When a Negative Customer Experience Derails Your DayNobody enjoys a negative customer experience.

Not the customer and not the business—but it’s something we all experience more often than we like.

Back in the day, word-of-mouth was all we had to worry about.

But now? Not so much. Now, anyone with a keyboard and a social media account can take an organization to task—right or wrong. 

Off the top of your head, can you think of an instance in just the last week when a bad customer experience made the news?

(And I say in just the last week because they happen pretty regularly.)

While it’s not an example in the form of a bad customer experience, this does illustrate how quickly and easily something negative can take a massive turn online.

Last week, Trump tweeted that Chrissy Teigen is John Legend’s filthy-mouthed wife. And let’s just say that didn’t sit so well with her or her enormous number of followers.

The hashtag, “filthy-mouthed wife” was trending for a good 48 hours after Chrissy created it—and people immediately came to her defense. 

Social Media Provides All of Us a Megaphone

The amount of sites where people can—and do—complain is staggering.

And it’s not just on the social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. People leave reviews on Google and Yelp and even job search sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed.

Social media has given everyone their own version of a megaphone. 

A soapbox.

A sounding horn.

Whatever you want to call it.

Of course, we would all love to deal with everything in private to ensure our ideal customer experience and that problems are handled while the entire world is ignorant to our dirty laundry, but that’s just not how things work these days.

How Much Work It Takes NOT to Go Online

I am a big fan of meal delivery services because it makes weeknights significantly easier.

No meal planning, no grocery shopping, no “what do you want to have for dinner?” conversations.

And, with most services, I can still doctor the food as I would if I were doing it without the help. 

(As an aside, if you’re in Chicago, I cannot recommend Madison & Rayne enough. I love, love, love them, their service, and their meals. And I get nothing from telling you that, other than your undying love when you try them and you discover how life-changing they are. You’re welcome.)

A few weeks ago, I ordered three meals not from Madison & Rayne but another service I use occasionally.

It was to arrive on a Tuesday.

On that Tuesday, I received an email from them stating that their deliveries had been messed up and they were repackaging a box and overnighting it to me for Wednesday delivery.

When the box arrived, there was a big yellow “MONDAY DELIVERY” sticker on it.

I thought perhaps they just reused a box and forgot to remove the sticker.

But when I opened the box, oh holy hell! It smelled to high heaven. I’m surprised there wasn’t larvae in there ready to hatch into flies.

It was disgusting and I had to throw the entire thing away.

Which I really, really hate because Americans tend to be so wasteful and I’m on a mission to change that—at least in our house.

So now I was out three meals AND I had to waste a bunch of food and containers.

I immediately emailed their customer experience team to let them know and to ask them to please refund my money. I didn’t hear back.

Thursday came and went and nothing.

Friday morning, I emailed again. Nothing.

But it so happens I know someone who works there so I DM’d her on Slack and told her I didn’t want to complain publicly on social about it, but I needed some help.

(I also really hate to pull that card, but I figured that was better than my tweeting their handle where everyone could see it.)

And help she did!

I heard back almost immediately and they credited my account. To boot, they were extremely apologetic and acknowledged they were having some delivery issues.

In an Ideal World, They Will Do the Work

It’s not always like that. When a person is unhappy, there’s what you hope they’ll do and the total spectrum of what they could do—and you need to be prepared to deal with as much as you can foresee. 

Situations don’t always turn out as good as that one, nor will someone be able to DM a friend to get it handled or even DM the company to get some help.

In fact, most of the time, people go in the opposite direction. 

Because of this, you should be prepared to deal with as much as you possibly can imagine.

First, let’s explore what you want them to do.

In an ideal world, they’ll come to you privately and discuss calmly and patiently, their issue.

You can discuss what makes most sense for them and how you can make them happy without violating your values or affecting your bottom line.

If that’s ideal, how do you want them to contact you if there is a problem? And how quickly will you get back to them?

We talked about onboarding in July.

If you missed that, you can go read it but the gist of it is…how customers contact you—and how soon they can expect to hear back—should be part of your onboarding process. 

Consistency Is Key

Next, make sure there are team-specific and company-specific policies for handling customer complaints.

When I DM’d my friend about the meal delivery service, she told me the customer experience team was backed up (which matched the auto-responder I received from them) and that I definitely would not have to pay for the meals.

She also told me they had just changed delivery services and it was kind of a cluster.

When I did hear back from the customer experience team, they said the same thing.

The customer experience and the communications teams knew what to say and how to handle my complaint without making it worse—and they were consistent. 

Make sure you have policies for how things are handled, when something should be escalated, and what your team has authorization to do. 

Empower Your Teams

I’m reminded of Zappos, back in the day, and how their number one goal was not to sell more shoes, but to make it an extraordinary experience every time.

I saw Tony Hseih, the founder of Zappos, speak a few times (and I read his book and I followed him on Twitter…I might have been a bit obsessed).

He liked to tell a story of how every customer experience person (they weren’t called that, but now I can’t remember what they were called—experience ambassadors or something like that) was given a stipend to spend on every person who called in—complaint or not.

It was up to them to decide who, how, and what they spent it on.

That is the kind of customer experience every organization should employ and then, when there are complaints—and there will be complaints—every person leaves the situation happy and appeased. 

Taking It to Social Media

As it turns out, though, most people don’t take the route you would like them to take.

It’s far easier to get behind a computer screen, open your social network of choice, and go to town.

It’s also far more challenging to find a way to contact the big consumer, airline, telecom, utility, or hospitality companies that make it nearly impossible for you to talk to an actual human.

So blasting them on social media is often the only choice.

The last thing you want to have happen is to be lumped in with them.

So when that happens—and it will happen—make sure you don’t panic or take it personally, which is sometimes easier said than done.

I’ll admit there have been plenty of times I’ve written the response I wanted to write and then deleted and said to myself over and over again, “Crisis communications 101. Crisis communications 101.” 

Stay calm, be reasonable, and stay professional. 

There is a three-step process that works every time:

  1. Apologize.
  2. Address complaints publicly. 
  3. Move the conversation offline.

Apologize…and Mean It

Let’s start with apologize.

This is hard one because human nature dictates we get defensive when attacked.

The worst thing you can do is get defensive.

You have to apologize and mean it.

That could mean that you write what you really want to say without publishing it, let it sit there, and then delete it.

Then tell yourself, “This isn’t about me. It’s not even about the organization. It’s about the person and they’re unhappy. How can I fix it?”

This means, when you apologize, you don’t say, “I’m sorry, but…” and then make an excuse. You say, “I’m sorry. Here is what I’m going to do for you right now.”

A good example might be something like this, “I am so sorry, NAME. We never want our customers to feel like this. If you’ll DM me, I’ll be happy to fix this for you myself.”

Address Complaints Publicly

When you do this, make sure you address the complaints publicly.

This is more for your other social media visitors than for the person who is having the issue. 

Imagine, if you will, going to a brand’s Facebook page and seeing only complaints with zero response.

Or, almost worse, a response that’s used over and over again. 

How would you feel about that?

Even if it’s not right, it leaves a sour taste in our mouths.

Move the Conversation Offline

Address the negative criticism, apologize, and then ask to move the conversation offline. 

Being able to see that you addressed it, apologized, and gave the person a way to contact you is the very best thing you can do for others visiting your platforms.

How do you want people to reach you?

Email? Phone? Video chat?

Whatever it happens to be, make it as easy for them as possible.

Direct message them and ask how they’d like to discuss.

I will note here that on the phone is the most effective way to address complaints, but I also recognize some organizations don’t have that kind of bandwidth, nor will every customer want to take the time.

Make it easy for them, have a conversation, fix it, and apologize again. 

What About Review Sites?

People tend to turn to review sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews to help form their opinion before they buy from an organization. It helps their buying decisions, and, in certain industries, can carry a lot of weight.

Admittedly there is a lot you can’t control.

Hiding reviews is disingenuous, and deleting them is even worse.

And, in some cases, the review site will hide both good and bad reviews if you don’t buy their advertising.

But it also is often not as easy as apologizing publicly and taking the conversation offline. 

Let’s focus on what you can control. 

What to Do About One-Star Reviews

Earlier this year, Chris Williams from Planet Magpie wrote an article for Spin Sucks called, “How to Pry One Star Reviews Off Your Brand.”

He wrote about how to handle unhappy reviews and the steps to take to mitigate the risk.

He says, first and most importantly, answer this question: is the review legitimate (coming from a real customer)?

If so, reach out to the customer directly and see if you can fix the problem.

The best result is that they will either delete the negative review or adjust the rating.

And it’s perfectly fine to ask them to do it after you’ve helped them resolve the issue.

You also should respond to the review on the site for the same reason you do it on social media.

People who visit the review sites will see that you’re paying attention and are willing to do the work to fix a problem when it arises. 

If the review, however, is not legitimate, report it to the channel’s support staff.

You can’t remove reviews, but they can if you can prove it’s not legitimate. 

Sometimes Negative Reviews Are Helpful, Though

All of this said, some negative reviews, or at least mixed reviews, can improve your credibility.

We once worked with a prospect who told us they couldn’t find anything negative about us online so they didn’t think we were a real organization.

I always found that odd and it was probably just an excuse, but it’s an interesting point.

Negative and one- and two-star reviews do give you a certain amount of legitimacy.

I should have told her to read the reviews of Spin Sucks the book or check out the comments on some of our Facebook ads (although the negative comments about how I look or the lighting fixture in my dining room should probably be taken with a grain of salt).

We’re not perfect and neither is any other organization on earth.

The honest  reviews that are genuinely critical (and your responses to them!) can definitely improve your online standing.

What Are Your Customer Experience Policies?

The conversation about negative comments, reviews, and, well, people is an ongoing one.

We’d love to hear about your experience with all of this—what works, what doesn’t, and where you find you have the best results.

Let us know in the comments below or in the free (and fun and smart and liberating) Spin Sucks community

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich