How to turn critics into brand ambassadors

How to Turn Critics Into Brand Ambassadors

In the hyper-connected world of the social Web, it’s possible to check in to a new restaurant on Facebook Places, post an image of your dinner on Twitter and leave a review of your waiter on Yelp using only your mobile phone. These consumers are the modern brand ambassadors.

This kind of freedom is unprecedented from a consumer perspective, not to mention empowering. It’s been said that “the customer is always right,” but never before has the customer been able to hold businesses ransom with the mere threat of an angry blog post or a bad online review.

Luckily for business owners most people don’t have massive egos coupled with delusions of grandeur; they just want the best service possible. That’s why most online reviewers are more likely to leave positive ratings than negative ratings (according to Yelp, 83 percent of the website’s more than 14 million reviews were three stars or higher).

There’s still that 17 percent to worry about, though, which is why business owners should be proactive about managing their online reviews and protecting their online reputations. This article will offer three tactics to turn your critics into brand ambassadors and help turn around negative online reviews.


1. Respond to customer complaints swiftly and professionally.

If someone complains about your business online, the faster you can respond the better. Even if you don’t know the full details of the complaint, it never hurts to offer an initial apology followed by a confirmation that you’re looking into the issue. Something as simple as, “I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. I will look into it and get back to you as soon as possible,” goes a long way toward soothing bad feelings.

If you discover that you’re indeed at fault (getting all the facts right is important in establishing your credibility and protecting your business from false claims), you should follow up with a sincere apology and a fully transparent explanation of why the customer experienced poor service and the steps you’ve taken to correct the issue.

Responding to a complaint quickly and professionally is hugely important in establishing empathy with the customer and regaining their trust. You would be surprised to see how quickly a review can go from “I’ll never go here again” to “I decided to give this place another chance” if you just take the time to address their concerns.

Social media tools like Twitter have made rapid-fire damage control possible for businesses both large and small. Perhaps no company exemplifies the right way to use Twitter for responding to complaints than cable giant Comcast, whose “ComcastCares” Twitter account earned the company a full spread in Business Week magazine.


2. Follow through on your promises.

A famous saying declares, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” More often than not, you’re not going to be able to “fool” a customer twice. If they experience bad service once, they might give you another chance to make things right. If the same problem occurs again, you might as well kiss them (and their wallet) good-bye.

If you’re engaging an angry customer in person, on the phone or on Twitter, make sure to back up any promises you offer. The one thing worse than messing up in the first place is promising to do something about it and then failing to follow through. Consider how much more damning a negative review might be if it’s updated to reflect that the same mistake happened multiple times, despite assurances that the issue would be corrected.

Online searchers are becoming increasingly savvy about discerning legitimate complaints from hype. One or two bad reviews can be damaging, but not nearly as damaging as multiple reviews complaining about the same problem. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them.


3. Give a hearty “thank you” to a legitimate critic.

You might think that dealing with negative online reviews is nothing but a hassle, but try to think about it positively. If someone points out a problem and you fix it, the only thing you’ve done is improve your business. That being the case, what a legitimate critic deserves more than anything else is a sincere “thanks.”

In the rough and tumble world of the Internet, it’s sometimes hard to find civility. If you really want to impress an online critic, tell them that you appreciate their criticism and that you’re working on a solution to the problem.

For an added kick, make the “thank you” unique in some way, such as having it come from your company’s CEO or president. Personalization also goes a long way: Generic “thank you” messages are only slightly less irritating than generic “I’m sorry” messages.

Of course the most important thing to do when you say “thank you” is to actually mean it. That requires a certain level of humility that not all business owners possess; are you one of them?

Turning critics into brand ambassadors doesn’t always work, particularly if the critic has an ulterior motive. If you think that you or your business is being defamed online by an ex-employee, a competitor or simply a malicious stranger, you might need to turn to professionals who are experienced in dealing with online defamation attacks.


Rob Frappier is a community manager for ReputationDefender LLC