Take care of your online reputation

When entrepreneurs build a business, they invest in manpower, product development and getting the word out there about their company through advertising and marketing. They may invest in a great graphic designer or adopt creative marketing concepts to encourage potential clients to try their products. However, word of mouth and feedback from friends and relatives can also play a huge role in selling or pushing a customer away from a product.

I am influenced by what my friends think, especially about cosmetics and beauty products. If I want to purchase a new product, I ask my friends first if they have tried it, what they thought of it and whether they would recommend it to others. If my friends haven’t tried the product, I then check online to see what other customers say about it.

Before the internet and social media became an integral part of our lives, recommendations travelled between friends verbally. But with information now at our fingertips, we can check out product reviews all over the world, such as what a customer in Tokyo thinks of a Dutch brand.

Now when a customer is upset, as well as ranting about their experience to friends, they might address their concerns directly to the company through social media. I have noticed many UAE customers complaining online about their experience with a telecommunications provider or a bank.

So what should you do when a customer posts a bad review about your business in an online forum, or directly on your social media pages? The following tips might help to address the situation:

• React fast. Do not ignore the comment because that would look bad, and do not wait to reply either because you may lose your customer in the delay. A quick response shows that you provide great customer care, that you are there to listen and that you are transparent and have nothing to hide. How you word your response is also very important. It is best to direct the complaint offline. Provide a sincere apology such as: “We are extremely sorry for the trouble this has caused you. Please provide us with your phone number and email address so we could follow up with you and set matters straight”.

• Own up to your mistakes. If after investigating the issue, you discover your employees may have messed up a customer’s order, or the coffee served was indeed cold, then admit it. Customers are more likely to forgive and forget if you confess to a mistake. Show good customer service by making it up to them with a free voucher, another service or a giveaway. It is also important to address the issue with the staff member responsible to ensure it does not happen again. A nice gesture would be to follow up on the comment they shared publicly by thanking your customer for pointing out the error or sharing the experience and apologising for it. This shows other current and potential customers that you are reactive, caring and efficient in the way you handle matters. This brings me to the next point:

• Don’t respond to every complaint out there. Stick to those that are specific to your business and its customer service. Some people just complaining for the sake of complaining or just want to attack your company because they can do so anonymously. Do not engage with these types, as you might end up in a never-ending debate and risk being pulled into a childish conversation. With time, you will be able to differentiate between real customer complaints and those attacking the company just for the sake of attacking.

Always keep the bigger picture in mind. Great customer service is a pillar of a successful business, and one way of ensuring that is by responding to your customers’ complaints. A timely response and a quick reaction will help to stop the matter from escalating. However, keep in mind that not every negative reaction requires action.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai.

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