitor what being “chatted” about them but my guess is that most really don’t care all that much. These chats are not from their core customers so they won’t spend a lot of money reacting to negative publicity. Certainly not if it affects the size of their bonuses.

Cathy Hotka
11 years 4 months ago

Negative criticism online can mean two things: the customer has had a lousy experience, and the company’s own feedback loop is broken. The customer has probably tried to contact the company, only to be told that they’re not interested in fixing the problem, or have no escalation policy in place to get a complaint resolved. Frustrated customers may find that their only option is to go online to warn other potential customers. If you’re getting bashed online, you need to look at your processes to see why.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
11 years 4 months ago

Again, I agree with Phil. Asking someone to remove a negative comment on a blog or a post is like being in third grade and asking the school bully “to please be nice or I am going to tell my mommy on you.”

The benefit and wonder of the new media (whatever they end up being this year) is to be able to PRO-ACTIVELY address the negative comments and potentially salvage an interaction, a relationship, and customer. The ability to take a negative interaction to a positive is one that allows the company a chance to create a “raving fan.” This is what voice of the customer is all about.

If you do not address the issue, it will only grow larger and show your reluctance to be truly effective in this new media age.

James Tenser
11 years 4 months ago
There’s a difference between how companies should confront a few stray negative comments in a discussion thread or social media forum and a critical posting by a prominent blogger, I think. While “take note and ignore” is my usual advice for online potshots, some individual comments may merit personal and private follow ups from the company. If we treat these as opportunities to learn how to improve our service or product quality, they may even prove valuable. The customer who cares enough to complain about a disappointment may even be salvaged as a brand advocate–if we make an honest effort to address the issue. Bloggers are another story. If an individual is credible, has a following and makes persuasive arguments in his or her forum about the firm, it may be important to engage in a public dialog about the perceived wrong or shortcoming. “We hear you and we care about our customers’ experiences,” is a pretty good first line. “How can we make it better?” is often a worthwhile question to ask. If facts… Read more »
Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 4 months ago

At minimum, retailers should be addressing legitimate customer concerns that involve the retailer’s products and/or service(s). Do you want to wage a posting war with an angry blogger? Probably not the best use of time and bandwidth. But engaging real customers with real concerns on the ‘net is the best course of action for merchants.

Karen McNeely
11 years 4 months ago

Consumer feedback is some of the best free advice you can receive. The best plan is to understand the customer’s frustration, understand that if 1 person is taking the time to complain there are probably 5-10 (or more?) who feel the same way, then figure out how to fix the problem (if it is a valid one.

Taking a “we hear your concerns” approach and spelling out specifically, what changes are being made to make a difference is the key way to help your customer understand that you are doing whatever you can to make their shopping experience in your store the best that it can be.


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