9 Ways to Deal with Customer Complaints on Social Media

The gift that doesn't feel like a gift large

Gone are the days when businesses could expect to always address customer criticism privately. Feedback today often happens on a social media platform to be seen by the world.

The public nature of such criticism can quickly provoke a dogpile of customer responses – echoes of negativity, combative replies or quiet detractors – so it’s important to have a strategy BEFORE it happens.

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Customer Complaints: A Gift?

Though negative publicity can be tough to swallow, an article in Sirius Decisions newsletter offers the bright side: “Any customer who takes the time to provide feedback, even if it’s negative, is making a donation to the organization’s cause – how it does business, how its product works, how its brand is perceived and how its employees interact with customers.”

Sirius goes so far as to call negative comments “a gift”: “Keep in mind that for every person who gives an organization this gift, there are likely many more who feel similarly but are not as generous with their time.”

So how can you use the negative feedback to its advantage? In a Forbes article on this topic, customer service expert Shep Hyken suggests turning the “Moment of Misery” into a “Moment of Magic.”

Hug Your Haters

“Haters are not your problem. Ignoring them is. Responding to the problem is an opportunity to show how good you are,” Hyken says, plugging the book Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer.

Baer says, “While only 41 percent of people who complain on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other review sites anticipate a response, when they do receive a response, they’re almost twice as likely to recommend the company afterward.”

9 Tips to Respond, Remedy, Restore

1. Be responsive offline

If the only time a complaint is handled quickly is when it’s online, you’ve trained your customers to complain publically. Quickly resolving issues that started with an email or phone call can reduce the tendency of frustrated customers to lash out on social media in order to be heard.

2. Monitor mentions

Companies can’t wait for naysayers to come to them, says Baer. “You and your employees need to look at every individual complaint as an opportunity to create a deeper brand experience than a single purchase or interaction ever could. When you answer all the complaints in every venue, you’ll instill more value in your brand.”

You may find it’s also worth your while to do a periodic review of relevant pages and forums where your products or services may be discussed. Every complaint is an opportunity to build loyalty.

3. Take complaints to heart

“The complaint is a lesson on how to improve your process and sometimes your people,” says Hyken. “It provides data that shows you what isn’t working. … The goal is to improve your process.”

4. Be timely.

In order to communicate that you take the comment seriously, you should post an initial response to online comments (an answer, not necessarily resolution) within hours up to one business day. Companies that answer within minutes tend to have raving fans.

5. Remember the 95%.

When crafting your response, think about the larger group your complainer represents. According to Baer, only 5% will take the time to post. Everyone else is either leaving without giving you a chance to resolve their issue, or “lurking” – quietly watching how you handle disputes. Often, those who have left will come back to validate a similar complaint.

6. Don’t delete negative comments

It’s considered bad form to remove comments (other than those that violate stated guidelines, such as for profanity). To do so can give you more bad press. The best response is…a response.

7. Move the discussion.

If, after a round of response you feel the negativism is not abating, or is even escalating, ask to take the conversation off-line. You don’t want to publically get sucked down a wormhole. Plus, some concerns are best addressed privately.

8. Keep your cool.

Always. If you’re feeling attacked and defensive, post a standard, pre-planned reply (such as “We’re sorry to hear you’re having difficulty with…How can we reach you to discuss the matter further?), then step away from the keyboard until you’re ready to engage pleasantly. Remember the HALT guidelines: Stop before responding if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

9. Convert complainers.

By responding to complainers and using their feedback to address company “pain points,” complainers can often be converted into advocates, Hyken says.

Baer tells of two customers who did just that:

  • A store owner told a complainer that his attention to detail would make him the perfect customer to be a ‘mystery shopper’ and bring sub-par conditions to her attention. (He accepted)
  • A pizza restaurant owner publically offers a free meal to “give us another try–and bring friends.” Even if someone wanted to game the system just to get free pizza, this owner believes it’s still the cheapest advertising and loyalty strategy for the buck, and it usually wins the customer over.

In the brave new world of social media-based customer service, you can triumph with the right mindset and a strategy.