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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Tough Crowd: Smart Ways to Deal With Angry Customers Online

If you run a business, you’ve probably learned—the hard way—that hell hath no fury like an angry customer.

You may have also seen people beyond your customer base come out of the woodwork to publicly (and aggressively!) attack your brand—whether it’s about your business model, your latest ad campaign, or the picture of you drinking a glass of wine that someone stole from your personal Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the rise of the internet and social media has given everyone a platform to air their gripes, and as a business owner, you’re likely to end up on the receiving end of that negativity at some point.

It’s unpleasant—and hard to know how to navigate each jab. Do you ignore it? Do you respond? If you do respond, what do you say? Here, we give you a few things to think about the next time you’re staring down a profanity-laced Facebook comment or tweet. (Hint: The old rule “kill ’em with kindness” still applies.)

Should I respond?

In a word, yes. You may want to crawl in a hole and disappear, but ignoring the comments won’t make them go away. Remember: Your goal is to make your company appear transparent, open, and approachable. Which means you have to keep that two-way dialogue open with your customers, even if they’re being, er, less than polite.

You also want to respond quickly, as companies are often judged on the immediacy in which they’re able to handle a complaint. Make sure someone is monitoring your social platforms, customer service inboxes, and company blog throughout the day, so you can respond quickly when necessary.

So, how, exactly, should I respond?

Always respond on the same platform that you received the complaint. If someone tweets that your brand name is weird, posting a message on Facebook explaining the name’s origin isn’t going to be very effective. However, if it’s an issue that you think needs more personal attention—like an angry customer that you’d like to send a 15% discount to—invite the person to speak offline.

Another option: If you have a customer service department, consider dedicating one of your social platforms to just that—like GM with @gmcustomersvc and UPS with @upshelp. That’ll allow you to easily point people to one place where they can log their complaints while showing, in real time, the way your brand efficiently handles their issues.

Alright. Now, what should I say?

Before you craft your reply, consider where the comment is coming from. Is it a legitimate customer complaint—or just a jab from someone who’s being a jerk? Your response strategy should be different for the two.

First, the former: If you don’t already have a messaging document for customer complaints, now is the time to draft one. Think about what you’d say if a customer found a product unsatisfactory, had a bad experience at one of your stores, or hadn’t received an answer to a question he or she submitted to your help desk, and craft appropriate responses for each. Ideally, your response should offer an explanation or a solution to the issue and, if appropriate, a way for the customer to contact you directly.

Your messaging should be genuine, concise, and consistent with the way you talk about your brand. But no matter what, don’t forget to be human. If you saw these two responses to a negative comment pop up on a company’s blog, which would you think handled the situation better?

  1. Thank you for your comment. At XYZ brand, we continue to look for ways to elevate the products and services we provide you, and we appreciate any opportunity to hear from our customers. We will take this into consideration moving forward.
  2. Hi, Bob. Thanks for getting in touch and sorry to hear about the long wait you had at our store the other day! If you send along your email to, we’ll find a way to make it up to you.
  3. Exactly.

    For the jerks out there, let them know that their voice has been heard and leave it at that. If you have a laidback, informal brand voice, like Warby Parker, you might be able to effectively make a joke about it. If your brand is more serious, say you appreciate the feedback and are always looking for ways to improve.

    If someone leaves a really heinous comment (and I’ll let you decide the definition of “heinous”), you not only have the right to ignore it, you have the right to delete it.

    That said, unless someone has posted something really horrendous, you want to invite people to have an open dialogue on your platform. If you begin deleting every negative comment that appears, your community will begin to question your credibility. And that’s worse for your reputation than the comments you just deleted.

    In most cases, engaging with the unhappy poster should alleviate the issue. But if you find the conversation continues or gets more aggressive, use your best judgment. And remember that anything that happens on your public platforms is fodder for media attention, so think before you post.

    But that doesn’t mean you have to be boring! Just ask @TacoBell and @OldSpice:

    Photo of unhappy woman courtesy of Shutterstock.