Note: originally published at Fredo Pareto.
As an entrepreneur, it's surprising to me how crippling but commonplace fear of transparency is for many business owners. One stock instance in which this fear tends to surface is when a disgruntled customer goes public with his/her discontent, ranting online about you or your business.
Oh no, this guy says we're scoundrels. What do we do? Aren't public confrontations awkward? Is he right? Will people be influenced by his rant? Will we lose business as a result?
Based on advice I've gotten and stories I've heard from fellow business owners, this seems to be indicative of the average business owner's typical reaction. But why is this almost instinctive reflex something essential to unlearn? Because, prima facie, it betrays a gripping fear of transparency.
In my opinion, transparency is essential in business (probably even to degrees most business owners would deem absurd), but that is not to say that transparency is essential to making money in business at all--consider cell phone carriers, cables companies, airlines. My point is that the world is already overflowing with shady, opaque, megaliths who fear nothing more than an articulate mob of detractors with a warranted, common bone to pick.
Now, let's put that commitment to transparency to the test. Let's introduce some haters, and see what happens.
Haters and Trolls
Specifically, I'm talking about trolls and haters who rant publicly on the interwebs in a way that targets your business. Note that this tip assumes the troll/hater to be a disgruntled customer. In many cases, I think, the same tactic can work well for non-customers, people like vendors and partners, but it's probably the case that most of the trolls/haters businesses encounter are customers.
My # 1 Tip
My best tip is to accept the validity of the haters' perspective, that he/she actually feels that way, and that he/she has some reason for believing that hate to be warranted. This is how you learn from your mistakes in business. Every business could use improvement, and your customers are the best source of suggestions for improvement.
Engage With The Goal of Learning
That said, I think it makes a lot of sense to treat each touch with a public hater as a story for spectators to learn from. That requires that you introduce some context to the discussion that spectators would not otherwise be familiar with. Here's an example of how I recently engaged with a hater. This customer was really upset at not only my company CellBreaker, but also with me. Thus the ad hominem element of his rant.
Assume The Rant Is Warranted
Regardless of whether I believe this rant was warranted, it's important to begin and end with the assumption that it was. That way, the public conversation can focus on what occurred and why, as well as what spectators can learn about your business as a result of having seen that dialogue play out.
Don't hide from haters. Engage them sincerely, with as much transparency as possible. Do this, and we'll all learn a lesson, including you.