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Dealing with haters? Here’s how.

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Bad press can come from anywhere these days – blogs, social media, your local rag. If people are real haters they can even give your company grief on a dedicated website (remember the AOL sucks fiasco?). We live in a global village where everyone’s a critic. This brave new world – but for brave read slightly cowardly, hiding behind cute handles such as @misskittenchopshatesyou –  might make The Monachie Project’s emotive user research way more interesting than in the old days, but what to do when you’re faced with a deluge of downers?

Let’s start with easy.

Be honest, is it justified? If Miss Kitten Chops has a valid complaint then put it right. Simple. We all take our eye off the ball from time to time, it’s called being human, so don’t sweat it, just fix it. Another thing about online world is that people have got wise to companies who pay writers to create fake five star reviews and so the odd complaint – plus the opportunity to show how great you are at putting things right – can actually work in your favour. Basically it authenticates all the great feedback you get. Every cloud really can have a silver lining.

Now for the non-negotiable.

But if the complaint is just a general, non-specific moan, whatever you do, however tempting it is to wade it, never, ever retaliate. If you join in a general discussion about how dire your products or services are, you’ve just made that discussion official. Oops. Think about it, Marion Cotillard. Until you issued a statement declaring that you had nothing to do with Brangelina’s break-up, I had no idea that you were in any way involved with this particular circus. But now? Now you pop into my mind every time I read something on it. So before you wade in, breathe. Do some yoga, have a chamomile tea – anything but throw your personal hat into the arena.

So what to do instead?

Rather than wading in yourself, let other people do the talking – and the perfect people to call upon are the 99% of your genuine customers who think your business is really great. What you need to do is drown out the negative noise with all things lovely. Update your website with your latest customer satisfaction survey, get some press about how well you’re doing and nudge a few of your best clients in the direction of glowing testimonials. Basically, whatever you do, make sure it’s evidence-based (like using the results of your Monachie Project customer research survey, for example…)

Let’s look at what happened to Nike and Adidas a couple of weeks ago. Most major news websites featured a story about superstar Paralympian Hannah Cockcroft saying that these two sporting giants had refused her kit sponsorship on the basis that she doesn’t wear shoes for competition. Now, I’m not getting into a debate about whether our sporting National Treasure actually said this, or whether that’s the reason Nike and Adidas refuse to back her, but what I do want to look at is how they dealt with it and so here is the statement Nike issued:

“Nike has a long history of working with Olympians and Paralympians who do not compete in Nike footwear, from Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, to six-time gold medal-winning Paralympian David Weir,” a Nike spokesperson said. “Nike works with multiple Paralympic athletes through individual athlete relationships or through partnerships with federations such as USA and Brazil. Nike also supports aspiring Paralympic athletes through sponsorship of the British Athletics futures programme.”

And the job was done. Adidas issued a similar statement. All of a sudden, one complaint in a sea of positive action just looks a bit paltry, however much press it was getting.

And business minnows can get it right too.

Take Tony’s Typewriters. Not a household name I admit, but this small company working out of The Netherlands has a great reputation for restoring vintage typewriters for collectors and offering the kind of personal customer service that makes you go all warm and fuzzy inside. So when their Etsy rating took a hammering from one unhappy typist, they took action.

“Hold on Ms Monachie, you told us not to wade in to online arguments” I hear you cry. Yes I did – but there’s always an exception. In this case, Tony’s Typewriters had resolved their customer’s issues via personal communication and so had all the evidence they needed to take the wind out of her sales. Here’s their reply to her very negative review:

Hi (customer’s name), we would like to apologize for the fact that you are not happy with your purchase. We always pack our typewriters with a lot of care and never send a typewriter without bubble wrap and other materials, so it is hard to believe that it arrived as you said. We will contact you personally, because we would really like to fix the problem, but it’s a shame you never contacted us because we always send our typewriters with insurance, so when it has been damaged during shipping, you can get your money back. Furthermore, we even asked if it was working again after you asked us how to unlock the carriage, you never responded so it’s sad to get a review like this instead of a response when we still could have contacted the post office if it was broken indeed. Hope we can still figure this out!

Now bearing in mind our Dutch friend is writing in his second language, I think this has all the hallmarks of a great response. It shows that the company had helped the customer out with some queries before she wrote the review, puts a massive question mark over the legitimacy of her complaints and shows that, despite her public protest, Dutch Tony is willing to let bygones be bygones and put things right.

And a final piece of advice.

We used to be able to say that today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper. Well, not only has the Health & Safety brigade put paid to wrapping comestibles in anything that’s come into contact with other people, but you can’t hide online news with a few smudges of grease anymore. What does this mean? It means that what you say will stay. Remember that at all times, breathe deeply and you’ll be fine.

Looking for some evidence-based consumer research that gets to the heart of your market – both on- and off-line? The Monachie Project’s emotive user research consultancy give you the evidence you need to weather bad press and build your business into tomorrow’s success story. Get in touch to find out more

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