The Big 5 social media networksMany small businesses I speak to feel worried about using social media. It’s totally understandable, social media means putting yourself and your company firmly in the public spotlight. There is a certain sense of vulnerability involved – you hope for good, positive comments but you are also open to potential abuse and negative online reviews. And that’s the biggest worry – what if a customer complains and leaves a negative review? Their comments are out there in public, posted, shared, re-tweeted. Everyone can see it!

Well, the first thing to acknowledge is that you may have had disgruntled customers in the past but you just weren’t aware of them. Now look at the use of social media from a slightly different angle – if someone leaves a negative review or comment on Twitter or Facebook (and they will!), you have a valuable opportunity to both see it and address the issue. This enables you to take a two-pronged attack – damage limitation by resolving the problem and turning the situation around by converting a complainer into a brand advocate.

So, how do you go about it?

  • Be vigilant and monitor what is being said about your brand on social media. There are various monitoring tools available, such as Google Alerts, which can be set up for your brand and specific keywords (as well as competitors). Or take a look at tools like Social Mention can be quite useful and is probably one of the best free social media listening tools on the market, and Ice Rocket which offers free blog, Twitter and Facebook monitoring in 20 languages.
  • Don’t forget to set up Hootsuite or TweetDeck (if you use either of them) to flag your Mentions on Twitter too!
  • Check in on your Facebook page and Twitter regularly. If yours is a business that might be reviewed on popular review sites (eg Trip Advisor for B&Bs, hotels, restaurants and attractions), make sure you monitor those sites, too. Likewise, find out about any forums or communities that may be of interest to your customers.
  • Think before you react. Not all negative online reviews will merit a response. If something has been posted on an obscure forum with few members, it’s probably better to just ignore it. Your response will only bring attention to the problem, rather than allowing it to quietly sink beneath the radar.
  • If you need to respond, do it as quickly as possible. There’s nothing worse than a complaint going unanswered for days or weeks. The customer may have vented their spleen but lack of response will cause more anger, and others may pick up on this. Even if you need to look into the complaint in greater depth before responding you should at least acknowledge the customer. Let them know that you’ll be back in touch and offer the opportunity for further contact offline in the meantime.
  • Keep it friendly and avoid sarcasm. If you ever read Trip Advisor reviews and responses, you’ll know what I mean – there’s nothing worse than an outraged hotelier posting a bitter response to a review! An online slanging match will do you no favours whatsoever. Keep things polite, make sure you come across as ‘human’, it will make so much difference. Ideally respond publicly and provide a resolution, and then take it offline to finalise any details (refunds, compensation, an offer of something for free) or provide a more detailed response, as quickly as possible by phone or email.
  • Decide how you can fix the problem. Apologising is one thing, but even better is showing an effective solution to the customer’s problem. For instance, if they have a product that hasn’t lived up to its promise, you might offer to replace it with a superior item at no extra cost.

Show your customer care…

Remember that social media also gives you a platform on which to publicly demonstrate that you care about your customers. Many people prefer to deal with complaints offline. The trouble with that is that your sincere apology and the way you resolve the issue won’t be in the public domain. However, if you do it online you are being completely transparent and you may just call a halt to droves of similar complaints being posted. Make someone happy and there’s every chance that they will relay the good news to others, turning a complaint into positive PR and building some good brand awareness at the same time!

Nobody wants to dwell on negative feedback, but if you’d like to share your experience of dealing with customer complaints sent via social media and any tips you have, it would be really useful!