Social media is a powerful tool for businesses. It helps them connect, engage, and establish trust with current and prospective clients, increase brand awareness, website traffic and ultimately increase sales.
Connecting and engaging with clients and customers is a great way to show the human side of your company and establish trust and loyalty. But what happens when something goes awry and negative comments start popping up on your company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed? How would you address this?
Social media managers respond to negative comments in various ways:
1. Ignore them: The ‘Head in the Sand’ approach. If you don’t reply to the comments, maybe they’ll just go away. If a customer was at your place of business with a complaint, called or emailed your customer service department would you ignore him? No way! So why do some social media managers believe it’s okay to ignore complaints lodged on social networks? That I can’t answer. The unfortunate fact is that it happens.
2. Delete them: The ‘If No One Sees It, It Didn’t Happen’ approach. The only thing worse than ignoring a negative comment is deleting it. It only serves to anger the customer more and give them cause to react by telling ALL of their friends how awful your company and its employees are. It’s important to note that the average Facebook and Twitter user has 100+ friends and followers, so a complaint from one or even a few customers grows exponentially, costing you customers you didn’t even have yet.
3. Respond in kind: The ‘I’ll show you!’ approach. Let’s say a customer leaves an angry complaint on your company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. You feel the complaint is unjustified or, for whatever reason, it makes you angry and you can’t help but respond with an angry or defensive comment. Just as with the first two approaches, your response will only serve to exacerbate an already negative situation. Remember the old adage: The customer is always right – no matter how wrong he is! Also, remember that the complaining customer is not the only person who will be privy to this exchange.
4. Placate with a hollow apology: The ‘Gosh, Sorry You Feel That Way. We’ll Try To Do Better.’ approach. The problem with this response is that it doesn’t appear to be sincere, nor does it offer a real solution to the complaint, which, again, only serves to exacerbate the situation. People are aware when they are being appeased. Most importantly, this approach offers no solution to the problem and the customer may not give you a second chance.
Social media managers make these mistakes all the time, especially when there are multiple complaints (such as the one I covered a few months ago in my blog post regarding Ann Taylor brands and Cyber Monday). They ignored, deleted, and placated – all while continuing to offer new online sales and discounts without first fixing their substandard site. They responded to a few complaints by asking the customers to call or email customer service. For days afterward, there were complaints posted about not being able to get through by phone and getting no email response. How can they possibly believe this would have a positive outcome? What should they have done instead?
I suggest that there is truly only one proper response when managing complaints on your company’s social networks:
Offer an apology and a solution: The ‘We Hear You and Value Our Customers. We Will Make This Right Immediately!’ approach. The way I see it, this is your opportunity to turn a disgruntled customer into your brand’s evangelist! This person (or people) obviously had some sense of loyalty to your brand if they’ve spent their money with you, “liked” your Facebook fan page, and/or followed you on Twitter. Now, however, they’ve had an unpleasant experience and usually they just want to know that they’ve been listened to and that you (the people behind the brand) will make things right. In Ann Taylor’s case, there were problems with their website. They approached it in the ways outlined above, continued to send emails and post to social networks with apologies for inconvenience, and extended the time for the sales. What they didn’t do was fix the website, making it appear that they weren’t ‘getting it’ and, worse, that they didn’t care.
Considering the volume of complaints, it would’ve been impossible for Ann Taylor’s social media manager to respond to each one individually. I would’ve suggested that they make one post and send one email explaining that they were aware of the issues, were working to fix them, and offering to extend the sale or give an even larger discount – once the site was fixed (and not a minute before). I certainly wouldn’t have deleted posts or continued to offer online sales until I knew the site could handle the traffic.
I think sometimes brands forget that handling complaints via social networks are the same as dealing with them face-to-face (only with higher stakes). If a customer were standing in front of you with a complaint, you’d never ignore them, walk away from them, or simply apologize without offering a resolution. So why would that approach be acceptable via social networking sites? Answer: It’s not!
When you deal with complaints effectively, disgruntled customers will tell their friends how awesome your company is and what great your customer service you offer. And they’ll encourage their friends to buy from you. They have now become an evangelist for your brand. Talk about powerful (and free) marketing! You’ve established brand loyalty and trust to a greater degree than you would’ve had if there had never been a complaint.
Just remember that no matter how fantastic your company is, mistakes happen, customers get upset and complain. With the growth of social media they now expect to be able to lodge these complaints – and get resolutions – via social networks. Think of it as an opportunity to prove how awesome your company is – or not. It’s your choice.
How should a brand deal with negative comments? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!