There’s plenty of marketing and branding potential on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the others. But there’s also what some businesses consider a dark side: the inevitable complaints or negative feedback from consumers. It comes in many flavors, from honest, calm, well-founded critiques to borderline-unintelligble ranting from so-called “trolls,” and everything in between. And this extends beyond social networks to other sites like Yelp that publish user reviews.
While it’s natural for any brand to cringe at the thought of bad publicity or outright attacks, especially given the long life they can have online, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, if you handle it well, it provides opportunities to strengthen your brand, its image, and your customer relations.
Here are some of the most important parts of turning negative comments on social media and user review sites into positive experiences for you and your customers.
Keep a Close Eye on Things
Obviously, you need to know when complaints are being made about you. Many larger brands use software that monitors social media and other websites for mentions. They’re a great tool, but smaller local brands don’t generally need to go this far. Unhappy consumers that expect a response or that just want you to know you upset them will post directly on your business page if possible, tag it, or otherwise draw your attention to their post.
Get in the habit of checking in on your social media sites a few times throughout the day so you don’t miss anything and so nothing negative goes without a response for too long. Social media users generally expect a response within an hour or two; while that’s not always realistic, especially for small businesses without dedicated marketing or social media personnel, it’s best if you can come close to it.
It’s also helpful to set up a Google alert for your brand name. This lets you get email notifications whenever Google indexes a page where your name is written.
Take a Deep Breath
Yes, you should respond promptly. But no, you should never respond in the heat of the moment. Take a few minutes to calm down if you feel angry or defensive after reading a complaint or negative comment. Think about your response and write it out before you post it. Walk away for a few minutes and read it over again, making sure it’s professional and factual, not personal or emotional.
Acknowledge the Unhappiness
People who take their complaint to a public forum like a social media site (as opposed to calling or emailing you directly) are looking for more than a response; they want validation and empathy.
If you provide this by first publicly acknowledging that you understand that they had a bad experience and that you’d like to make things right, it often goes a long way toward making the situation fixable. Offer an apology—and be explicit with the words “we’re sorry” or “we apologize,” even if you’re only saying you’re sorry they had a bad experience of that they feel mistreated. But if they have a valid point about something you did wrong, own up to it and apologize.
Alternatively, if you try to deny the customer’s right to be unhappy by being immediately dismissive or defensive or by arguing, they’ll only become defensive too and more vocal about their unhappiness.
If someone feels offended or disrespected, it doesn’t matter whether you believe you did anything to warrant it. Those feelings are still real. You have no control over that. What you do have control over is how you handle the situation, how the public sees you handle the situation, and—more often than not—whether you mend the relationship with the dissatisfied customer.
Keep the Conversation Public
Note that we said to “publicly acknowledge” the unhappiness. This is a publicity issue, and while you may or may not want to win back this one person depending on the situation, there are always onlookers on social media and user review sites. Even if you think this one customer is more trouble than they’re worth, don’t forget all the other existing and potential customers who are watching.
Your instinct might be to take the conversation private to prevent any further negative comments about you. But it’s not a good idea. Respond in private, and nobody else even knows you responded. All they’re left with is the initial complaint. But handling a negative situation in a positive, constructive way shows your dedication to customer satisfaction and service and is a powerful branding opportunity.
Ask for Details
Many online complaints are vague and emotional without offering any actual information about what happened. Whether or not you’re aware of what went wrong with this customer, if there aren’t details in the post, politely ask for an explanation You of course need to know if there’s any hope of resolving the situation to everyone’s satisfaction and preventing similar problems in the future. Also, if the customer is overreacting or completely off-base, this will become clear to everyone witnessing the discussion.
Try to Resolve the Situation Positively
Regardless of how reasonable the complaining party is, and regardless of whether you believe they’re right, attempt to publicly and positively resolve things. After you’ve acknowledged the customer’s unhappiness and apologized that things didn’t go well for them, you may then factually offer any explanation of your side if you objectively believe you handled the original situation properly. Just don’t get defensive, accusatory, or unprofessional.
And don’t end your response there. If you do, it still comes off as defensive. If you’d like to offer the customer an incentive to give your brand another chance, do so; if not, ask if there’s anything you can do to resolve the situation to the customer’s satisfaction.
Also, consider whether the negative feedback can help you improve your processes, products, or service. Customer complaints are often legitimate. If you see a way to address the underlying problem, say so in the exchange and assure people you’ll use the situation to improve your brand. Or, ask the dissatisfied person how you could do things differently to avoid a repeat of the situation. Some ideas are more practical than others, but at least thank them for their input and express that you’ll work to correct the issue.
Don’t Get Sucked In
As a general rule of thumb, don’t respond more than two or three times. If you’ve done everything mentioned above, you’ve done all you can do. If the customer continues being nonspecific or emotional, if they get personal or just make attacks, or if they otherwise show they’re not in it for a rational or constructive conversation, let it be.
Taking part in an unprofessional exchange will do far more damage to your brand than not having the last word. Once you’ve shown that you tried to positively resolve things, you’ve done your job.
There Is a Time to Take It Private
Of course, not all problems can quickly be resolved with a simple one- or two-comment exchange on a social media post. If an ongoing conversation is called for, or if you have to start asking for private information like an address, account number, etc., switch to a private channel. Let people know on the public post that you’re doing everything to resolve the situation in private. Hopefully, the person who made the complaint will publicly agree and even follow up to let people know things were resolved.