Responding to Negative Comments on Social Media: Key Principles

2 minute read (730 words) ·

Five practical guidelines to calm angry customers, keep things positive and avoid flame wars on brand social media pages.

1. The customer is always right. But so are you.

It’s the golden rule of all customer interaction. If the customer has a concern, it’s valid – end of story. Never disagree with or diminish their issue.

Remember, it’s easy to do this by accident. Jumping in with explanations, your own version or interpretation, bringing up counter-opinions or the views of other customers, are all ways of essentially saying “you’re wrong”. Which you mustn’t ever say.

Bad ✗

We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy the cupcake. We’re surprised, because that’s one of our bestsellers! Maybe give it one more try?

At the same time, it’s also rarely the case that you’re actually at fault.

Negative comments can be trivial, persnickety, sometimes even frankly idiotic. You can say you’re “sorry” they didn’t enjoy something: that’s empathy. But there is no need to apologise and bend over backwards with guilt unless there’s really been a mistake. Respect their opinion, but hold on to your dignity.

Bad ✗

We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy the cupcake. Please accept our profound apologies. We’ll change the recipe. Here is a voucher for your next cupcake.

Better ✓

We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy the cupcake. That flavour definitely divides opinion! I hope it hasn’t put you off trying a different flavour next time?

2. Don’t be defensive. It isn’t personal.

Negative comments can hit us in the adrenal glands.

  • You think your product is great. The customer just said it was abysmal. It would be easy to become defensive. Which will stoke the conflict.
  • The customer may be unreasonable, boisterous, or outright rude. Don’t let this affect your professional manner one bit. They want a fight. You don’t.

Your overarching goal is to deescalate the negative tone. Be the calm, understanding, helpful person that puts out the fire.

3. Address their specific points. Don’t be generic.

The customer has taken time to come to your page and give you specific feedback about what they don’t like. That’s something you might normally have to pay a market research company good money for.

So don’t give them a response that could apply to a hundred other comments.

Bad ✗

We’re sorry to hear you didn’t like the cupcake.

Better ✓

We’re sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy that flavour.

Best ✓

We’re sorry to hear you found our blueberry flavour too sweet. Have you tried our Lemon one? – that recipe uses less sugar.

4. Value opinions. Admit mistakes.

If the customer is angry that your product doesn’t have sprinkles, that’s just their opinion. And customer opinion is the most valuable thing in marketing. So thank them for giving it.

But we aren’t going to change a thing, just because of one customer’s opinion. This is an obvious truth, but it’s one that stings to hear aloud. So don’t negate your thanks by also telling them they are insignificant.

Bad ✗

Thanks for your comment. We’ll take this on board along with comments from our other customers.

Better ✓

Thanks for your comment. We’ll take this on board.

Many customers with the same opinion is an important signal. Sometimes, the customer has a damn good point. If so, don’t become the unreasonable one. Agree with them.

Of course, you may not have the power to address the issue. So tell them you’ll talk to the person that can.

5. Face up to the negative. End on a positive.

Your main task is to acknowledge the negative things the customer said, bravely and straightforwardly. This is the emotional low-point of your response, but it can’t be skipped.

Now we need to restore a positive tone. If you can actually resolve their problem, offer an alternative, change the product, give them a voucher or a refund (where due), great. But none of this is required simply to readjust the tone.

Instead, structure your response so you close with any of:

  • Acknowledging any positive things the customer said.
  • Reassuring them that their views have been heard and the issue they raised will be given consideration.
  • Thanking them for taking the time to give their thoughts.

It’s an emotional resolution. And often, it turns out that’s actually a full resolution in itself.

Now put us to the test.

Hit us with your worst negative comments! We posted this article on the networks below, where we’d love to hear your response. Did we miss anything out? Do you disagree? Does it need sprinkles?

While you're there, drop a Like or Share if this was useful so we know to write more like it in future.


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