Build Your Business:

Protect Your Rep

September 11, 2015

We live in a digital world, daily interacting both personally and professionally. Sooner or later, someone will say something about you or your business that isn’t flattering. Someone may even post something so bizarre that you must actively defend your reputation.

The natural response to an event that could negatively impact your reputation is panic, followed by anger, denial and possibly retaliation. Resist the urge to follow this pattern; it’s the worst thing you can do.

Nearly all negative reviews or comments come from failed expectations, broken promises or rigid company policies that leave no room for compromise. Customers who feel they’ve been wronged and not recognized will respond with negative online reviews. The best defense for this kind of attack is a strong offense. Don’t let a situation deteriorate to the point where a customer resorts to punishing you with a negative review.

All businesses occasionally have conflicts with their customers. It’s unavoidable and is a symptom of bigger underlying problems. When someone is upset with you, it means there’s a breakdown in communication. Anything that will surprise a client — an unexpected charge, failure to order at a quoted price break or any hidden or undisclosed fees — is a trigger for these kinds of events.

When miscommunication happens, deal with it on the spot by explaining the situation. Apologize for any misunderstanding and have the customer tell you in his own words why he’s upset. If a transaction results, document it and have him acknowledge with a signature. Be clear and transparent, and you’ll eliminate the biggest cause of negative posts and comments.

Whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. There’s a fine line between having the customer try to take advantage of you and you being firm and unyielding. Snarky comments, and being condescending or patronizing are bad practices. Even when you’re frustrated by a price shopper who’s soaking you for information and trying to work you for the best deal, smile and be firm. A disrespectful attitude is one of the fastest ways to offend a prospect and get a negative review.

Your second proactive move is to ensure your online information is listed consistently everywhere. This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, free directories and paid sites you can use to promote your company.     

The company name, address, phone number, contact information and website should be the same everywhere. This causes Google, Bing and Yahoo! search engines to recognize and associate you with the online reputation of your business. The more times it shows up with identical information, the more online authority you have.

A 2014 AC Nielsen survey showed that 68% of online viewers trusted online reviews and 90% trusted peer reviews. This means if a review shows up in Yelp or from a friend on Facebook, the average online viewer puts a high degree of trust in it. By consistently listing your company, all of your positive reviews will contrast a negative review.

Also, if a prospect sees a negative review and searches for more information, all the sites on which you are represented will appear. This is an authority offset to the negative post. If you mostly have positive information, it will diminish the negative information.

The third thing you can do is actively cultivate your positive image online. Send out press releases on charitable donations. Make sure links to your site are listed. Post short stories or articles about your community involvement. Start a company Facebook page and regularly post to it. Get listed on as many community websites as possible to show your active participation.

If someone says something nice about you or your business, copy and paste it along with the link back to it. This will help the positive post show up when someone searches for you. The goal is to overwhelm any negative information with a long history of positive involvement in the community.

The psychological principle of consistency says that if information or situations are inconsistent with documented behavior in other areas, viewers will discount or dismiss the negative information. In other words, they want to believe what everyone else is saying.

How do you know if someone has posted something negative about your business? Google Alerts constantly scan the Internet for references to you. It’s easy, free and all you need is a Gmail account.

To make an alert, visit Enter the name of the site and the person or brand that you want to be notified about. You can set up as many accounts as you wish. Click on the “Show Options” triangle next to the email address to which you want the notifications sent. The options will allow you to choose how often you will be notified. I choose “As it Happens” for frequency, “Automatic” for sources and “All Results” for the number of results I want to receive.

You can set up the alert to include your company name and any keywords you want associated with you, and they do not expire. Because of the speed with which you can be alerted, you can respond almost immediately to any comment or post. This is important because you often can contact the person who posted it to find out what really is going on. If you resolve the situation, that person may even change or delete the post. If not, you can post a reply, showing the community you are on top of the situation and providing evidence of your responsible nature.

You can do the same thing with Twitter, and recieve web notifications, as well as getting a text message sent directly to your phone as the Tweet is happening. You need to add your mobile phone to your account. You can enable notifications for whenever someone you follow Tweets or mentions you by enabling your account’s mobile settings. There are options to turn on Tweet notifications via the Internet, SMS or from a specific person. You also can toggle between turning Twitter SMS updates on or off.

Sooner or later, your business will be sniped by someone. When this happens, stay calm, take the high road and always act professionally. The last thing you want to do is get sucked into a flame war with someone who thinks he’s been wronged.
Speed is of the essence. As soon as you know a negative post has appeared, you need to:

1. Reach out to the person (if you know who it is).
2. Apologize for the poor experience.
3. Ask the person to explain exactly what happened.
4. Repeat the situation as closely as possible to what he told you.
5. Finish with, “Did I get that right?” If yes, “Is there anything else?” If no, “Please tell me what I missed.”

This sequence will go a long way toward fixing the problem. Finally, ask what it will take to resolve the situation. This is hard to do, especially if you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong. Most people will be reasonable in their requests, but this is where negotiation and compromise come in.

The idea is to get the customer to realize you are trying to solve the problem in a reasonable way. You also can agree to disagree, specifying that neither of you is happy with the result.

At the end of the conversation, ask the customer if he wants to amend his review. Don’t try to force him to make a 1-star into a 5-star rating, but it can happen. He wants to be heard and valued. If you can do that, you can turn a bad situation into a good one.

If he refuses, acknowledge his right to leave the review and thank him for taking the time to talk with you. Apologize again for the unsatisfactory experience and promise to make things better next time.

Post your own response, beginning with an apology for the poor experience. This shows the world you care about the customer and his experience.

Here’s an example: “We’re so sorry you had a disappointing experience when you were at XYZ. We work hard to make sure every customer is happy, but sometimes, for whatever reason, a job goes bad. This upsets us as much as it does you. We apologize again for disappointing you.”

If you don’t know who the customer is, add to your comment that you would like to speak with him personally and invite him to contact you at your phone number.

If the negativity is irrational and over-the-top contrary to how you normally do business, you have a couple of options. First, follow the above guideline. Second, solicit support from some of your loyal customers who can counter the negativity with their own experiences. I’ve seen examples where happy customers have countered a complainer to the point that the company didn’t even have to respond. Your good reputation is your best defense.

Mark A. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978.  For more information or to contact Mark, email him at