Being a participant in social media means giving up privacy, being held accountable and committing to transparency. While you can build and interact with a fan base like never before, the conversation is no-longer one-sided and can’t always be monitored or given the chance to “spin” into positive messaging.
Social Media platforms have given brands the chance to interact with customers like never before, and have turned customer complaints into public relations opportunities. The way a brand treats customers quickly becomes the news itself. Yesterday, Comcast said it was “embarrassed” by a customer service call that was so bad it was described as “Kafkaesque” and “hellish” and went viral. It wasn’t Comcast’s product that was under attack on social media, rather their abysmal customer service and seeming lack of concern for their customers.
It’s every brands’ worst nightmare: A customer has a bad experience with your product and posts about it, angrily and publicly on your Facebook wall, for all the world to see. News is poised to go viral in a flash… Your instinct would be to delete the post, and try to privately handle the matter directly with the customer, but this would be the wrong approach. Angry customers get even angrier and more vocal when they feel a brand is sweeping their issue under the rug. There’s an easy and better way to resolve public PR mishaps, that in most cases turns your loudest critics into your biggest brand advocates.
We recently had a client who was notified by several customers on Facebook that they received empty boxes instead of the products they had ordered. Empty boxes! Apparently, something happened to the packaging in transit, and the products fell out before arriving at the final destination. Here’s how we advised our client to handle the mishap, and you too can follow these guidelines for cleaning up—or better yet, preventing—a social media firestorm.
1. Be Quick:
Social media allows everyone a soapbox to voice their opinions, and the understanding is that someone is monitoring 24/7 to respond immediately. Even an hour or two is considered a long time, and in that time a customer is waiting, they are growing angrier and sometimes more vocal. Be swift, but not hasty in your reply. Use all social media platforms to address customers publicly. A good approach is to post a reply to the customer thanking them for calling the issue to your attention, and to provide a customer service number and specific contact to further assist them. Put your best people on the case to help not only resolve the customer’s issue, but to provide an additional remedy for their trouble and to thank them for being a loyal customer. Letting a complaint sit on social media unaddressed for hours at a time is only going to make the problem worse and customers more upset. Your reply shouldn’t be lengthy, but you should try to provide some immediate response letting the customer know specifically who to call to help resolve their issue. Only after the issue has been resolved to the customers’ satisfaction can you then remove the whole thread from Facebook.
2. Be Transparent:
Covering up an issue, or replying in a less than completely honest way will only make the matter worse. Without providing too much detail, own up to what happened, how sorry you are for the mishap, and what is being done company-wide to remedy the problem. Explain sincerely what happened to cause this problem, and how genuinely sorry you are for the inconvenience to the customer. If the issue puts the customer in any kind of danger, you must honestly address that, and provide a remedy that will make the situation safe for them (i.e. stop using the product immediately and send a safe replacement at your own expense, etc.). Owning up to the problem is a much better approach than trying to distance yourself from it.
3. Be Proactive:
Is a voluntary recall appropriate? Will you provide all of the customers affected by the issue with a free replacement and a generous discount on their next purchase? Customers really do expect some sort of compensation for their troubles, usually in the way of free product. Brands shouldn’t look at this as rewarding customers for complaining, but rather as a way to convert your harshest critics into their biggest fans. The outspoken naysayers are usually also the most vocal brand evangelists, too. Customers are usually looking at how brands handle these situations when forming an opinion about customer service and overall brand quality.
And a few other things to note: If you’re experiencing a product defect that could be potentially harmful, you should speak with counsel immediately and issue a product recall. Do not ask a customer to post a picture of the problem. Sure, you might want to see what the defect looks like, or what issue they are experiencing, but now you have basically just asked them to share photographic evidence of your product malfunctioning or with a dangerous or embarrassing defect. Rather than asking for a picture, offer to send a prepaid shipping label so they can return the defective product and you will promptly replace it, no questions asked.
If you employ sound strategy, and operate with a transparent and authentic voice and business practice, you will build a rapport and constructive conversation with your customers. While the new digital landscape can be tricky, it offers a more rewarding interaction opportunity than ever, and a chance to differentiate your business from the rest.