In an era of social media and rapidly evolving technologies that allow people to communicate with their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and even perfect strangers in an instant, building a good reputation online is crucial to your brand’s success. Interacting and engaging with customers is simple, but knowing how to respond can pose some challenges for business owners, marketers, and company representatives.

Customer complaints can come in a variety of formats, especially online. People now write their own blogs, post their experiences to Facebook, Twitter, and a number of other social sites, and businesses need to be cognizant of the changing dynamics, which allow for even one negative comment to have an immediate impact. Businesses should focus on developing a strategy for handling any negative comments or complaints that appear online and inform all employees of these guidelines to avoid mishaps, missteps, and miscommunications. Without this foresight, some businesses have fallen prey to some of the most damaging mistakes that can be made when addressing negative comments or complaints.

One of my favorite blogs is dedicated to inspiring people to live their best life and to achieve their goals through the power of deliberate creation. Earlier this year, the blog author began having trouble with a well-known travel company. This problem has escalated to the point that the company is now suing the blogger for $1.5 million dollars for a blog post she wrote about the company’s handling of her situation.

The Story

The blogger and a few members of her family booked a vacation through a travel company and paid all required fees up front. The company later notified her that there would be an additional fuel surcharge of $750 per person. The blogger felt that these fees should have been disclosed when all other fees for the vacation were required to be paid. However, the company maintained firmly throughout the process that the fees were stipulated in the fine print of the contract, and they continued to pressure her to pay. The blogger was dissatisfied with the way the company handled the situation and cancelled her vacation. The company refused to provide a refund. The blogger sued the company for a refund and won.   Throughout this process, the blogger chronicled the events on her blog. One of the blog posts she wrote on the topic received a rousing response from her audience. An unnamed representative from the travel company responded to that post in the post’s comments section. The representative argued with the blogger and her aunt in the comments section, making abrasive comments and eventually stating that they were wrongfully peddling false information, i.e. lying. The result for the company was that the unpleasant exchange of comments became visible to the public.

How to Respond

While I doubt most organizations would go to the lengths that this company did to disagree publicly on a contentious subject, this story leads us to our short primer:

How to Respond to Customer Complaints Online

The Do’s

* DO respond to both positive and negative comments.

* DO post the contact information of someone within the company that can help to resolve the issue the customer is having.

* DO say something to the effect of: “We sincerely apologize that you are unhappy with X problem. Please contact Y representative, and he/she will assist you. We want to help resolve this problem to ensure your complete satisfaction with our product/service.”

* DO solve the problem to the best of your ability. A happy customer is a loyal customer. Even if the comment has been posted online, helping your disgruntled customers will build a solid reputation for your company. If your customer shares with her social pals that you were attentive to her needs and satisfied them to the best of your ability, you may gain a few new customers in the process.

* DO follow up with your customers to make sure that their problem has been solved.

  The Don’ts

* DON’T argue with or insult the customer.

* DON’T antagonize the customer on their personal social networking sites.

* DON’T post as an unnamed representative when speaking to the customer online.

* DON’T be disrespectful of the customer’s situation; try to be understanding.   

The Impact

There are a lot of questions as to why the blogger is being sued for $1.5 million by the travel company. A combination of the blog author’s post and the company representative’s abrasive comments has led someone within the company to ascertain that this will cost them $1.5 million in revenue, which demonstrates that it is imperative for companies to properly handle customer complaints online and offline to avoid monetary losses of this magnitude.   The travel company’s blog post comments could have been handled differently, which may have resulted in an entirely different outcome for the company. They are now part of the story. When facing a similar situation, a company can work to engage the customer positively online and try to resolve the issue offline to the customer’s satisfaction. If that isn’t possible, the company can still devise a solution that at the very least will leave behind a more constructive trail of commentary about its brand.


  The name of the blogger mentioned in this story is not directly disclosed for privacy reasons. If readers of this article would like to examine the blog post and comments section in question and judge for themselves as to the course of events described there, they may visit: