5 steps for handling complaints on social media

It’s essential to identify what sort of negative feedback you’re getting; then you can map out your approach to satisfying the customer—or ignoring the troll.

Social media has become a staple of online marketing. According to Intuit, there are more than 9 million small businesses on Facebook alone.

Although most social media users interact with brands in a positive way, there’s plenty of negative feedback. Under social media’s veil of anonymity, disgruntled customers can vent their anger easily online.

Consequently, it’s important to know how to defuse the situation before it gets ugly. Taking the right steps can help humanize your brand, creating brand ambassadors and loyalty. Here are some guidelines:

Step 1. Be prepared

Prompt responses show that a brand cares about its customers; it’s smart to have a game plan ready for complaints or criticism on social media. First, accept that even the best-run businesses experience these issues.

It’s impossible to please everyone, so don’t take it personally when a consumer is less than 100 percent pleased with your product or service.

Step 2. Determine the type of complaint

According to Mashable, there are four primary types of negative feedback:

1. Straight problems: There is a problem with a product or service, and the customer can pinpoint what went wrong.

2. Constructive criticism: A customer respectfully mentions a way that a product/service or your business in general can improve.

3. Merited attack: Your company did something wrong, and someone is angry about it.

4. Trolling: Someone is deliberately being difficult for no real reason other than to get a reaction or make your company look bad.

Step 3. Offer a timely, legitimate public apology

Never ignore negative feedback, nor prolong your response to it. Ideally, you should respond to a complaint within four hours. This will help ameliorate the situation, because the consumer will feel their opinion is valued. Waiting several days, or longer, conveys that your business doesn’t care about its consumers and that complaints aren’t taken seriously.

The first three types of complaints warrant an apology. As the saying goes, “The customer is always right.” In reality, sometimes the customer is wrong, but it’s the responsibility of business owners to keep a cool head and respond intelligently and professionally. Even if the complaint is ridiculous, it’s best to take the high road.

You might say something like, “I’m sorry that our product or service didn’t meet expectations or that you’re unhappy with our performance. I would be happy to work with you to resolve the issue.” If possible, you or a team member should include a first name so a customer knows that a human being is responding directly.

Leaving a comment on your profile or sending a tweet accomplishes two things. First, the complaining consumer knows that you care and that some resolution will be coming. Second, it shows anyone looking at your company’s social media profile that you are professional and don’t neglect customers.

The only exception is for trolling, when people try to lure you into a confrontation even when your business has done nothing wrong. In this situation, it’s best to ignore the feedback and remove the comment.

Step 4. Move the conversation to a private place

After addressing negative feedback head on, it’s smart to discuss matters further in an environment where thousands of eyes aren’t on the conversation. Doing so will give the customer the attention they seek without publicly displaying every detail.

Typically, email correspondence or phone conversations work best because a customer can explain their situation and vent if they need to, and you can work on a resolution directly. This is the time to ask for specifics about the complaint, including what’s wrong with the product/service or why the customer had a bad experience.

Straight problems and constructive criticism are relatively easy to handle, because a specific catalyst has prompted the complaint. In these cases, point out that you’re thankful that the customer brought the issue to your attention; then do whatever you can to resolve it.

Despite the inconvenience, you could benefit in the long run, because you can take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again-perhaps on a larger scale.

If it’s a merited attack, it can be a bit trickier to deal with. Because issues can vary, this can require some diplomacy and compromise to ensure that the customer is satisfied. Explain that adequate measures will be taken to prevent the same thing from happening again. Thank them for their feedback, and do whatever you can to make amends.

Step 5. Follow through

After a private discussion with a customer, they’ll generally feel better. Once this is done, it’s important to be true to your word and follow through with what you said. This might include replacing a faulty product, offering a discount, or adjusting a company policy.

Reputation monitoring tools

If you’re looking to keep a sharp eye on what consumers are saying about your brand online, there are a few tools that can help:

  • Google Alerts lets you enter a specific query; results will pop up to keep you abreast of recent news. It will also send emails automatically any time there is something of interest involving your company.
  • Social Mention and Sendible are similar to Google Alerts and include overall brand sentiment, top keywords, top users, top hashtags, and sources to provide a thorough view of what people are saying.

Tools such as these help you catch negative feedback before it escalates. With fine-tuning, you can develop solid brand health on social media and maintain positive customer relationships.

Further reading

I recommend these articles for kick-starting your social media marketing campaign:

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