Several times each month we get asked how a company should reply to a bad review. Our response is almost always, “first, give them a call and see if you can resolve the concern.” The reason is simple – personal contact is always better than an email, in part because of how things are said.

You can hear the emotion in someone’s voice. You can tell if they are angry or simply frustrated. You can ask more probing questions to really understand the issue. And, you can listen. Often, what people want most when they are unhappy is to have someone genuinely listen to their concern. You can also summarize what you’ve heard, repeating their words back to them, to reinforce that you are listening. After the call, you can send a follow-up email that also summarizes the call and next steps.

Email doesn’t communicate tone, inflection, loudness or speed. It allows too much room for you to imagine the underlying meaning (and the other person as well), rather than the full depth of communication.

That doesn’t mean you’ll solve every customer service issue or bad review simply by getting the person on the phone. The customer isn’t always right, and sometimes they aren’t even in touch with reality. However, you have a much better chance of turning a negative into a positive if you start with a call. You can always follow-up with an email after the call, or after leaving a message.