Picture: 123RF/GILC
Picture: 123RF/GILC

Consumers are increasingly turning to social media when they have become frustrated with the slow pace of traditional customer service channels to resolve issues.

The problem with traditional channels is that they are typically funnelled through call centres, where agents are not always empowered to solve customer problems. This can result in significant consumer frustration. Some frustrated customers turn to social media channels to vent their frustration, believing not only that these channels provide them with more leverage with companies or brands but that their complaints are likely to be resolved more quickly.

In response, many companies have started to gear up their responses to social media complaints.

The first rule of thumb when dealing with an irate customer on social media is to treat them in much the same way you would if they had entered your physical store or business. Just as you would not turn your back on a customer in person or get irate with them if they were to walk into your store, don’t turn your back on them on social media by not responding or getting irate with them on these public digital platforms.

Don’t respond in the heat of the moment; responses should always be calm and measured, irrespective of how furious the customer is or how incendiary their comments. But speed is key, given that consumers expect a rapid response, so a reply within a business day is recommended. 

Take conversations with customers who have complained offline as soon as possible. Either guide them to provide their contact details via a private message or provide them with an e-mail address. Always try to appease customers as quickly and efficiently as possible while still protecting their personal information.

There is value in outsourcing the running of a business’s social media account, as a third party is typically less emotionally invested, especially if the business manages a lot of customer queries and complaints through social media. However, if you do choose this route remember to empower your social media partner with all the information required to resolve complaints quickly as well as the authority to issue vouchers, for example, to delight customers. Essentially, it’s about providing them with some power and authority to resolve issues on your behalf while similarly giving them strategies to funnel information back into your organisation.

Where possible, provide automatic replies to frequently asked questions such as those about return policies, operating hours and business contact information. This takes the effort away from the customer trying to find the information on your website while also freeing your social media inbox from repetitive customer questions.

Importantly, have an escalation process in place to mitigate risk. Make a scenario plan for a crisis and have appropriate responses ready for these instances so that you can react swiftly and appropriately. It is in the company’s best interest to determine what a crisis is and when it is required to get top management involved to make decisions on how to proceed. Having these plans in place also gives your business a view on how to avoid potential crisis, by including community guidelines, updating company social media policies and sense checking content before it is posted on social media.

Most companies tend to be terrified of receiving complaints via social media. However, instead of looking at all complaints as potential crises, see them as a way to improve your customer service and customer sentiment towards your brand.

Be aware, however, of consistent complainers, who typically come with the intention of bullying brands into giving them freebies. These individuals need to be handled with the same level of civility as you would any customer. However, don’t allow them to dictate terms.

Make public, either on your website or on the social media platform, the brands’ community guidelines that stipulate to users what will and won’t be tolerated. The community guidelines should be viewed as a protocol for both the business and its customers to enjoy a positive experience online. Never allow other community members or staff to be bullied on your social media platforms. This policy needs to be made very clear on your community guideline. Also explain what will happen if somebody breaks the rules of engagement.

While feedback and constructive criticism are valuable, don’t assume that a sample of one is indicative of a need to reorganise your business. At the same time, take complaints seriously but follow up with polls and surveys to see if a changed approach is really required.

If you take the time to engage with your customers, they will tell you where the issues lie. A brand’s ability to really listen and pay attention to its customers has the power to move the needle. Customer complaints and comments can also point the way towards potential issues as well as where you are delighting customers and getting things right, indicating what you should be doing more of.

  • Sabrina Andreucci is the strategic director at Social Media 101.

 

The big take-out:

Social media complaints can be a useful barometer to measure customer sentiment towards your brand.

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