by Eric J. Schreiner

The internet is an increasingly popular forum that customers use to voice their dissatisfaction with, or complain about, the businesses they buy from. Being the target of irate internet comments can pose real problems for a business not only because of the ease with which an aggrieved customer can post a complaint but also because of the sheer size of the potential audience for these negative posts. Having counseled numerous clients about these issues for several years, we offer the following tips for managing a dissatisfied customer who uses the web to complain about your business.

Dealing with online complaints in a timely manner is important. You should have programs in place to alert you to customer comments and other online feedback about your business. Setting up a Google Alert for your business is a good first step since they can be designed to notify you immediately if your business is mentioned on the web. In addition, you should consistently monitor your business’ website, blog and any other social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to stay on top of comments, feedback and complaints about your business.

As a general rule, you should respond to any complaint posted on an internet based forum. There are certain exceptions to this rule — for instance, when it is clear that the complaint is unfounded or submitted from an unreliable source or if the complaint is posted on a forum with no relation to your business and is unlikely to be seen. When a nasty comment is posted on an online platform controlled by your business it is not advisable to just ignore or to delete the comment. Making a routine practice of deleting negative comments can do more harm to your business’s reputation than the comments themselves. Complaints that appear genuine and that will be seen by other customers or potential customers should be addressed so that your business maintains its hard earned reputation for being aboveboard and trustworthy.

The best course of action for dealing with a customer’s online complaint is to respond quickly, demonstrate real concern for the issue and offer a solution. Responding in the same forum where the complaint was made (rather than only emailing or messaging the customer directly) will demonstrate your business’ responsiveness to the customer’s issue  Automated or canned responses are not recommended. The more personal the response the higher the likelihood of your success in providing a remedy to the problem.  Of course if the response involves ongoing communications or requires more personal attention, you may want to also speak directly with the customer offline to resolve the issue but you should make sure that the original forum for the complaint reflects in some way that you responded. Finally, if appropriate, you also may want to offer the customer a way to contact you directly.

Here’s what to avoid: Do not engage in an argument in an online forum with a dissatisfied customer and never be overly combative or emotional in your response. And always remember that the comments (both yours and the customer’s) are public and available to any potential customer that is on the web.

In most cases, a business does not have control over what people say about it or the goods and services it sells. We recommend that a business should use online complaints as an opportunity to demonstrate how you treat your customers so that these incidents can improve, rather than harm, your business’s reputation.

Finally, a business that is having difficulties with negative online comments should consider some other options available to protect its reputation:

  • Seek to have the comments removed from the website where they were posted. When comments on a website are defamatory or violate the website’s own policies or terms of use, you can contact the website to remove the comments. Established sites usually have specific complaint forms that can be used to report such violations. If you file a complaint, you also should follow up with the legal department of the company that hosts the website.
  • Post positive comments and material about your business, such as recent news, favorable client reviews, etc. Positive content will counteract the negative comments and more recent positive content may lower the ranking of the complaints in search results related to your company.
  • Hire an internet consultant to assist you in implementing search engine optimization to make it less likely that negative comments will appear at the top of the search results involving your company. SEO consultants can also recommend other steps to help manage and protect your business’s online reputation.
  • Pursue litigation if other alternatives are not successful and a known or even anonymous user is posting numerous comments online that are defamatory or otherwise violate applicable law.

If you would like more information on this issue and how it could affect your business, please contact Eric J. Schreiner at (215) 496-7217 or