by Dawn Weitzel, Chamber President

At the top of your business Facebook page is a post from a disgruntled customer complaining about, well, fill-in-the-blank. Your blood boils. You click “reply” and craft a quick, defensive and succinct response. You’re just about to hit “enter” when you have second thoughts. 
Taking a deep breath and pausing is the first step in dealing with negative social media comments. The next step is to delete your response and give the matter some careful consideration.
There are thousands of books and blogs available on how businesses can deal with negative social media messages. Listed below are several “Dos” and “Don’ts” from the experts. [I also encourage you to check out the links at the end of the article for more insight, ideas and sample responses.]
Respond and resolve as soon as possible. Always answer the negative review, as other customers will see how you react and may judge your business. A response shows others that you pay attention to how your customers feel and that you are willing to do what it takes to resolve the issue. Response times can vary from minutes to hours, depending on a variety of factors, including your business and your team, and are likely to fluctuate based on peak times, events or campaigns. Yet, rapid replies are increasingly expected. 
Forty-two percent of customers who complain expect a response within 60 minutes. A slow response, or none at all, can leave a customer feeling ignored and make matters worse. In fact, 50 percent of customers claim they would stop doing business with a company that fails to respond.
Don’t make excuses. Instead of justifying the situation (e.g., we were short-staffed, our computers were down, etc.), state that the occurrence is unusual, and that you’ll correct the problem. That person is already annoyed, and an excuse will only make the matter worse. 
Reply with something like, “Very sorry for what happened. We will resolve this ASAP.”
Be human, be transparent, listen and never be negative. Respond helpfully and genuinely; negativity and defensiveness never work. Try to establish a connection so that your customer knows you understand. 

Don’t be afraid to apologize for any inconvenience for a less-than-positive experience. A negative comment presents an opportunity to show your dedication to resolving issues with transparency and empathy.
Caution: Be wary of deleting comments. Erasing messages can cause more anger and result in a backlash of additional criticisms. On some networks, like Facebook, you can hide feedback from the public. This social media feature lets the comment remain visible to the user who posted it, and their friends, but lessens the potential for additional conflict when removed from the public’s eye.
Contact the user in a private chat and provide contact information. Respond both on the public comment thread and in a private personalized message so you can obtain more information. Give the customer your contact information, so they know who is responding.
Take feedback into consideration. Maybe there’s some truth to the comment. See if you can take further actions to prevent this issue, and more negative reviews, from happening again.
Offer an apology and a solution. The reply, “We hear and value our customers and will make this right,” may turn a disgruntled customer into a fan. Usually, people just want to know that you’re listening and will fix everything. If the complaints are valid, resolve them at any cost. One angry customer will tell others and harm your brand image. If the claim is related to your product, then take it back without asking a single question and refund the money. It won’t be a significant loss for you, and it’s a great way to show customer service. The gesture enhances your image.
Respond to the original post after resolving the issue. Again, don’t remove any negative posts. If customers only see positive comments, they’ll think that you remove negative ones. So, be genuine and credible; it’ll improve your image.

Here are more resources on how to resolve – and prevent – negative social media comments.

5 Tips for Responding to Negative Social Media Reviews

How to Respond to Negative Comments on Social Media Like a Pro

5 Tips for Handling Negative Feedback on Social Media

What are Your Customers’ Expectations for Social Media Response Time?

13 Lessons to Help Companies Avoid – Or Recover From – Social Media Slip-Ups