A colleague sent me an article this week about a couple on vacation who’d been forcibly removed from their hotel room by management two days into their paid three-night stay. Their alleged crime? Posting a negative review on TripAdvisor.

The article goes on to say that 59% of TripAdvisor’s 167 online reviewers “do not recommend” the Golden Beach Hotel in Blackpool, England. With a stat like that, it sounds like the hotel has bigger problems than one more negative review. Intrigued by the story, I headed to TripAdvisor to read reviews. Not only did I find the expected collection of appalling reviews, but also the most colorful, extreme case study on what not to do with negative feedback I’ve ever seen.

Learn from the hotel management’s mistakes. Here are three ways to destroy your brand through poor social commerce management (and tips on how to delight customers instead).

1. Deny the problem.

The Golden Beach Hotel has received consistent negative feedback on its cleanliness (among other issues) dating back to the first available review from 2007. Manager comments on these types of reviews are all the same – denial.

Manager responses.
Someone's a bit defensive...

You don’t see many brands telling their customers to “like their products or shop somewhere else”—it’s a particularly egregious example. Still, all brands face detractors at some point in their lifecycle, and they need to have a plan in place to respond appropriately.

Instead: Use feedback as a blueprint to improve your business.

If you find trends in your negative feedback, chances are the concerns are legitimate. Don’t treat a problem with denial, fix it! If enough of your customers think your hotel is dirty, clean it!

Customers often see what you can’t. Look for trends in negative feedback to uncover opportunities to improve. Land of Nod and Oriental Trading Company have both used reviews to improve their products, and their transparency about these improvements builds a sense of trust in their brands.

2. Shun your critics.

A good portion of the hotel’s negative reviews included a comment from management. Many of those comments, like the one below, flat out accused reviewers of lying.

Manager response 2
Ok, they're really defensive!

Sure, you wouldn’t outright call your customers liars online. But brands have ignited more than one firestorm by posting ill-conceived replies to criticisms.

Instead: Win your critics over.

Sam and ZapposRather than rejecting your critics, attempt to win them over. Our CMO Sam Decker has a story he likes to share about Zappos responding to his service complaint on Twitter with a coupon, turning his poor experience into a delightful one. Sometimes, negative reviewers just want to know someone is listening – a simple acknowledgment and apology is all they need.

With a more serious product or service complaint, companies generally need to take additional steps to show customers they’re listening. When Rubbermaid reformulated their popular sink mats, reviews revealed that customers were unhappy with the decrease in stain resistance. Rubbermaid changed the mats back, announced the change to customers, and sent negative reviewers a new mat free of charge. Previously dissatisfied customers became delighted ones, thrilled that the brand took their opinions seriously.

3. Beat critics with great marketing.

Review after review for the Golden Beach hotel reveals that the amenities don’t live up to advertised standards. “Nothing like the internet or owner’s description,” and “the worst hotel I’ve ever been in, nothing whatsoever like described on internet,” write two reviewers. “They quote fantastic sea views; pity you can’t see them with the scum on the windows,” writes another.

This hotel’s case is just one of many where an “isolated” (ok, maybe not so isolated) event sparked international news. As society becomes increasingly connected through social media, incidences of poor customer service have the potential to spread like wildfire – beyond what your corporate marketing can control. Remember United Breaks Guitars?

Instead: Deliver great experiences that speak for themselves.

If your customers are dissatisfied, plugging your ears and sticking your head in the sand won’t make their complaints go away. Brand-building ad campaigns may once have been enough to maintain your company’s image, but on the social web, one customer’s voice can be as loud as (or louder than) a brand’s. Ads aren’t enough – consumers want opinions from real people like them. If you want people to talk about how awesome your business is, you have to actually be awesome.

Once you’re delivering great experiences (maybe you already are!), keep soliciting feedback. If you listen to and act on the voice of your customers, they’ll talk about what you’re doing right, too. Then, if an isolated negative incident does occur, you’ll have a community of support to back your brand up and defend it against the backlash.

Negative reviews are not a disease, they’re a diagnosis. And in many cases, they’re even the first step toward a cure. Embrace your customers’ feedback as an opportunity to improve, and you can work to avoid brand-damaging interactions.

11 Responses to “3 easy ways to destroy your brand on the social web”

  1. Hi Mandy, you’re right. Brands can change. Old reviews should be considered, but they should weigh less heavily in the decision.

  2. It’s also important to add that reviews that are quite old should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. If I’m researching a hotel, for next month, I would be less inclined to consider a bad review from a year ago, if all the reviews from this month are strong and positive.

  3. I agree! That little red line under the text I just typed out tells me to go back and make sure it’s correct. Is that so hard? Apparently, for some…

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. I’d also like to add that it is incredibly important that a person have good spelling and writing when responding to positive or negative feedback. I tend to have a lowered level of trust and value in comments and responses when basic errors in spelling and grammar occur regularly.

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