Responding to Complaints Online: a 4-Step Approach

Service Recovery

Remember what it was like before social media, that if someone had a complaint, they had to call you up and tell you directly?  And if they were to tell people, it was their personal friends and family, or other people that they knew in real life?  Those were the good old days.  Due to shifting consumer trends combined with advancements in social media, the audience that your guests now have has magnified exponentially.  Any subpar experience that you provide or any guest that you’ve failed to serve properly can now tell people all over the world, and with enough vocalization of public complaints, this can cause irreparable damage to your business.

Hopefully, you have systems in place for a) responding to feedback online, and b) resolving service failures through effective complaint resolution.  What about c) both?  This can be trickier.  You want to show off your communication skills, while simultaneously proving the opposing argument that they are claiming.  In some cases, you may have the natural desire to flat out tell the guest that they’re wrong.  But the world is watching, so be careful.

Here is my recommended four-step process for addressing complaints that specifically come up on social media platforms, including TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Google Reviews, or any other platform that your guests have at their fingertips to share their thoughts.

Don’t copy and paste.  I can count too many times when I have read through TripAdvisor or another review site and saw the same exact response to a similar complaint.  I know it saves time, but it comes across as manufactured.  There are standard-form responses that you are able to get away with when communicating with guests privately, but when it’s online, it has to be specific to that guest and that complaint.  You should create a general outline and set of standards for correspondence, but never post a verbatim response twice.

Thank them for the feedback.  Any time a guest expresses any form of feedback, whether positive or negative, public or private, it is worthy of expressing your appreciation for it.  Yes, you would have preferred that they called or emailed you directly, but this is still feedback that you can use to help your business improve.  Always thank the guest for taking the time to share their feedback on their experience.

Validate, but stress that it is atypical.  The most difficult part of complaint resolution is letting the guest be right, even if they may be wrong.  Sometimes people will say things that might not have any truth to it.  While you want to set the record straight, this is not the time to become defensive or argumentative.  If the complaint is subjective, then perhaps there was dip in your standards.  If you say something to the effect of, “I understand how this situation would frustrate you, but want to assure you that what you are describing is not a usual occurrence,” it comes across much softer than if you were to say, “You stated that X, but it is actually Y.”

Take the conversation offline.  Never end your response to a complaint by saying that you hope they consider visiting again in the future.  This is an empty gesture that comes across insincere.  Show the guest and other readers that you are committed to making this right.  Provide a direct phone number or email address and stress the urgency that the guest contact you right away so that you can discuss their concerns in greater detail.  If you are on a platform where you can message them directly, do so, and indicate in the public platform that you have contacted them privately and look forward to resolving their concerns.  Also, never issue any type of compensation on a public forum.  This will train your guests to complain online instead of to you directly, and even worse, it will attract people to post who have never even visited, to test how easily you give away free stuff.

Social media can be a great tool to generate feedback that allows your loyal guests to share their enthusiasm, while also giving you constructive feedback that you need to grow and improve your business.  But it can also be an arena full of adversaries airing your dirty laundry.  Using these steps can help subdue the negative effects that online complaints can have on your business.  And once you’ve taken the guest offline, you can then follow through by implementing proven methods of service recovery.

Joshua Liebman
Originally posted November 10, 2017

Joshua helps attractions understand and improve their guest experience.  As the Director of Business Development for Amusement Advantage, Joshua specializes in mystery shopping, quality assurance consulting, feedback analysis, and guest experience training.  Amusement Advantage proudly serves more than 500 attractions across the US and Canada.

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