Have a Plan - Take Pro-Active Steps
As always, planning is everything. It is important that you have a plan and strategy in place BEFORE a customer takes to the internet or blogosphere. Create a commenting policy for your blog and have it posted so that you'll have something to fall back on if you have to remove any comments. All of your team members should be familiar with that policy as well as the procedure for dealing with angry customers or who they should call.
Listen for the Complaints
You cannot possibly respond to conversations that you don't see or know about. Monitor your social media outlets, your blog, and Google Alerts (it's free!). Depending on what your business is, you may want to monitor review sites such as Yelp too. If there is a specific forum that your customers are fond of using, add that to your daily check list. Your customers are talking whether or not you're listening. Catching negative comments before they build momentum makes them much easier to deal with. If you don't have the time to do this level of monitoring, you can assign it to your Virtual Administrative Assistant.
You will have to determine which negative remarks are worth a response. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just move on. Here are some situations to avoid:
- Complaints that are on very small blogs or forums. Your response may actually bring more attention to something that would have faded away.
- Blatant attacks that are clearly rude or outrageous. These are posts that anyone who reads it will see that the poster has a personal problem.
- Interacting with a known crackpot who is only looking to pick a fight. If the same person complains repeatedly, no matter what you do, don't continue to engage that person online.
Immediately say sorry, whether or not it is your fault. Offer an apology for their unsatisfactory experience and try to take the conversation off line as soon as possible. The longer you wait to respond, the angrier the customer gets and the more likely that others will pile on with more negative buzz. An example response is:
"Hi (customer name). Thanks for getting in touch and sorry to hear about (issue or experience). If you send along your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll work with you to find a way to help with that problem."Offer to make it right when you respond. We all make mistakes, but customers remember how we fix them even more.
Speak Like a Person
Don't use a canned response to every online complaint. Nothing makes people angrier than feeling like they are being treated like a number and not a real person. Show empathy, communicate in a friendly tone, use their name, and use your name. Often simply including a name or picture difuses the situation because the customer has a much harder time being rude to an individual as opposed to a nameless, faceless entity.
Never Get In To a Fight
Anytime you win an argument online, you've actually lost. All customers remember is that you were combative to another customer who might have had a valid complaint. They don't want to do business with someone they feel will not take their issues seriously. Respond to the initial complaint, but don't get involved in a contentious back and forth. Some things to remember when responding:
- Don't get emotional.
- It's a real person, just like you, on the other side of the complaint.
- The complaint may actually be doing you a favor by pointing out something that needs to be improved in your business. How many customers felt the same way and just left without saying anything?
If the complaint or negative comment came on Twitter, respond on Twitter. Don't use email to respond to a facebook comment. Noone will see the response if you post it somewhere else. When you respond online and in public, you earn positive word of mouth.
Instant access to customers and information can be a double edged sword for businesses. But with a little pre-planning and a solid strategy, you may be able to turn those angry customers in to loyal fans.