Relationship Management: When One Bad Client Threatens Your Good Name

All it takes is one unhappy customer to threaten your reputation. What should you do when an unhappy client strikes?

July 1, 2012

Here’s the situation: You’re working with home sellers on the sale of their home, and the home has lingered a few months on the market. Finally, an offer comes in. But it’s $20,000 below the asking price. Your sellers reluctantly accept the offer, but they aren’t happy they had to sell their home for less than what they intended. And instead of realizing the reality of the market, they blame YOU.

Soon, you discover negative ratings or comments online, all from that one disgruntled client.

“It’s all part of being in a social environment,” says Lida Citroen, author of Reputation 360: Creating Power Through Personal Branding (Palisades Publishing, 2011). “Some people will like you and some people will not. ... And depending on how happy or frustrated they are, they can do a lot of damage if they want to.”

So what do you do when your reputation online gets threatened? Do you launch into attack mode, apologetic mode, or ignorance mode?

More customers are taking to online venues to vent when they’re unhappy, whether it’s on blogs or social networks or popular review Web sites like Yelp, Citysearch, and Angie’s List. While everyone would like to believe they’re worthy of a perfect five-star rating, clients aren’t always so generous when they rate you. And before that first negative review rolls in, you need to have a strategy in place for how you’re going to respond when an online critic surfaces.

First, Know What’s Being Said About You

Real estate often works largely on word-of-mouth and referrals, so managing your reputation and knowing what people are saying about you makes smart business sense. Indeed, buyers and sellers say that the reputation of an agent is one of the top criteria they use when choosing someone to represent them, according to the 2011 National Association of REALTORS®’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey.

Here are two ways to monitor what’s being said about you online, according to Citroen, a personal branding and reputation management expert based in Denver.

1.  Set up Google Alerts.

Include your name, the market that you farm, and any keywords that reflect your business strategy that you’d like to track. Every time, those keywords surface in Google on a blog or Web site, the search engine will send a message directly to your inbox to alert you. Visit: and enter keywords into the search query.

2.  “Ego surf.”

Enter your name in quotes into Google and see what pops up (such as “Susan Smith”). If you have a common name, you might add an abbreviation (such as “Susan A. Smith”), or narrow your search even more by mentioning your city or specific market. This shows you not only what’s being written about you but also what information is surfacing at the top of the search engine about you.

How Could They Say That?!

So you’re monitoring the comments and you spot a negative post about you, like that unhappy seller venting about the way you do your business. You’re ready to fire off a response from your keyboard ... or, should you ignore it?

Some experts say ignoring the negative feedback can be a wise move because you’re less likely to bring more attention to the negative comment or ignite the commenter into launching even more criticism against you. But if you respond only to positive feedback, won’t it look like you aren’t really open to feedback – only feedback that pats you on the back?

A March 2011 Harris survey found that addressing negative criticism online can actually turn disgruntled customers into brand advocates. The survey tracked 1,600 adults who posted negative reviews on social networking sites from their shopping experiences. The survey found that when companies addressed negative reviews and feedback directly, some customers will actually delete the negative review and sometimes even then post a positive one.

Many customers say they never expected the company to respond, so when they did, they were impressed and felt heard. As such, 18 percent of the negative reviewers became loyal customers after getting a response from the company, 33 percent turned around and posted a positive review, and 34 percent ended up deleting their original negative review.

4 Guidelines to Responding to the Gripes

While there’s no steadfast rule to refuting or responding to negative comments, Citroen offers a few suggestions when you get a negative review:

1. Simmer down.

Don’t react out of passion or frustration. “You don’t want to go on the attack, and you don’t want to have an argument online,” Citroen says. “This is a public forum and everyone else is watching your response, too. It’s like taking the microphone at the Super Bowl and having a conversation.” A crowd that will be reading your every word, not just the critic. So take precaution to keep your brand and reputation consistent when you respond, Citroen says.

2. Correct any misinformation.

Maybe the commenter is accusing you of not showing them any comps when you suggested a listing price that was far below what they claim it should have been. That’s not when you fire off: “You idiot! How dare you say that; I did too!” (Just think it; don’t write it!)

If a commenter has written something inaccurate about you, you’ll likely want to take the opportunity to correct the misinformation because, again, others will be viewing this too. Citroen suggests something along the lines of, “I appreciate feedback, both positive and negative. But let me correct one thing that isn’t accurate in your statement. If you recall, we pulled comparable sales on the neighborhood, and this is what we found ....

3. Provide clarification or additional information.

Maybe the negative reviewer only provided part of the story with the comment. If so, you might respond: “I appreciate your feedback. But here’s some additional information that others may find helpful for what actually happened ...” Maybe the customer’s gripe is stating something that really did happen. If so, own up to it and provide some clarification. For example, let’s say the negative reviewer is venting about you not showing up to a meeting and passing them off to a junior agent. You might respond: “I understand that you may be frustrated on not getting to meet with me. There was a death in the family and I was called away suddenly out of town. I’m sorry that didn’t get communicated to you.”

4. Know when to bow out of the conversation.

When negative reviewers don’t back down and continue to criticize you, walk away. “You don’t want a ping-pong game of ‘he said, she said,’” Citroen says. “That rarely turns out well. ... If all they want to do is rant, you can’t control that.”

Instead, you responded once to clarify or correct misinformation and you showed respect for your customer’s feedback. If the customer persists, you might write, “I think it’s better to have this conversation off-line. I would love to talk to you or chat about this further over a cup of coffee.” Then, you leave it at that. If your customer continues to gripe, that will likely look unreasonable to others, while you’ve maintained your integrity and professionalism by not engaging in a “fight of words” online.

Sometimes, just responding that you “understand” how the person might feel that way and acknowledging their feelings and feedback can go a long way in resolving any conflicts, Citroen says.

Take the Bad, Go After the Good

Many customers are quick to criticize but not always so quick to compliment. In managing your reputation online, take more control of seeking out the “good” to balance out any “bad” that may pop up about you on review sites.

Maybe your customer told you how wonderful you are to work with. You say: “Mary and John, I really appreciate that feedback. By any chance, can I get you to write a recommendation on LinkedIn for me or a testimonial on my Web site?”

Send a follow-up e-mail providing a link to where they can send that feedback, so they don’t forget either. Let’s say Mary and John had mentioned two important things that they liked about you – such as your responsiveness and how you always made them feel like a partner on a team. Ask them to include that in their recommendation because those traits are what’s important to you in building your reputation. It might help you avoid getting the review “she’s fun!” or something else vague, Citroen notes.

Welcome feedback – both positive and negative – as a gift, Citroen says. While sometimes social media can seem like a thorn in your side that gives those critics a louder voice, social media has brought about a lot of positives in allowing you to become more aware of what is being said about you, allowing you the opportunity to respond to it, and even using constructive criticism to better your customer service.