Last week, popular ice creamery Gelato Messina won praise on social media for its response to an angry online reviewer who called one of its employee's racist and derogatory names.
In a review titled "Worst Customer Service", posted on Urbanspoon for the Gelato Messina store in Parramatta in Sydney, a "diner from Sydney" claimed they received "unpleasant" and "rude service" in February.
Social media soon exploded with praise for the way Gelato Messina handled the complaint. Not only did they still respond to the complaint, they did not back down on their own values and tolerate the manner in which the diner chose to express themselves. Raising the question: what is the right etiquette when responding to negative feedback on social media?
Granted, the Gelato Messina example is on the extreme spectrum of negative feedback, it's increasingly common for small businesses to be faced with it online.
Responding to negative feedback
CONTACT THE REVIEW SITE
If you believe the review is untrue or not from a genuine customer, you can contact the review site to have it removed. Note: way easier said than done. Sites like Google Places and Yelp have strict standard practices that prevent them removing reviews as they are a forum for users to share both positive and negative opinions. They don't arbitrate disputes and more often than not they leave the reviews up.
READ AND FOLLOW THE SITE RULES FOR BUSINESSES
Most sites prohibit swearing, personal attacks and breaches of privacy. But there may also be some rules for responses that aren't so obvious (e.g. many sites prohibit advertising, ALL CAPS and links in responses). Read the site rules that apply to you. Each site also has rules for reviewers, and you should read these to help decide if a negative review breaks their rules.
STAY CALM AND COOL DOWN
Many business owners are upset or angry when they read a negative review. After all you're only human. A negative review is not good for your business, but a rude, aggressive or flippant response from you will damage your reputation even more. Be polite and professional at all times.
RESEARCH THE INCIDENT
Speak to your staff and get their side of the story, and communicate privately with the reviewer to find out more details.
OWN YOUR REVIEW PUBLICLY
Respond to each review publicly, addressing the issues while maintaining a professional tone. You can also choose to respond privately, but doing that will not allow potential clients to here your side of the story.
Online reviews aren't set in stone, by responding positively and offering a solution you give the reviewer an opportunity to change their review.
If the reviewer is baiting you into a back and forth, take the conversation offline immediately by asking them to PM you their email address or phone number so you can handle the situation away from the public forum.
Once you've communicated privately with the customer, post a public message outlining what you've done to resolve it. This will show you are responsive to feedback.
LEARN AND MOVE ON
Successful business people learn from negative reviews, improve their business if need be, and move on. Use each negative review as a chance to learn something new.