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A three-point strategy for negative feedback damage control


Mark Siebert

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

We live in a country where majority rules, most of the time, but no matter who gets elected, which entrepreneurs make the 30 Under 30, or what flavor of ice cream was decided the favorite for 2019, there will always be a sub-group of those ready to argue about it. Not the kind of dignified arguments from life before social media, but loud, crass, opinionated arguments spewed across airwaves, spouted on Twitter and screamed out at town hall meetings, all to be played repeatedly by the media and to live forever online.

Politics and business may seem like separate entities, but if you think of politicians as salespeople for their ideas, suddenly the connection doesn’t seem so farfetched. Politicians have a personal reputation to protect, while franchisors do the same for their brand. Negativity can come from every direction: a bad phone call from a franchisee, negative commentary on social media, blogs and your own website, as well as public smearing through online reviews. Worse yet, your competitors can point out your flaws to appear the better choice and hide behind an anonymous review.

Like a puma on a hiking trail, or a protest on a campaign trail, a negative attack on your business can come at any time without any warning. The key to survival is catching on early. You wouldn’t go hiking unprepared. You wouldn’t hold a rally in enemy territory. Why should maintaining your reputation as a respected franchisor be any less important?

Eyes and ears open

Opportunities for threats are out there. Websites like unhappyfranchisee.com are dedicated to creating a megaphone for the disgruntled. A franchise resource site like bluemaumau.org offers interactive tools to track which brands have a large percentage of franchisees who are unable to pay back their SBA Loans. Glassdoor.com has a specific listing for Franchise Owner Reviews under its Company Reviews tab.

On the positive side, there are the rankings in Entrepreneur’s Top 500 Franchises, Military Times’ Best for Vets and of course this magazine’s Top 200+ and Fast & Serious.

And we haven’t even touched on social media. Franchisors must be vigilant. Keep an ear to the ground for rumblings within your network and use social listening tools such as Google Alerts, Sproutsocial, Synthesio or Brandwatch to listen so you can get in front of any problems.

Licking your wounds

What will you do with a review from a free-speaking, unhappy franchisee who decides to air their dirty laundry in the land of public opinion? Or what if your brand is noticeably absent from any list? Ideally, you have PR representatives who are trained to handle brand crises. If a PR firm isn’t in your budget, there are online tools such as Grade.us, Birdeye and ReviewTrackers that help with reputation management. If, like many small business owners, conflict resolution falls on your plate, there are three things you must do, and they have to do with speed, sincerity and your good, old-fashioned word.

1. React quickly. According to a recent study by eptica.com, 77 percent of consumers won’t wait more than six hours for an email response. Some 85 percent want to hear back from a Facebook comment or complaint within six hours and a whopping 64 percent demand a response on Twitter within an hour. Speed is of the essence. This is where having a plan in place to handle negative feedback is crucial. The first step to winning someone over or taking the heat out of a situation is acknowledging them quickly.

Of course, to the extent that a particular response may have future legal implications, you will need to temper your speed of response with good legal advice. For more serious types of allegations, be sure you get your attorney involved before firing off a well-intentioned response or reaching out.

2. React authentically. People want to feel heard. Listen to the complaint or negative review and respond in a way that validates their right to be upset—whether you agree with them or not. Next, if you can, get on the phone. A phone call gives them your undivided attention. Second, it takes the issue out of the limelight.

Let them speak without interruption. When they’re done talking, ask them if there’s anything else you should know. Agree with them if there is a problem to be solved. Thank them for bringing it to your attention. And here is the clincher—you must mean it.

Remember, 63 percent of people would rather buy from an authentic brand. Bringing a human element to the way you resolve an issue, especially in a public forum but equally as important in a private one, is an opportunity to show your true colors. You just might turn that puma into a pussycat.

3. React with integrity. If something happened that is not representative of who you are as a brand, apologize and make it right. If something happened where your actions have been misrepresented or not presented in a manner that is not entirely accurate, present your side of the story. It comes down to doing the right thing. When you don’t, more people will hear about it than not.

Sticks and stones

If you cannot stop all negative bias toward your brand, the least you can do is not stir up a hornet’s nest. A solid marketing strategy will always include a comparative analysis, but how many times have we seen this go badly in politics?

We know it’s election season when we are inundated with hours of negative campaign ads. In business, the best marketing advice I can give is, “don’t be that guy.”

It’s great to create talking points, but make them about comparing benefits, not spotlighting inefficiencies. Leave the crooked comments and manipulation to the uninspired and ultimately your brand will thank you for it.

Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com. His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”

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