In the world of consumer reviews, libraries have it pretty easy. Most of our cardholders love us and rave about everything we do. It’s good to be beloved.

But we do have our critics. And it’s hard to know how to handle the situation when an irate, antagonistic library user posts a negative review on a social media site or website for all the world to see. Your immediate reaction is to jump into firefighter mode, drag out the fully charged hose, and put out the flames… pronto.

But I want you to take a step back (and a big, deep breath) and find the opportunity in that negative review. It’s your chance to turn that angry user into an evangelist for your library. If that sounds like an extreme possibility, I want you to read this post by Jay Baer. And if you like that post, I want you to read Baer’s book, Hug Your Haters. I bet your library has a copy. Jay’s got some really great ideas for turning negative reviews into positive customer experiences.  I use all three of his main ideas–seek out your haters, leave no complaint unanswered, create a process for responding to hateful comments–in my department. It works and here’s why: having a process in place for handling complaints is an agent of calm for you and your staff members. It’s like your crisis communication plan–if you put together a plan for dealing with critics before you’re confronted with one, you can put your emotional reaction aside (how DARE they complain about FREE LIBRARY SERVICES!!!) and react calmly, rationally, and with empathy.

Having a plan for dealing with haters also improves your library’s credibility.  When you are searching to buy a new product or service, I bet you check out customer reviews. If all you see are positive write-ups and no complaints, doesn’t that make you a little suspicious? A negative comment or two makes you look human and lets customers know that they can give you honest feedback without the fear of being censored.

I don’t care if your library is giving away $10 bills with every checkout, someone is going to find something to complain about and they’ll probably do it online.  But when the complainers know they’ll be heard and their issues addressed as much as they possibly can be, they are more willing to give construction feedback about your organization.

And that’s good for you too. How are you supposed to know whether the product or service you are offering is meeting the needs of your cardholders? You are not a mind reader. You need customers to tell you what they like and dislike so you can make adjustments.  When you respond to critics, you show that you value all your customers and you are working on a daily basis to make their lives better. They’ll be happy to know that–and you can bet they’ll tell their friends about you.

More helpful tips for dealing with negative comments and reviews

Don’t censor. Unless the comment violates your social media or website standards of behavior in some grave way, don’t hide the comment and don’t want to respond negatively.

Respond as quickly as possible.  It’s important to address the issue as soon as you can or run the risk of other haters hijacking the thread and turning one bad review into a free-for-all.

If the problem cannot be solved easily, take it offline.  Apologize and address the complainer with empathy, then ask them to contact you by email. “I’m sorry to hear you are having this problem. We want to make it right.  Could you email me at **** and give me some more details about your experience? Then I can make sure your issue gets in front of the right person and is addressed.”

Realize that you cannot please everyone. Every once in a while, someone will complain about something and you will not be able to fix the problem.  Apologize, explain your library’s side of the situation as best you can, and move on.

Do you have an experience about a negative comment or review that you feel you handled well… or handled poorly? Any tips for dealing with critics? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer..