No matter how excellent your company’s product or service, and no matter how outstanding your customer service team, you will encounter disgruntled customers. It’s a fact of life. And, warns Michael F. Kelly at MarketingProfs, this disproportionately vocal group can do serious damage to your company’s reputation.

“If 20% of your market has a negative opinion of your brand and each person shares that negative opinion with five others, while the 80% with a positive opinion each tells only one other person,” he notes, “within a short time the market will be more negative than positive.”

It’s a scary proposition, and he offers this advice for dealing with the negative word of mouth:

Don’t shy away from criticism. Ask your customers for complete honesty and prepare yourself for tough answers. “Look at this as an opportunity to greatly increase the effectiveness of the entire organization,” advises Kelly. “Senior management must encourage the hunt for and elimination of things being done that make customers value the brand less.”

Identify a problem—as well as its emotional impact. “A statistic that merely says people wait 4.5 minutes on the phone for customer service is not sufficient to convey the customer’s experience,” he explains, “and it’s easily ignored. Instead, ask customers how they felt about the delay.”

Fix the problem, and clean up the mess. This isn’t always easy, and you can’t expect instant results. “People have memories,” he says. “A bad experience with your company or product, especially if it was associated with an unresolved emotional reaction, can be remembered and acted on for years after the problem is ostensibly resolved.”

Whatever you do, always begin the conversation with a genuine apology. “Without an apology,” says Kelly, “nothing else is heard.”

Source: MarketingProfs.