In my webinar on "Understanding the Client Experience" a participant asked what can be done about negative customer comments on the web, that "may or may not be true."
First I want to specify that it doesn't matter if they're on the web or being spread by word of mouth, negative sentiments are always highly damaging to a firm. It takes four or five positive comments to make up for one disparaging one, which is a huge ratio considering those who are unhappy are much more likely to be vocal than those who are happy.
Second, whether or not the comments or thoughts are true, the reality is this: the impression is out there, that particular client feels wronged, and they are telling others about their unfortunate experience. This is all bad. Even if they have the facts of the situation mixed up, or they don't align with your version of the story.
So, what to do?
1. Get in touch with your client. Without delay. It might take you a bit of time to craft exactly what you want to say and how to address the issue, but this shouldn't mean you take a week to contact them. Reconnect with an apology and genuine interest in making the situation right.
2. If the sentiment is online, post a reply. Snarky responses, or "sorry this was your experience, but we actually didn't make this mistake" will not win you any points. Your other clients and prospective clients want to see maturity, empathy, and favorable resolution of the situation. Here are some examples, go ahead and leverage their words!
3. Don't go cheap on resolution. If they will feel all better if you send them to a nice dinner and refund 100% of their fees...take the plunge. In the end you want your client, who has recently despised you, to see you as someone who's not-so-bad after all. The cost of your resolution is much less than the cost of losing more clients and prospects from having bad press out in the marketplace.
How do you prevent this from happening in the first place?
Address concerns before they escalate into the big hairy monster of network and social media ills. Empower your team members to address concerns, divest yourself of your red tape inventory. And be sure to ask your clients for feedback so you can hear about potential issues that you may not be aware of before you're trying to remember what this post was called and how you can find it again.
You might also want to check out my workshops on the Recovering from Service Failures. We go in depth on how to discuss a sticky situation with a client, when to bring other people into the conversation and the benefits of giving options for solutions.
Your turn now to share. Have you seen any expert resolutions to ugly issues? War stories of horrible "don't ever do that" non-resolutions you've seen? Stories of heroes and villains are equally welcome.