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Dealing with online customers

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How to deal with the negativity of the customers you will never actually meet.

I was recently at a 7-11 getting gas when I looked up and saw that I can now get a Slurpee and gummy bears delivered directly to my home. As I stood there contemplating the decline of modern civilization I overhead two young men talking outside of the store. They were talking about their last Skip the Dishes online food order, and if you give the vendor a negative review, you’ll get free food. At first I was really appalled at this tactic of holding a business hostage with a negative review in order to get a free pizza, but then I stepped back to look at it from a brand management perspective and decided to do a little research on this topic.

With the evolution of the online world we have learned that the internet has become everything to everyone. Going out to eat at a new restaurant means that you will check the reviews to see what people who have eaten there think about it. Once you are at the restaurant you may check in on Facebook and post to your network that you are there.

Then you will receive a notification to review the restaurant and tell the world what you thought of your dinning experience. You’ll normally give them a whatever out of 5 star score and enter in a little bit of text about your experience. The restaurant will normally respond with a happy face or a thumbs up and the cycle ends. The review is then stored on Facebook, Google, Yelp etc. The more positive reviews that are gathered means more content for local search engines resulting in a higher ranking in Google for that business.

Now to the business of negative reviews. Every business is bound to have an unsatisfied customer for a variety of reasons. We all know that you can’t please everyone, but in this case you are dealing with a virtual customer who can talk tough behind a keyboard and knows that whatever message that they post, or receive, has tone to be interpreted by the person who reads the message. That is the worst part of the digital world. A person reading the message has to interpret the tone of the message, and no two people are a like. This means that when responding to a negative comment the business owner has to be extremely clear about how they respond.

I spoke with a friend of mine in the restaurant industry about this problem regarding online food deliver services like Door Dash and Skip the Dishes. He stated that they get 2-4 negative comments per week and it is typically from younger patrons. My friend said that it is all about how he responds to the negative comments. His rule is to start a compensation offer as low as possible. He does not lead with a free meal or a refund. He holds out on those.

He normally starts with free delivery on the next order and works his way up to half off the next order. He knows that it is a form of online bullying, so he keeps calm and turns the negative review into a positive online promotional piece for his business. He responds like a responsible business owner who is attempting to provide good customer service and a positive dining experience.

Now larger corporations like Wal-Mart can afford to just give the money back, or a straight exchange, if something is not right with a purchase. For small to medium businesses giving money back is always a hit on the bottom line, and multiple refunds can really start to hurt. It’s better to start with low compensation offers to customers who are unsatisfied as it always leaves room for that customer to come back and purchase additional items from your business.

Stay on top of your brand’s online profile. Make sure that any comments positive or negative are answered swiftly and not swept under the rug. Your customers are engaging with your business and want the satisfaction of being engaged with. This engagement shows that your business is socially responsible and cares about its clients. That’s how brand loyalty is built.

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