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Perhaps the most famous example of a company taking the idea that the customer is always right to the extreme is Nordstrom. The story goes that in 1975, a man went into the Nordstrom in Anchorage, Alaska, to return a set of tires. Nordstrom — a high-end retailer that sells mostly clothing, shoes and accessories — does not sell tires. Famously, the store manager decided to allow the customer to return the tires. (The truth of this story has been debated, but it is a useful illustration, nonetheless.)
Was the customer right? No, of course, it is ridiculous to expect a retailer to accept returns of stuff that they obviously didn’t sell, but acting as if the customer was right has made Nordstrom customer service legendary. Going the extra mile to accommodate customers and win loyal fans is to be commended, and we think it is the smart move most of the time, but what happens when a customer’s demands cannot be met? What do you do when you have good reasons to say no, but the customer still complains on social media or pens a nasty product review?
Would You Rather Be Right or Be Rich?
Shama Kabani, the author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, puts it this way, “Online, the customer is always right - even when they’re wrong.” Review websites and social media are not like courts of law. You can’t “win” your case by arguing with your unhappy customer, even if the facts are on your side. Responding defensively (even if the reviewer is a nut case) can cause other readers to conclude that you don’t care about customer service. So what can you do other than give into every demand? Here are some tips for managing negative reviews:
1) Monitor Your Reputation
You can’t address negative information if you don’t know it’s out there. With so many social channels and review sites, manual monitoring is no longer a feasible option. To know what is being said about your brand, you need quality reputation monitoring software that alerts you in real-time.
2) Count to 10 (or 1000 if Necessary)
While it is important to respond quickly, don’t do it in the heat of passion. It is easy to take negative reviews or comments personally and to lash out, especially if the customer is being unreasonable. But keep in mind that you are not just responding to the customer. You are making a statement, on the record, that other clients and prospects will read. Careful consideration is needed.
3) Sometimes the Best Response is No Response
We think that you should respond to most negative comments, but sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. If you think that an unbiased reader would come to the conclusion that the writer is in the wrong, it may be best to just let the comment speak for itself.
4) Humanize the Encounter
“People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers,” Kabani suggests. If the customer did have a bad experience, apologize and offer a solution. If the customer is in the wrong, express concern for their disappointment and hope that they will find what they are looking for.
The customer is absolutely, positively, categorically, and unquestionably NOT always right. But that’s not what really matters, is it? Good customer service and reputation management require brands to address perceptions along with realities.