Don’t Preach To The Wrong Audience

June 4, 2008


The Internet can be like a jungle for businesses. If you screw up, someone will probably blog about it, review it, or write in a forum. Now unless you’ve done something completely insane, a bad review probably won’t kill your business. But the way you respond just might.

When someone writes a horrendous review of your business, or posts in a discussion forum that your product sucks, its easy to get defensive - especially if the review was unwarranted. The trouble is, your response could deter thousands of readers from using your business.

I research travel a lot, for a couple of websites I own and also for my own personal needs. And lately, I’ve noticed a few people screwing up online because they don’t respond to criticism properly. Here’s a couple of things you don’t ever want to do:

Anonymous Commenting: If someone writes negative stuff about your business, never ever make an anonymous comment. It will just make things worse for you.

Recently, I read an article on a low cost airline that had a reputation for long delays and completely cancelling flights at the last minute. The airline really made things worse for themselves when they commented anonymously on the article. They were not apologetic at all and they were extremely rude to several commenters.

It was obvious to most readers that people from the airline were posting anonymously because they knew too much - they mentioned particular planes, flights etc.

The airline had a great opportunity to admit that they’d had problems and explain how they’d improved things. But instead, they showed that they didn’t give a toss about the customers they’d let down.


Attacking Customers:
I read a series of bad reviews on one hotel on trip advisor. The owner responded to every single one, by attacking and criticising the writer of the review.

This was a huge mistake because everyone who read his comments could see that if they had a bad stay with the hotel, he simply wasn’t prepared to put things right.

So Should You Just Ignore Negative Comments Completely? This is even worse than responding defensively, because it makes it look as though you don’t give a toss what your customers think about you. It’s always best to respond to negative comments by apologising for any problems, explaining what you’re doing to improve things and inviting the commenter to email you.

How do you feel when you see a business responding negatively to customer complaints on the Internet? Would it put you off using that particular company? Have you ever used a product or service based on Internet reviews? Was the review accurate? Do you think companies posting fake and misleading reviews of their own product should be legally punished?

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9 Responses to “Don’t Preach To The Wrong Audience”

  1. Akemi - Yes to Me on June 4th, 2008 10:01 pm

    The company’s proper response is critical, but at this time, I think companies (esp big ones) still have so much room to wiggle away from customer comments that deserve attention. If the comments were on the company’s site, they can delete or modify them. If the comments were on public forums — well, there are so many forums that prospective customers are not so likely to find the right reviews.

    I’ve had movers canceling the service the day before the scheduled date (affecting my business schedule) or restaurants with questionable sanitary standards . . . they get away with it.

    From the business owner’s perspective — I don’t have much to add to your post. Don’t get emotional, take care of the issue with integrity.

    Akemi - Yes to Me’s last blog post..Yes to Me Month Three & Four Review

  2. Barbara Swafford on June 5th, 2008 6:16 am

    Hi Catherine,

    First off, it is so great to see you posting again. I have missed my “Cath lessons for business”

    I do think some businesses will start a blog/forum off with their own comments—mostly positive, of course.

    If I’m looking to use/buy a new product, I usually do online research. I rely on Consumer Reports and also look for independent reviews. If too many of them are negative, I won’t buy the product.

    I agree with you on the point of companies addressing the negative remarks head on. Like you said, offer an apology, etc. Some companies will go so far as offering money back or a replacement.

    In some instances, fling a complaint with a regulatory agency (in the US) may help to bring the problem to the surface, and may get the company fined, or in the case of a restaurant, closed (if the problems are bad enough). .

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..The Law Of Attraction In Action

  3. Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom on June 5th, 2008 7:55 am

    I think that bad reviews on the Internet are already evidence that the company concerned has mishandled the situation and treated the customer with disrespect. Customers generally only take their complaints to a public forum such as the ‘net when they haven’t had a satisfactory resolution to their problem at the time that it happened. This isn’t to say that a customer whose problem was resolved with integrity won’t still post a bad review, but these customers tend to mitigate their reviews by mentioning the trouble that the company took to ensure that their complaints and bad experiences were attended to with due care and attention. In this case, other potential customers feel reassured that if they experience a problem they won’t be fobbed off with an excuse and rudeness. I don’t think customers expect companies to be perfect 100% of the time, but they (we!) want to know that they will treat us well when something goes wrong.

    Mags | Woo-Woo Wisdom’s last blog post..Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

  4. Hunter Nuttall on June 5th, 2008 1:59 pm

    I agree that you certainly don’t want to make things worse with your comments. If someone is sincere in their complaint, you should try to resolve the matter. But sometimes people don’t want the problem to be fixed, they just want to win the argument.

    I remember a case of one blogger viciously criticizing another. The attack was unwarranted and extremely rude, calling her a “dumb scamming b*tch” and so forth. She tried to address his complaints openly and calmly, but then had to just let it go, because he wasn’t going to change his mind.

    Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..Blog Profits Blueprint - Make Money Blogging (Plus, Me Vs. Yaro)

  5. Mrs. Micah on June 6th, 2008 12:00 am

    Have you read Anne Rice’s tirade? She posted it on Amazon.com against some people who were criticizing one of her books, I think it was Blood and Gold. At least it was a “nonymous” rant (which I’m guessing would be the opposite of anonymous). ;)

    I’m rather terrified of the internet when it comes to consulting and the like. I have a blog and a reputation which I’m using to market myself. But they could also be seriously harmed if someone dislikes my service, even if I do nothing wrong. I sometimes joke with people that my blog is my collateral (mostly blog friends)…it’s really true.

  6. Cath Lawson on June 6th, 2008 8:58 am

    Hi Akemi - That is true, most of them will be hoping that prospective customers don’t see the bad reviews. But more and more people are using the Internet to research big purchases now, so hopefully many of these complacent companies will be caught out.

    Hi Barbara - Thank you. Yes, quite a few companies seem to have their own forums now. I guess that is a smart move as it makes it easier to monitor complaints and problems if you keep them all in once place.

    Hi Mags - exactly. People are more inclined to buy if they’re confident that you’re going to put any problems right.

    Hi Hunter - I think I know which blogger you were talking about. I would hate for someone to criticize me in that way online. But apparently the blogger who was doing the criticizing doesn’t make money from their blog and it isn’t tied to their business. So I guess it wouldn’t have affected them all that much.

    Hi Mrs M - I can’t find it. I wonder if she’s deleted it? I can only find four of her reviews on other books.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Don’t Preach To The Wrong Audience

  7. Kari Rippetoe on July 10th, 2008 3:35 pm

    Great post, Cath! Business owners and company representatives who think that getting defensive and putting down their customers will further their businesses are dead wrong. It only makes themselves and their businesses look worse than they did before and puts off more prospective customers.

    Positivity begets positivity. I once posted a question on LinkedIn asking for recommendations for an email marketing provider other than Constant Contact. I did this because I had a bad over-the-phone customer service experience. It wasn’t more than a day or two later that I received a call from the director of customer service at Constant Contact. He apologized and listened to my feedback. He wanted to make things right. And you know what? I continued to use them.

    Kari Rippetoe’s last blog post..Blurring the Line Between Personal and Professional

  8. the baldchemist on July 11th, 2008 9:27 am

    Hello again Cath.
    Interestingly, I made a critical comment on a guys “got something to say”. He didn’t like it and put out a spammer alert about me and our site!
    So, thinking about it, if you have anything that may be deemed negative to say about anyone or anything - then don’t.
    Not that it bothers me too much, our site is an information only but beware of what and who you say it to.
    Good to read your articles again Cath. Thanks. The Baldchemist

  9. cathlawson on July 12th, 2008 11:05 am

    Hi Kari - That is a brilliant example. When businesses put things right it encourages us to want to stay with them.

    Hi Baldchemist - that was a bit unfair marking you as a spammer. If I get really mean comments and they’re personal - eg. there to attack me rather than contribute to the discussion, I put them in spam. But if someone is just criticising what I have to say - the comment stays - so long as they’re not using profanities etc.

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