There are three basic types of information that you will need to manage: good information you post about your business; good and bad information posted by your customers about your work; and, in the worst case, bad information posted by your competitors.
Here’s how to manage these three types of information.
1. Good Information You Post about Your Company
This is a no-brainer and a gimme. If there’s a place online to list your company or ‘claim’ your listing, do it. The more information you get out about your company, the better. It also has the advantage of promoting in search the content you want your customers to see.
For example, did someone have a bad experience with your company and post about it on a blog? First, comment on the blog, apologize, and say you’re working to improve. Second, try to improve your image and fill out your information on other sites, so hopefully those sites will appear higher than the blog post in a Google search for your company.
2. Mixed Information Posted by Your Customers
The customers that glow about you are the easiest to handle – they don’t even need to be responded to, other than a ‘Thanks!’ However, if you run a business with more than a few dozen customers, it is inevitable that someone will one day find something not-so-nice to say about your company online.
There are two principles in responding to a negative customer review: First, do no harm. Second, the customer is always right.
Whatever you do, don’t overreact and claim that the customer is crazy. The allegation is out there; now that the complaint has been published, there’s nothing you can say in response to that person to dispel the suspicion. Unless the complaint is an outright lie, there is usually some truth to a negative customer review – that’s why consumers find them so helpful.
The best way we’ve found to respond to a negative online complaint is to acknowledge that you saw the complaint, apologize that the customer had a bad experience, announce that you’re conducting a review of the problem that led to the complaint, and work to improve whatever it is that annoyed the customer.
In the short term, the best thing to do is to apologize. In the long term, the best thing to do is to work on improving that part of your business that consistently receives the worst feedback.
3. Bad Information Posted by Your Competitors
Here’s the worst-case scenario: A competitor, miffed customer, or ex-lover posts false allegations about your company all over the internet. When this happens, you need to shift into ‘damage control’ mode.
First, find out what happened. Sometimes what happened is obvious – someone left a libelous review on an online listing of your company or is defacing your reputation over social media. However, we occasionally see some underhanded tactics that can be pretty sneaky.
For example, small businesses will sometimes email customer support representatives of major online listing companies alleging wrongdoing by their competitors. We receive emails every week from small business owners alleging that a house cleaner is unlicensed, a contractor is cheating their customers, or a caterer is untrustworthy. Each site has different policies when this happens – in our case, we will temporarily remove the listings of both parties from our site until we find out what happened and the dispute is resolved.
Second, it turns out that many online “attacks” by competitors or customers are actually true. Small businesses may be unlicensed or provide bad customer service. The best way to respond to such attacks is to provide some evidence – documentation, a customer testimonial, anything – that what the competitor said isn’t true. Do you have a license? Scan it and post it online. Is a competitor claiming that you cheat your customers? Find some of your best customers to speak out on your behalf. If you have evidence to support your claim, you’re safe regardless of what may be thrown at you.