People Are Mean: A Guide for Social Media and Community Managers

lizgross144
Liz Gross Social Media Strategist, Great Lakes

Posted on March 13th 2014

People Are Mean: A Guide for Social Media and Community Managers
Angry Social Media CustomerNo one likes to be the target of insults and name calling. If you manage a company social media account, however, it’s part of the job. I’ve had multiple co-workers tell me they could never imagine doing what I do because of the comments I deal with (I manage social media for a student loan servicer—just use your imagination to think of the negative things people may have to say). This blog post has been rolling around in my head for months. Instead of focusing on the negative things I’ve seen, or writing about how people should just be nicer, I think it’s more productive to talk about how social media and community managers can rise above the negativity and provide excellent service to everyone we interact with—even the haters.

It’s Not About You

I’ve caught myself saying, “You’ll never believe what one of our customers said to me today.” This is a dangerous perspective. When someone tweets to a business or writes on a company’s Facebook page, they believe they are writing to the company, not the individual that happens to be managing the social media account. Sure, it stings when an insult pops up in your inbox, but removing yourself from the situation will allow you to develop a calm, caring response (or recognize a troll and choose not to respond).

You Don’t Know The Whole Story

After you’ve done social customer service for awhile, you begin to see a pattern of complaints or misunderstandings. People don’t understand how bills are calculated; they’ve flagged your emails as spam so they’re not getting important notifications; their login isn’t working on your website. It’s easy to think you instantly understand a customer’s problem based on a vague comment. Resist the urge to go on auto pilot and offer a quick solution before you know it’s the correct solution. An irritated customer that feels they’re being offered a canned response will just continue to escalate the issue.
 

Turn Complainers Into Champions

Honestly, my most enjoyable interactions have been with customers that first identified themselves as complainers. Offering education and demonstrating a commitment to personalized customer service can work wonders. Helping a customer in order to turn “I’m so frustrated with Company X” into “Wow, Company X really came through and helped me today” is a big win. Here’s how I do it.

Acknowledge

Start by letting the person know you heard them. Note that this doesn’t require you to admit wrongdoing (you may not be familiar enough with the situation to know if that’s warranted), but at the very least you can acknowledge the frustration or anger the person is experiencing.

Ask

Find out what type of help the customer is seeking. If it’s clear what kind of help you can provide, clarify that to determine if the customer actually wants assistance or is simply venting. These two steps can usually be done in one tweet:
It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated today. Is there anything I can do to help?
or
I’m sorry our email was confusing. Would you like me to look up your account so I can answer your question?

Adjust Expectations

Once you’ve established how you can help, you may need to aid the customer in adjusting their expectations for resolving the complaint if it will not be addressed immediately. This might look like:
I’ve contacted a specialist to look into that for you. It may take a few hours, but I’ll contact you as soon as I have more information.

Apologize

If someone screwed up, say you’re sorry. It doesn’t matter if that someone works halfway around the world or is your boss. A genuine apology for a mistake can often de-escalate conflict, particularly if you’re able to make good on it. Even in cases where a mistake was not made, an apology may be useful to end a particularly stressful conversation. This could look like:
 
We miscalculated the total for your order. I apologize for the error. It has been corrected with a credit to your account. 
or
I apologize for the frustration this has caused. Thank you for reaching out to us. If we can be of additional service, please let us know.
 
Approaching social customer service within this framework will allow you to remain level-headed and provide personal service to everyone that contacts your company. Over time, you’ll develop a thick skin that allows you to handle insults and complaints just as easily as questions about how to find something on the website.

Do you have any additional tips to handle insults and complaints directed towards a company’s social media account? Please share in the comments!

This post originally appeared on Gross, Point-Blank.

lizgross144

Liz Gross

Social Media Strategist, Great Lakes

Liz has 10 years of experience communicating on behalf of organizations, including a financial services company with over 9 million customers, a university department, three national student organizations, and a small two-year college campus. Read more of her work at lizgross.net/blog.

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Comments

Zach Ethan
Posted on March 13th 2014 at 1:44PM

I think one of the worst social media business practices is hiding or removing negative reviews and failing to address them. If they are legitimate complaints or concerns rather than trying to brush them under the carpet it's a better business practice to respond to them promptly and try to resolve the issue. 

lizgross144
Posted on March 29th 2014 at 7:14PM

Definitely agree, Zach!