Studies show that if someone has a problem with your business, they're very likely to take it to Facebook or Twitter. Not only do people tend to "flame" and "troll" on your favorite social media sites, but according to research from VB Insight, consumers complain on social media about local or corporate companies about 879 million times a year. Ten percent of these people make a complaint every day.
If that doesn't get your attention, The Social Habit states that 42 percent of consumers expect a response from your official brand in as little as sixty minutes. This is even more staggering when you consider that most companies that carefully evaluate reputation management can take as long as six months just to respond to criticism. Bottom line, social media consumers are impatient and don't like waiting around.
Who goes several days without checking their email or Facebook notifications anymore? Very few, so social media customer service has to be even more responsive, especially since the conversations play out in front of an audience.
While midgrade to large companies have staff members hired exclusively for social media management, guaranteeing faster responses, the pressure on small businesses is becoming a mainstay in modern business. You are far likelier to have an unhappy customer posting messages all over your wall than to have a person simply write you a nice review. Volatile emotion is what leads to people taking action, so expect that customer complaint is just part of business.
The question is, what will you do to prepare and counteract this inevitable public criticism?
Use each and every complaint as a way to brand your business in a positive way and attract loyal fans. You start with a strong statement-the complaint-and then use that as a catalyst to start free discussion on your values, mission statement and customer service skills.
In speech writing, it is quite common to begin with a negative statement and then build an entire discussion on that introductory statement, listing positives and turning the negative association into a positive frame of mind. Banning or blocking people accomplishes nothing. Ignoring your followers also tends to be a bad move. It's simply a waste of free publicity to not seize the moment and capitalize on it.
The Golden Rules for Answering Criticism
1. Monitor your pages and set up "alerts" so you can find all mention of your name. Act quickly, knowing that the longer you stall the angrier the customer gets. Put out the fire quickly.
2. STOP quoting policy and talk like a person. Social media is all about human communication. Forget corporate speak and talk to them like a human being. This means showing empathy, using a friendly tone and using your name and the client's name. The minute he/she realizes you are a person and not a faceless "corporation" that's when the dynamic changes for the better.
3. Apologies are OK...but only if they're sincere. Don't even bother giving a fake or "safe" apology. Mean it and give the customer what they want-IF your company did something wrong. FedEX and Amazon are among the many companies that have publicly apologized for the behavior of some of their employees and the sincere apology went a long way.
4. Finally, do your best to fix the problem. This is what your customer is asking for by making public complaint. Determine what is cost feasible (nothing more than you can afford to lose, of course) and then weigh this cost compared to a lifelong customer that continues to buy from you. You may find it advantageous to offer one refund than to lose a customer for life.
Curt Hill, author of Customer Service DNA, describes the situation aptly as a "fight that you have to stop." Hill states, "At this point the customer is angry and feeling as if his voice is not being heard. Rather than escalate the situation and challenge him, your job as the voice of reason is to stop the fight, remove emotion from the situation, and show above all else that you want to help."
Freeman Lewin, an expert in customer retention and CEO of corporate gift company Gimmee Jimmy's Cookies, also offers a fresh perspective of the situation. "Never be afraid of criticism. People who bring their issue to social media are actually doing you a favor because they're giving you the chance to rectify the situation and look good in the process. It's a chance for you to boost your customer service skills in the eye of the public."
Ask yourself the simple question, would you rather have a lifelong enemy or a raving fan? Lewin continues, "If you exceed the customer's expectation and fix the problem publicly, you will earn their trust and they will go from enemy to fan, realizing you're not like most companies out there. You're on their side. From now on, they're going to be on your side and that customer loyalty is worth gold."