Credit: Angry online customer image via Shutterstock
In the old days of bricks-and-mortar commerce, store employees often had a chance to take a disgruntled customer aside and work things out in person. But online, and especially in the social media arena, things are much more public, fast-paced and, frankly, scary for businesses. Small businesses in particular need a primer to help them when customer service situations go south.
Micah Solomon, a customer service guru and "dean" of the "College of the Customer" blog, has seen it all when it comes to how customer service can get derailed. He has distilled that experience into a forthcoming book, "High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service," (American Management Association/AMAM, 2012). He recently shared with BusinessNewsDaily four unbreakable social media rules for handling awkward customer service situations that will help companies get their businesses back on track.
1. Digital arguments with customers are an exponentially losing proposition.
We all know: You can’t win an argument with a customer. If you lose, you lose directly; if you win, you still lose—by losing the customer. But online, the rule is multiplied manifold because of all the additional customers you’ll lose if they catch sight of the argument. So, you need to learn to bite your tongue and think of the future of your company. A lot. So: Breathe, slow down, and, above all else, avoid reacting in anger.
If it helps you psychologically to get through it, try to remember that while many customers have legitimate and long-ignored grievances, even with well-meaning companies, others, some of the people who are randomly hurtful online—the folks I call ‘‘Click Puppies’’—are doing it off the cuff. Unlike your staff and yourself, they may be reacting in an unprofessional manner at that moment of outrage, even if the rest of their lives they are perfectly reasonable people. Keep this in mind and try to move on to the next thing yourself as best you can.
2: Reach out directly to online complainers
Let’s say you’ve spotted an outrageous tweet about your firm: Company X double-bills all customers—Must Think We R Suckrs—_FAIL
How should you respond? If this irate customer follows you on Twitter, that makes you able to send him a direct message—so do it. Include a direct email address and direct phone number. If, however, this venting customer isn’t one of your followers, you’ll need to figure out another way to reach him. How about replying publicly, on Twitter, listing your email address and expressing your chagrin and concern?
By responding this way, you have a good chance to move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting every move or, worse, catching bits and pieces as things progress, without ever grasping the whole story. This dispute resolution approach is like an in-store situation where you take an irate customer aside, perhaps into your office, to privately discuss the matter, giving you both a chance to work together to arrive at a resolution.
3. Avoid the fiasco formula: a digital stitch in time…
Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula is: Small Error + Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster.
That is, the magnitude of a social media uproar increases disproportionately with the length of your response time. Be aware that a negative event in the online world can gather social steam with such speed that your delay itself can become more of a problem than the initial incident. A day’s lag in responding can be too much.
Principle 4: Minimize the likelihood of public social media complaints in the first place.
If your friend saw you had your fly undone, would he tweet about it? No, he’d quietly tell you. [And if nobody tells you when your fly is undone, you clearly have no friends.]
In this same spirit, why should unhappy customers complain indirectly via Twitter or their blogs when they can use email, the phone, or a feedback form on your website and know that it will be answered—immediately and with empathy? With their round-the-clock access to the social airwaves, make sure that the first impulse of customers is to reach you directly, day or night, by offering “chime in” forms everywhere, direct chat links for when your FAQs fail to assist, and an easy way to reply directly to every corporate email you send out.