Despite the fact that many Internet-based companies such as Amazon, Yelp and TripAdvisor let companies respond to critics on their sites, most companies do not engage because there is scant research telling them if it works. That is where researchers at the University of Amsterdam come in. Their results were cited in strategy + business – thank you to Guda van Noort and Lotte M. Willemsen who filled the reputation void by doing this research. They looked at what happens when a company responds to a customer’s negative commentary to a blog post. They looked at company response in three ways — whether the company responded when the customer asked for a response, whether the company responded when no formal request from the customer was made and third, when the company responds not at all.
The short answer to the question of whether companies should repsond and manage damage control online is quite simple. They should, but carefully.
1. Consumers judge a company more favorably when a company responds than if it does not respond. Silence is not always a virtue. Reputations are built on engaging with customers. Of course, it always comes down to when and how and if you are invited.
2. Companies should respond online to customers when asked to do so. That lends favorability to a company’s reputation. All I can think of right now, however, as I write this is how LIPA (the power authority) on Long Island poorly communicated to customer complaints after Hurricane Sandy and especially to those begging for answers online. A woman who works with me wrote about 20 tweets per day to find out when her home would get power and no one ever responded. They were without power for at least 13 days and they live across the street from LIPA!
3. Company reputation is hurt when companies respond uninvited to criticism on consumer-controlled mediums such as Twitter, Facebook or a non-corporate blog. These types of approaches are viewed as intrusive. Company spokespeople have to be careful where they respond and be extra careful if they are not invited.
4. Personalizing company responses is helpful. Company spokespeople should use their names but not necessarily their titles which can appear standoffish. “When companies — in an effort to underscore the seriousness of their commitment to customer service — insist that their representatives use only official titles, they may wind up putting people off.”