In the last post, we presented a hypothetical situation where a customer has made a Better Business Bureau complaint against you that is patently unjust. In this imagined scenario, you contracted to build a fence with a 3-year workmanship warranty. The customer’s dog is slowly destroying the wood-slat fence. He wants you to fix the damage under the warranty. You politely declined as the damage is not covered under the warranty and would be an expensive out-of-pocket repair for your business. The customer filed a complaint. Now you need to respond.
To Whom Are You Writing?
Your first order of business is to consider who is going to be reading your response. The customer, of course, will. So will the BBB representatives and then anyone who ever checks out your business on the BBB. But there is one more person you need to take into consideration, and that person is a judge.
Right now, the issue has not become so contentious that lawsuits have been proposed; however, every business letter you write, be it a complaint response or anything else, should be written with the idea that someday it may appear before a judge in a court of law. Even back in the golden days when the vast majority of people were honest and reasonable, polite and generous, there was conflict. That’s why law was invented. Nowadays, it seems conflict has become more the rule rather than the exception, and courts do a business volume that would make McDonald’s seem unpopular.
The likelihood of most situations blowing up to such proportions is extremely small, but by writing as if a judge is going to read your letters/responses, you are setting a composition standard that will keep you on point and show your equanimity and rationality. The reader, be it a judge, a future customer or even the complaining customer, will see you as intelligent and sensible. It will be difficult for them to view you as the greedy, mean shyster the complainer would make you out to be if you lay out your case like your lawyer would in court. Keep this principle in mind whenever you have to defend your reputation on a reviews page, like Angie’s List or Yelp, as well.
As mentioned, it is wise to write every business letter with a potential judge in mind. You never know when things might go sideways. Even the most innocuous interactions within your business can be misconstrued, so if you communicate with that potential third party in mind, all your communications will comprise a clarity that can head off misunderstandings in the future. This is especially true if your business depends on individual contracts. We’ll cover the importance of good contracts for your reputation management in an upcoming post.
Remember, The Letterista is not offering legal advice in any way, shape or form.
Think Clearly, Not Emotionally
If you were to successfully present your case to a judge and jury, you would naturally leave out subjective matter like how you had a feeling the opponent was going to be trouble when you first met him or how his tone of voice at the time of your last meeting was disrespectful and that he used foul language to express his distaste for your failure to be taken advantage of.
All of these things may be true, but no one wants, or needs, to hear it. Expressing these feelings and bad acting will only serve to make you look like a crybaby or, worse yet, a bad business person. Well, the two aren’t so different, are they? You can wail and grind your teeth on your own time, but you should never do it on paper, on the internet and never in court. You must be the adult now when presenting your defense. Stick to the pertinent facts. Facts are all that will matter in the long run, anyway. If you present irrelevant facts, you will just annoy everyone. They get it that you are hurt and angry at this turn of events, but just tell them the reasons you are innocent, don’t waste their time on anything else. Now, if the customer’s bad acting actually pertains to their desire to get something for nothing from you, then yes, okay, do use them. If not, don’t bother with them.
Know What You Are Talking About
This may seem too obvious to mention, but make sure you do have all your facts straight before you make your response. You don’t want to get caught out on something that turns out not to be true.
For example, in our case of the customer’s dog destroying your new fence, what would happen if the customer tells the BBB that the installation crew had told him that should the dog loosen slats, your company would come back out and tighten them at no cost to him? You would certainly hope your crew did not make such an irresponsible, unauthorized promise, but you also don’t want to deny it if, in fact, they did.
So, you need to be very well aware of the entire situation. If the crew made the promise, and you just found out about it, you will have to concede the customer’s point. You might make that crew go out at no cost to you to make the repairs, but that’s an internal matter. The bottom line is that you should know ever tiny detail surrounding the complaint or bad review so you don’t go off half-cocked your own self. Crow makes for a poor meal, so they say.
Now that you have all the details of the case, have cooled your heels enough to think clearly and know who you are writing for, you are ready to write a response that will put your company’s reputation back in the black. In our next post, we’ll start writing that response.
The Letterista would love to hear from you with your own stories in dealing with unwarranted attacks on your business reputation. How did you respond to complaints that you didn’t earn? Were you successful? Could things have gone better? Please leave your comments below.