Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hate mail and horrible reviews

Ana writes about answering a disgruntled customer.

At 9:00 p.m. last Saturday, I received the following email: (reproduced here as it arrived):

this is really sad, i had up to almost $70 of merchandise in my cart. My local pharmacy stopped carrying your soup, i went to buy 8 bags of your cream of wild rice soup today to take to my folks to make in crock pots at Christmas time. They said they stopped carrying it. So i thought i would just order it online. i found it and i also found pumpkin pancakes, blueberry muffins, pumpkin butter, salad and salad dressing, and the shorter timed smaller sized soups, but then i did a cart check and when I saw the shipping I about died. i tried going online searching for promos and my iPad got hit with some virun or malware or something, it was like having an earthquake and it is less than a month old, thank you very much. i kept dumping items until i was just down to the soup and i even called only to get a voice mail that was about 20 seconds long and cut me off and gave me no options to redo my message or anything, just got cut off. You have awesome products but businesses do not survive on products alone, i dumped my cart and i will tell my pharmacist he made a good decision not to carry your products, and to tell his buyer the same. it’s really too bad as i was your best advocate up to about thirty minutes ago.

During twenty-eight years of small business-ing, I have responded personally to every complaint, justified or not, after my first response of wanting to curl up into a ball and die.

I crafted an emotionally-neutral response to this woman: I am so sorry you had trouble with our website. I apologize for not being at work to take your call.  We don't have online coupons. We don't set the cost of shipping; the post office, UPS and FedEx do. We find and use the best (cheapest) carrier. I offered to quote the best freight rate, even pay half to compensate for her trouble.

She never responded. She must have enjoyed her anger more than she wanted her "awesome" order. Her message on the answer machine was just as rambling and vitriolic. She didn't ask for a return call.

Earlier that evening, I had read a discussion on a writing loop about reviews and reviewers. The same book can get five star and one star Amazon reviews. There are trolls who thrive on trashing books: "I hate first person stories, and quit reading this one after five pages, so I simply had to give this romance one star."

The impossible customer is like that. Impossible to please, impossible to placate.

What do you (or your publisher) do about bad reviews? Do you answer?


  1. Well, she obviously got it off her chest, therefore not worth bothering about. Think instead of your satisfied customers!
    I'm happy not to have had any 'bad' reviews of my books. The lowest has been 3 star and I accepted the slightly negative comments they made about a couple of aspects of my books. If I was ever attacked by 'trolls' who give 1 star rubbish reviews, I wouldn't be happy, but would persuade myself to dismiss them as trolls. I definitely wouldn't reply to them. Personally I think it's better not to resond to any reviews anyway!

  2. There are those who just want to wreak havoc. No response is best. Trolls don't even read the book. Most of the time it is a random act of &@$(-:$!

  3. Not to be naive, but I would never do that. My mama taught me to not say anything if I couldn't say it nicely.

  4. Does a publisher's PR department ever manage baseless reviews??

  5. I think it all comes down to there's no way to please everyone. Everyone has their own opinion and likes and dislikes. I try to let unfavorable reviews slide off of me. (Although to be honest, the lowest rating I've gotten so far is a three out of five, so nothing's been too terrible.) What one person likes another will hate.

    I get more frustrated when I've read a really bad book (Poorly written, lots of errors, forced plot issues) and it's been given a good review...probably by friends of the author.

    The actual value of reviews is an endless debate.

    And so sorry about the disgruntled customer. I agree it sounds like she was more 'enthusiastic' about venting her anger than in actually resolving the problem.

  6. I'm sorry about your customer. Things like that always make me feel bad. I don't respond to any review--good or bad. My feeling is that while I appreciate reviews, I don't know how the reviewer is going to respond to me if I mention something, and I don't want to get into a public shouting match. Every reader is entitled to their opinion. I appreciate the time they take to review a book.

  7. I think you are right, Debra and Jen.

    At craft shows, within five minutes, customers can assert their sample is too salty or not salty enough.
    Fortunately, we please the vast middle, and smile at the people we cannot please.

    Books are like that, too.

  8. Ana, as the saying goes - you can't please everyone all of the time. If you offered to pay part of the shipping and she didn't even respond, well, that tells you something. But I understand that negative comments, whether directed at your business or one's writing can linger in one's mind. When things like this happen, best to think of the positive comments you've received.