Foreword Online

Ideas, information and industry news for collegiate retailers

How to Handle Social Media Complaints

Posted by Joe Clarkin on 3/14/16 11:00 PM
Topics: social media, college store customer service

As unfortunate as it may be, customer complaints come with the territory of being a retailer. Try as you might, some people aren't going to be satisfied with your services no matter what you do. And in this era of social media, those customers have a bigger platform than ever on which to let people know loud and clear exactly what they feel you've done wrong. That's why it's so important to know precisely how to hand complaints in this day and age, especially on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. In this post from Jay Baer at Buffer, he's put together "The 6 Step Playbook for Handling Social Media Complaints," which will help guide you through the process of communicating with unhappy customers on social media. Check out an excerpt from his playbook below, or read through all six steps here.


Find all mentions

It’s impossible to hug the haters you never see.

In the legacy, offstage channels of phone and telephone, this isn’t an issue. If someone calls your business, you know they called. The phone was either answered or the caller left a message. The same is true for email; there’s no detective work needed to find them, they just show up on your computer, phone, or tablet.

But it’s harder with social media and other online customer complaints venues.

At the basic level, all companies should be using social media listening software. Respond would be a terrific choice and large companies may employ specialized packages that also monitor review sites like Yelp, et al.

Software is a useful tool in the quest to find all customer feedback in social because much of that feedback doesn’t mention the company specifically.

Only about half of the people who complain in social expect to hear back from the company, so in many cases they do not phrase their complaints in a way that ties it back to the business in an obvious way. They don’t tag the business, for example.

Social customer service company Conversocial partnered with New York University on research that found that more than one-third of all tweets to companies were about customer service issues, but that only three percent incorporated the company’s Twitter username with the @ symbol.

This means that many mentions of your business online—on Twitter and beyond—may be indirect, which is why it’s crucial that you have a system that catches those complaints and comments.

Display empathy

Though social media complainers and haters may not expect a reply, they definitely desire an audience. That’s why they raise the stakes and take grievances to a public forum. They want onlookers to chime in with variations on the theme of “I’m appalled! How dare they treat you this way!”

Their complaints are often filled with language that vacillates between colorful and outrageous. It creates the reaction they seek, from the audience and possibly from you. They are angry. They write something scathing and post it online. Now you’re angry too.

When you read a highly negative comment about your business (or about yourself), you not only feel angry but experience a very real physical reaction.

“As you become angry your body’s muscles tense up. Inside your brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing you to experience a burst of energy lasting up to several minutes. This burst of energy is behind the common angry desire to take immediate protective action. At the same time your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. You’re now ready to fight.”

Accelerated heart rate. Increased blood pressure. Rapid breathing. These are not the ideal conditions for a speedy, empathetic response to customer complaints. But you have to find a way to keep your cool in the face of complaints, or find the people in your business who can do so.

Engaging in a sequence of acrimonious accusations with customers in a public, online forum never works. The business is never the perceived victor, even if they were truly in the right. Yet back-and-forth “flame wars” are not rare. They happen a lot, and they happen because the person answering customer complaints is unable to put empathy for the customer ahead of their physiological desire to fight.

Inserting empathy into your interactions with social media haters doesn’t mean that you give them all wet, sloppy kisses. It doesn’t mean you bend over backward. It doesn’t mean the customer is always right.

It does mean the customer is always heard, and you should acknowledge, instantly and often, that the person is having a problem that your business likely caused somehow. A short “I’m sorry” goes a long, long way.

A copy and paste, canned answer rarely conveys empathy. If your customer service personnel, especially online, have any responses in their quiver of standard answers that read like robotic, pasted copy, find them and start over. Because in some cases, scripted responses can come across as bad as no response at all.

Article comments

Subscribe for updates

Share your experience

Contact our editorial team to set up an interview or to contribute a guest post.

Most popular posts