Consumers have never had so much power in the marketplace—and so many places to wield it. From Twitter to Instagram to industry-specific review sites, there are countless outlets for a vitriolic customer to rant about what they consider to be bad service. To avoid a social media crisis and maintain their reputations, small businesses need to be more vigilant than ever and to have a crisis management strategy in place.
We asked customer service consultant, bestselling author and keynote speaker Micah Solomon to walk us through how to deal when a customer gets sassy on social media—and some best practices to avoid an online siege altogether.
Deep breaths. The first step is to keep perspective. The Twitterverse is enormous; there are literally hundreds of thousands of conversations happening every second of every day. If a bitter customer tweets about their disappointment with your service, people will see it, but it won’t register as red-hot information to them in the same way it does to you. The sheer volume of chatter on social media means hateful posts are usually quickly buried.
But that doesn’t mean you should step away like nothing ever happened. According to Solomon, a swift response is everything when it comes to handling a customer complaint. “Respond right away—and by right away I mean four hours or less, preferably within a half hour.”
Set Google alerts and monitor all of your social feeds religiously (i.e. a few times a day) so you can put out a small fire before it turns into an inferno. When a crabby customer takes to social media to air their beef with your business, you’ll be ready to leap into action—and take it offline.
“The best practice is to try to take the conversation private. If it’s a complaint on Twitter, direct mail them and ask if you can speak with them over the phone to resolve the issue.”
If you can’t DM them because they don’t follow you, Solomon advises crafting a public tweet along the lines of, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear this. I’ve followed you so that you can DM me. We’d love to resolve your issue.’”
If your business belongs to industry-specific review and referral platforms, such as Houzz or HomeStars, it’s good business practice to respond directly to any complaints on the platform itself. Express your concern and make it clear you want to make things right with your customer. This is standard practice on hospitality sites like TripAdvisor.
However, if your complaint was logged on Twitter or Instagram, where tweets and posts quickly disappear as new ones come in, it’s best to strive for a private resolution, says Solomon. “For a business to bring the issue up after the fact, to pat yourself on the back for resolving it? Not a good idea; you would be bringing the whole issue back to the top of the feed which you don’t want to do.”
Nevertheless, if and when you successfully resolve the issue with your customer, you could confide to the now-satisfied complainer how helpful it would be if they updated their original post. “You might explain that you’re a small business and it would be super helpful if they followed up their original post with one that mentions your customer service and their satisfaction.”
Is your company Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram feed littered with customer questions? While it’s great that customers are engaging with your business, it’s also time-consuming to field questions about your rates, availability or location on social media.
The best way to avoid this problem is to link to your website where people can find all the answers to common questions. If your business is complex or technical, consider an FAQ section on your site and be sure it’s easy for users to find.
We’re not sure who coined the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (or why intangible concepts are measured in weight), but they were 100 per cent right. Cut your disgruntled customers off at the pass by providing exceptional, responsive service. Here are some of Solomon’s priority best practices.
The last thing you want is for an angry customer to take to Twitter because they lost your business card and can’t remember your phone number. It’s critical to give them as many ways to reach you as possible. It should go without saying that you have a website—and on it you’ll want to prominently display several ways to reach you, including email and phone numbers.
“There are some smaller companies that feel that they’re super hip and encourage a dialogue, even a negative one, via Twitter. But ideally you have those difficult conversations offline,” said Solomon. “Let your customers know all the private ways to get in touch with you. They need to know they’ll never have a problem reaching you.”
It’s not enough to offer a phone number and an email address—the more important part is responding to customers as quickly as possible. Solomon takes this aspect of customer service extremely seriously himself. On his website, a bright yellow box under contact information tells people the response time (usually 0-30 minutes) if they reach out to him.
“I’ve worked with huge companies that are striving to have excellent customer service, but their best practice is still, ‘We strive to respond to all emails within 48 hours.’ Maybe this was okay five years ago, but today, if you’ve not responded in 48 hours, it’s like 13 years have gone by in Internet time.”
This is one area where a small business can have an edge over big corporations. “If I send a comment to Starbucks corporate they’re not going to get back to me in 30 minutes, but there’s no reason a solopreneur photographer can’t strive to do that,” said Solomon.
It’s particularly tough for solopreneurs and service-based small businesses to receive negative feedback about their work. It’s almost impossible not to take complaints personally, which makes it difficult to respond with grace.
Though you’ll never please everybody all the time, you can avoid conflicts with your customers by making customer service a cornerstone of your business. That means a cheerful demeanor, a can-do attitude and a willingness to satisfy their needs.
“Even if you win an argument with a customer, you lose,” says Solomon. “It’s not possible to give service where no one will ever complain because every customer is different. Do your best and deliver it with the best possible service. Recognize your customers, make them feel important and make sure they know you want to hear from them if there’s a problem.”
The alternative might not be worth it.