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Word of Mouth is Great – Except When It’s Not

Author: Kim Sheehan   |   February 7th, 2010

We all love it when a customer raves about our business. But what about when customers don’t rave about our business…or when they have a bad experience? What happens if they talk about this bad experience?

This idea scares so many businesspeople that they won’t even start a word of mouth campaign. Losing control of the message is a disincentive for some. However, in recent conversations with a few great small businesspeople, some great tips on dealing with negative word of mouth have come to light.

One small business person, Salt Lake City Realtor Dave Robinson, believes in transparency: the idea that instead of covering up something bad that someone says about you, you try to go back and customer service tipsfix it. Dave thinks its inevitable that someone is going to say something bad about your business.

Dave believes it is better to play offense since there is no value in just playing defense. “And how you address the complaint is really what’s important rather than trying to not have them out there.” He contacts people via email, phone, or through social networks to try to resolve any problems that come up.

Lisa Hartwick of Hartwicks Kitchen Store uses social media to address both positive and negative comments. When someone posts a positive statement at Twitter for example, she’ll respond with a message like “Thank you so much. I’ll make sure I pass the word on to the rest of the team. We appreciate your business. But if you ever should not have a great experience with us please let me know directly.”

Lisa sees the value of negative feedback is to learn what you’re doing wrong and to improve. The website, for example, allows customers to review different businesses, and it also allows businesses to respond back. One person stated that Hartwick’s store was “too much” in terms of the amount of merchandise.

The customer felt overwhelmed in the store. Hartwick felt that there isn’t much she could do to respond to that, as that is how the individual personally felt. However, recommending to the poster that she simply ask for help might be away to diffuse future criticisms of the store.

Keep in mind, too, that running a business is not a perfect science. Things go wrong, and many customers realize that a single incidence of a problem with a business is not necessarily indicative of how the business works on a daily basis. The value of sites like is that customers can scan many reviews and get an idea of the general tone of the reviews: whether they are predominantly good or predominantly bad.

So don’t be afraid of negative feedback: take time to fix the problem, and then let people know the problem was fixed. We can all learn from our mistakes, and turn those mistakes into positive messages about our businesses.


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