A friend recently posed a question to a business group I participate in about what to do when a business completely fails to do what you ask them (in fact, does something you didn’t ask them!), and then fails to communicate with you to correct or even discuss the problem.  Many suggestions ensued.

I suggested first that silence in a digital world, while vexing, may not conclusively prove unresponsiveness. Sometimes emails are not delivered, or end up in a spam folder. As a client, try multiple ways to reach out to your service provider.

One suggestion that came up was detailing the client’s dissatisfaction in a negative online review. I tend to think that going online with a judicious, measured, factual complaint is not a bad idea when all else fails.

When and how to post an online negative review.

If a service provider refuses to correct a problem, there is an opportunity to factually complain in a variety of venues. Particularly worthwhile venues are the transgressor’s own online accounts, such as their website, Facebook business page, Google+ local business page or Twitter account.  Other local business directory/ review sites may be available as well. These include Yelp, Foursquare, MerchantCircle, YellowPages, Angie’s List and Manta to name a few (industry specific sites, such as UrbanSpoon for restaurants exist as well).

Most times such assets not only are viewable by the online public at large, but also are maintained by the service provider. The service provider has incentive to respond. Who wants to have a bad review posted online for all to see? The complaint gives the service provider an opportunity to respond publicly and show that, yes, while they may make mistakes too, they also respond promptly and courteously to consumer complaints, and correct problems. Done right, an online complaint not only can correct the complaint, but it also can let the transgressor look good in the process, and get the parties back to where they should be.

It is critical in making a public complaint, however, that the complainer be factual. One risk that a complainer runs is a potential allegation of libel (essentially writing and publishing untruths about someone – talk to a lawyer for actual guidance and advice). Additionally, if you are anything more than factual, you can look whiny, and who wants to deal with whiners? Not people who are looking for the services the complainer provides. Complaining online can be a double-edged sword.

Service providers should monitor online business listings for negative reviews.

What are some lessons for service providers? Well, you have to ensure to monitor online venues for reviews and complaints. While you may have created and monitor your Facebook business page, website and the like, there may be other online listings you did not create but nevertheless exist where people can place reviews about you. You better claim and monitor those, too, because reasonable sounding unanswered complaints stick out like a very sore thumb and can drive people from your business. And recall that people increasingly (and according to reputable research more often than not) turn to the Internet to research local business.

If you do have complaints about you out there, respond to the complainer directly if possible and also respond to them in the same venue in which they left the complaint. Show your customer and the public that you listen and take care of problems. The complainer may even update the post to describe how you corrected the problem. It may not hurt to ask them.

People understand that everyone can make a mistake. People appreciate good communications. You want to be the kind of business that acknowledges and corrects mistakes made.

We hope you found this of use. If so, please give us some +1 love!

Do you have ideas about how best to complain online, or how to monitor online complaints?

Image credit: “4 wrathful wood masks, underlit, big eyes, wide open mouth, skull crowns, orange, gray, yellow, red, wall display in a hallway, Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal” by Wonderlane on Flickr. Used with Creative Commons license. Use does not connote endorsement.

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