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How to handle negative comments on social media

For many brands, social media plays an integral role in the customer experience. With the vast availability of channels, consumers now leverage social media as a means of communicating with brands, including providing feedback which may not always be positive.

When customers begin to reach out on social media with complaints, it is imperative for brands to understand how to respond appropriately to mitigate the issue, and ensure that the right processes have been put in place to take care of problems expediently.

We had a look at some of the common mistakes that brands have made when responding to negative comments in the past, and have outlined some quick tips for you to get your brand on the right path.

Treat every negative comment like a review

Every negative message about your brand is like a tiny review of your brand – one which could potentially stay up forever. And as Snapchat recently found out, even one negative Tweet can have a devastating impact on your brand.

According to MindSight, 42 per cent of customers learn about products and services through Twitter alone. This means a few negative Tweets could provide the wrong first impression for many potential customers.

Of course you want to turn negative comments into positive experiences, but do not forget to interact with customer comments that start out positive. This is a great way to organically show off your brand’s successes.

Know when to take it private

Some interactions are perfect as examples of your fantastic customer service, while others are definitely not. If it seems like you may not be able to satisfy the customer without some compromises, or the customer is starting out angry, take the conversation private. If the situation turns out well, the customer has the choice to share it themselves.

Never argue with a customer, especially in public

Remember, it is probably not your job to argue – and it can make your whole brand look unreasonable in the face of a customer service problem.

If a situation goes beyond your pay grade, find a superior, or customer service specialist, who can make sure everything is being done to help deal with the problem at hand. Either way, you should already be keeping things private if at all possible.

If the customer begins vaguely and/ or rudely, it may be best to avoid responding at all. If they mention a specific problem, however, that is the time to step in and try to make the situation right.

Under promise and over-deliver

You have been there: halfway into reading a customer’s message, you are sure you can solve it in the blink of an eye. But what if there is a problem that prevents you from doing so? You do not want to promise a customer the world only to have to take it back.

Instead, follow up and promise progress towards a solution – then deliver that perfect solution as soon as you confirm it is the right way to help the customer. Customers interacting via social media typically expect responses within an hour, so nailing down a solution in a few minutes can earn you some extra goodwill.

Be one step ahead of the customer

You have the resources of your entire company at your fingertips – do not waste them. Gain as much knowledge of the customer’s situation before you begin help them, rather than just waiting for them to tell you.

Try to create a plan to answer the customer’s question while they ask it, especially if the problem sounds familiar. If you find a quick answer or solution, you will be a superhero – and if the problem is complex, you will be on top of it with impressive efficiency.

One complaint is an isolated issue. Two complaints is a pattern. Three complaints is a problem.

If multiple customers are having the same problem, make a real effort to find and correct the source as quickly as possible. By the time more complaints roll in, you can reassure panicked customers that the issue is already being taken care of.

If you can fix a snowballing problem before it becomes too large, you will be doing your customers, your brand and yourself a favour.

Follow up with customers who have changed their tune

If an angry-at-first customer ends interactions with genuine thanks, do not ignore them. Showing them and any onlookers that you are happy to help, even if the interaction started a little bit difficult, can mean they will afford you the benefit of the doubt if future problems pop up.

That being said, learn when to leave well enough alone, too. If you have just gotten through with a particularly tough customer, you may want to avoid ‘poking the bear.’

Make sure your social media presence is an expert on your brand

This comes down to a certain level of brand preference. Is your social media brand a personality unto itself, or is it staffed by personalities? Is it speaking as an authority, or are multiple authorities behind it? Many companies that use the latter tactic have separate employees tagging Tweets with their initials.

Whichever you decide, make sure that you can answer basic questions of prospective customers effortlessly. If you do not know the answer, let the questioner know you will find out. Your brand should be an expert on itself.

If you cannot give a customer what they want, give them two alternatives
There may be no way to 100 per cent satisfy every customer – even reasonable requests sometimes are just not possible. In that case, a “take it or leave it” solution probably would not make the customer more comfortable with your brand.

Instead, sincerely apologize and give at least a few reasonable alternatives. This lets your customer know you do care and want to help, even if you cannot do it in the exact way they would prefer.

Embrace the goofballs

If you release something silly that people call you out on, do not shy away from it.

Long ago in the social media offices of Groupon, a simple comment thread on a banana-armouring kitchen tool exploded into 200 million media impressions – all because they chose to have fun with the obvious joke instead of ignoring it.

If customers are laughing at your brand or something your brand has distributed, find a way to join – be in on the joke instead of being the joke – and you can turn an unintentional stumble into marketing gold.

Make sure you are not mocking customers in the process, although you should not resist the occasional good-natured jibe to those who are playing along.

Last, but certainly not least, be sure you are an expert on all things banana. (You never know when this could come in handy.)

Co-written by Chuck Cotterman, Social Media Manager at G2 Crowd

Charles Tidswell

Charles Tidswell is the Vice President of JAPAC at Socialbakers and is based in Singapore. For the majority of his professional career, Charles has been involved with early stage start-ups and companies entering the high growth stage across the South East Asia region.
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