Tips on how to respond to complaints on social media and manage unhappy customers to ensure the comments don’t spiral out of control.

Complaining on social media often generates faster responses than traditional methods such as phone and email. As a result it’s become a simpler and more common method to complain. Read how to respond to these complaints to mitigate potential brand damage.

What’s the Best Way to Respond to Consumer Complaints on Social Media?

Managing customer relations is never simple, but with consistent effort it’s possible to develop an effective system for handling and resolving customer complaints. But now there’s social media, and multiple new platforms where even minor customer complaints can spiral out of control if you don’t have a good system for handling them.

Why Social Media Complaints Shouldn’t be Ignored

In any customer interaction, way you handle it can either reinforce a customer’s sense of trust in your brand, or it can erode that trust. But when it happens on social media it’s not just the customer with the problem you have to worry about.

When customers complain about their problem on social media, there’s a potentially large number of people watching the interaction, and how you handle it can impact how they feel about your brand too. When you respond to complaints, handle them with sensitivity, and visibly solve people’s problems, formerly disgruntled customers can become your biggest champions.

Not to mention the fact that these interactions have the potential to go viral, if they’re particularly noteworthy. That can result in some great publicity if the interaction goes your way; if it doesn’t, you can risk a major reputation hit. If you’re ever tempted to ignore the influence of social media, just remember what happened when social media superstar Kylie Jenner Tweeted negatively about SnapChat—the company’s shares lost $1.3 billion in market value within 24 hours.

With this in mind, it can be tempting sometimes to just ignore these customer complaints; however, it’s best to avoid this temptation. It’s always in your company’s best interests to take a proactive stance when it comes to customer relations and reputation management.

This goes for every customer complaint—even those that may not seem to be justified. Even the smallest complaints are worthy of a response, especially when they’re made online. Most people hate feeling ignored, and when customers feel ignored they’re much more likely to escalate the situation into one that’s much less easily handled.

As well as this, there’s the fact that when this plays out on social media, you’re effectively ignoring a customer’s concerns in public—and to the public, this looks like apathy.

Dealing with trolls

Not all customers make complaints in good faith. It’s a fact of life—and the internet—that occasionally you’ll hear from people who make complaints because they want to stir up trouble, rather than because they want their problem solved.

Even though trolls don’t have genuine complaints, it’s still unwise to ignore them. Even if you’re an experienced troll-spotter, it’s still fairly easy to confuse them with genuine customers with real problems.

If you suspect a particular customer might be complaining in bad faith, encourage them to contact you via another channel. For instance, ask them to send a direct message, or provide an email address. You’re publicity addressing the complaint, but doing so in a way that reduces the risk of escalation.

Resolve Social Media Complaints Quickly and Quietly

When people make complaints on social media, they generally want two things: they want a solution to a problem, and they want to feel heard. That second thing is actually the most important. Even when you can’t provide a solution, a customer’s more likely to be satisfied with your handling of a complaint if you listen and take them seriously.

The initial response to a complaint should do the following three things. It’s not always possible to solve a customer’s problem immediately, but you should at least let the customer know that you’re investigating.

  • Thank the customer for their feedback.
  • Apologise for whatever problem they’ve had.
  • Let the customer know you’re looking into their problem. If possible, explain what you’ll do to fix it.

Quick responses are vital

An ignored customer is an angry customer, so it’s always important to respond to customer complaints as soon as possible. Ideally this should be within 30 to 60 minutes if it’s during business hours.

Not surprisingly, the Twitter account of social media management tool Hootsuite does a stellar job, not just with handling customer issues, but with social media in general. @Hootsuite_Help is quick to follow up on customer complaints and problems, providing Hootsuite users with the help they need in real time.

Take the conversation private whenever possible

Even if you respond quickly and say all the right things, there’s always a risk of a customer complaint getting out of hand. For this reason, it’s best to take customer conversations private once you’ve made the initial public response. This is also necessary in any situation where a customer might need to provide confidential or sensitive information.

US postal company UPS does a great job with this on Twitter. @UPSHelp responds promptly to customer complaints and queries, and when customer support needs private or sensitive information from a customer, the company’s Tweet includes a direct link the customer can click to send a private message. @UPSHelp makes it easy and fast for customers to reply, which helps both parties get problems solved more quickly.

Acknowledge major problems

If significant numbers of customers are having the same problem, addressing complaints individually isn’t always enough. In these cases, it may also be necessary to post an alert to let other customers know of the potential issue. For instance, if bad weather is causing delays in product shipments, let people know that their expected deliveries may not arrive right on time. And aim to stay more active on social media until the problem is solved, so that you can stay on top of what may be a higher-than-usual number of customer complaints.

Criticism is an Opportunity

Finally, remember that customer complaints aren’t personal, and shouldn’t be taken as such. Instead of seeing criticism as a negative, think of it as an opportunity to improve.

And responding to complaints and solving customer problems can give you new insight into how to operate more efficiently—so over time, you may end up seeing fewer complaints over all.

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