How to Make a BBB Complaint or Bad Review Work for Your Reputation, Part I

Let’s start getting to the meat of things.  How can you turn a BBB complaint or bad review into a downright positive thing for your reputation?

Let’s say one of your customers just made an unwarranted complaint and wants some unreasonable action from you.  You checked with your team and everyone involved with this customer, and you know for sure that the complaint is unjust.  You need to respond immediately or this customer is going to do bad things to your business’ reputation with the BBB and on-line review sites.  How to proceed?

Well, first, let your emotions settle down.  If you’re human (and you probably are), you’re going to feel pretty aggrieved right off the bat.  Aren’t you too busy to have to deal with this trash?  How dare they?!  It’s unbelievable!

Exactly.  There you have it.  You know the complaint is unbelievable, having all the inside information in hand, but it’s also, in fact, just believable enough that the customer thinks they can scare you into giving them what they want or else you’ll have to defend yourself to strangers at great cost to your time and energy.  What do they want?  Usually, they want some form of money, be it in a refund, reduction of their bill, extra work or product or some free service.

Here’s an example:

Your company installed a new wood-slat fence around your customer’s back yard.  In your contract, you guaranteed the fence against defective workmanship for a period of three years.  The customer calls you one year after installation to say that a good many of the slats are coming loose and wants you to come replace them under the terms of the warranty.  You arrive at the property and discover that, indeed, a lot of the slats are coming loose.  You also discover that they are coming loose because the customer’s cockapoo has been pushing and jumping on the slats in a daily effort to escape the yard and hang fangs on the letter carrier.  And the kids walking to school, the garbage collectors, the neighbor’s dog, the squirrels, the cats, and every other moving creature within a hundred feet of the customer’s property.  You happen to witness this while you are there, since said dog is none too fond of your presence, either.

You politely explain that the problems with the fence are not from workmanship error, that your crew used long screws to anchor the slats and the wood was the industry standard for the type of fence they could afford to buy.  You explain that the warranty does not cover post-installation damage such as what the dog is causing.  You might have considered repairing at a reduced cost or adding more screws to the slats for free, but that silly pooch is just going to continue destroying the fence a little bit each day.  If you start doing free repairs now, the customer is probably going to see that as a warranty admission and expect free service every year from here on out.  You write up an estimate for the customer to replace or re-anchor the slats.  Your customer seems to get it.  He takes the estimate and says it will be considered.  You go back to your office feeling kind of bad for the customer but it is unreasonable for him to expect you to repair his dog’s damage at a cost of several hundred dollars, or more, to your business.  You do okay, but contrary to popular belief, you’re not the fabled Rich Business Owner oozing profits from every pore.

A few days later, you get a notice from the BBB that you have a complaint.  It doesn’t matter whether your business is a member of the BBB or not.  Once a complaint is made, the BBB will display it on their website to anyone searching and finding your business name.  You really should be a member, but that’s a subject of another post.

Anyway, now you need to explain what happened from your point of view.  It would be easy to just rip off a response that lays out the facts in a cold, terse manner, but don’t do that, please.  What you really want to do is present your side in such a way as to show that you are not unsympathetic to your customer’s plight, but that the customer’s demands are so ridiculous and, well, selfish, that you can’t reasonably be expected to comply.  Keep in mind, if your local BBB publishes the text of complaints and business replies, your response is going to be engraved in stone for the public to see for all eternity.  Make sure it shines.

Here are 6 tips to writing the perfect response:

  1. Write as if you expect someday a judge and/or jury is going to see it;
  2. Use the most conciliatory language possible;
  3. Try to depict your customer as if he/she were a friend who simply made a mistake in judgment on the issue at hand;
  4. Use good grammar;
  5. Do not use slang, colloquialisms or anything remotely vulgar;
  6. Make no direct accusation.

In the next post, The Letterista will lift the hood and start showing you the guts of a good letter and how a complaint or bad review can be turned into something good for you.

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The Letterista

Throughout The Letterista's adult life, she has been an employee for several employers in both retail and contract fulfillment (private contract companies); she's been a private contractor and a small business owner, as well. A great many years were spent managing the offices of a construction trade where the competition was thick and the stakes were high, so the proper, professional handling of complaints and bad reviews was more than just a little important. The skills of good documentation and letter-writing were finely honed in that environment. Now, she writes for fun and profit.

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