How to handle a social media complaint

You’re being badmouthed on the Internet. Here’s how to manage it.

Customers have businesses in a stranglehold; gone are the days when poor customer service could be brushed under the carpet. Nowadays businesses are scrutinised over their treatment of customers, staff, services and merchandise, and nobody gets it right all the time.

So how do you react when you find out a customer has complained about you, not in a letter or an email, but on a public social media forum like Twitter, Facebook, or Trip Advisor?

Ten ways to successfully manage a social media complaint

  1. Don’t panic. Businesses more high profile than yours have bounced back from social media complaints that went viral; think back to the mass Twitter response to O2’s outage last year, or the infamous ‘United Breaks Guitars’ protest song against United Airlines. As long as you deal with the complaint quickly and correctly, this needn’t be a disaster for your business.

  2. Make sure you have a platform from which to respond. If someone is complaining about you on Twitter, that’s where you need to intercept them, otherwise the complaint floats around unanswered, an unchallenged negative viewpoint of your company. Make sure you have a platform on all the major social media sites, in addition to any forums (e.g. Trip Advisor), to give your business a voice to challenge and resolve potential complaints.

  3. Have specific accounts set up to deal with customer issues. Create a customer focussed social media account (with ‘customer service’ in the account name), set apart from your main company account – it will enable you to respond to customer complaints without the conversations showing up on your main account feed.

  4. Set up alerts and keyword searches. These will quickly and easily find and group conversations about your company, giving you full visibility of any complaints.

  5. Never ignore a complaint. Some complaints may be facile or expletive-ridden, and they may very well be unfair – but leaving a complaint unanswered makes you look unprofessional, and your silence might appear ‘guilty’ to outsiders.

  6. Take it offline. Let the complainant know that you’ve seen their complaint and ask for their email address or phone number so you can address their complaint offline. The first objective is to remove the complainant from the public eye, the second is to resolve the situation through a professional best practice route; you’ll find it a challenge to resolve a complaint in a 140 character tweet.

  7. Monitor your social media accounts at all times. You may only operate 9-5, but customers may well be logging into Facebook and Twitter in the evenings. Make sure someone somewhere is monitoring your accounts and responding appropriately to complaints.

  8. Provide appropriate channels for customers to air their grievances. Ask yourself why the customer took to a public forum to complain, rather than approach your business directly in the first place? It could be that it was simply in order to rant with free abandon, but it might also be that they’d already tried to complain directly and found it too much effort. Do you make it easy for customers to log issues on your website? Do they have to go through a 10-stage automated switchboard just to speak to a human? This might be the route of your troubles. Make it easier for a customer to complain to your directly and you’ll decrease the chances of that complaint appearing to the public.

  9. Apologise where necessary. Sometimes it’s best to just say sorry; companies who refuse to apologise for fear of appearing in the wrong can appear petulant and unrepentant. A simple “Sorry to hear about your experience. If you send us your contact details we’ll put you in touch with someone who can help” can be enough to mollify an enraged customer.

  10. Turn the negative experience into a positive one. Show other customers and potential customers how quickly and effectively you’ve resolved a complaint. Demonstrate your professionalism under fire and in the spotlight – they’ll be more likely to use a company that addresses and solves customer issues than one who ignores them.