The Social Media Complaint Department

Take a number, our customer service representative will be with you shortly…

My friend Doug Erickson, who writes an excellent blog here, recently forwarded me an interesting article titled: A Better Way To Handle Publicly Tweeted Complaints.

The gist is that in the age of Social Media consumers have the ability to flame your business in near real-time. And, their complaints reach a wider audience than ever before. This does not just apply to Twitter. You can find “bad” reviews on Facebook, Yelp, Google Places and literally hundreds of other websites.

With that in mind, a business has to balance the need to respond appropriately with the understanding that some people will never be satisfied. Social Media empowers the complainers and the more attention you direct their way the more likely they are to raise their voice.

Keep in mind that no business, service or product is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. If you serve 1000 customers a week at a 99.5% success ratio you still have the potential of pissing off twenty people every month.

People are more likely to complain than to praise-especially in this economic environment. We scrutinize our purchases more than ever which causes us to raise our expectation level on what we get for what we pay. When your company does not deliver on what your customers think you promised, they get cranky.

That’s when they turn to Social Media to vent their frustrations. And vent they will!

While these rants alert potential customers to the pitfalls of doing business with you they also give the greater community at large a chance to defend you. This is the double-edged sword nature of Social Media. However, you can only create support if you consistently respond to any comments made about you. If you develop a reasonable response policy and are honest about dealing with people’s feelings you go a long way towards creating a positive vibe about your company.

So, how should you handle customer complaints in cyber-space?

Pay Attention – Even if you’re not participating in the conversation about your brand – people are talking about you. Monitor Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, etc. Set up Google alerts around your name.

React quickly – But not immediately. The last thing you want to do is pen a knee-jerk reaction to a bad review. You need to defuse the complainer’s emotions with facts. Do what you can to gather as much information as possible so you can address the complaint accurately.

Post Something – When you ignore complaints you foster the image that you do not care. Even if you have a stock answer like: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Customer satisfaction is very important to us. We are investigating this matter and will report back to you with possible solutions shortly”. This sends the message to the 99.5% of your satisfied customers (and any potential customers) that you take this seriously. Remember, your customers will naturally feel affinity to the complainer. How you treat one person is how (they think) you treat everyone.

Do Not Defend – Even if the complainer is a screaming yahoo do not engage in a back-and-forth with them. For goodness sakes, do NOT tell them why they are wrong. Everyone assumes you are wrong. Work backward from that point. When you start debating the issue you give the impression you are not listening.

Follow Up – Once you have resolved the situation to your customer’s satisfaction – let everyone know that the situation is resolved. Better yet, ask the customer to post that. Closure is important.

Go off-line – If possible, engage the complainer off-line. Post your email or direct phone number and encourage them to contact you for resolution. Even if they don’t you come across as the good guy.

Accept Defeat – Despite your best efforts some people will never be satisfied. Others may just be trying to scam you. If you put forth an honest – and public – effort to satisfy them and they are still dropping f-bombs on you…just walk away.

The internet is forever. Reviews of your business will linger for a very long time.When people search for feedback on why they should use you they will find old reviews. Chances are, they won’t notice that the date on the complaint is from 2008. They will only care about the problem and how you solved it.


Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist


About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
This entry was posted in Social Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Social Media Complaint Department

  1. All great suggestions, Steve! It can be tough to handle these situations, but if done correctly, can turn a grumpy customer into a loyal fan. If they’re able to see that you’re listening and willing to work with them to better the situation, then they’ll likely stick around through other bumps in the road.

    Like you said, some people will never be pleased, but if you’re able to show the rest of the internet community that you’re listening and taking the necessary steps to fix mistakes, then most customers will understand as well.

  2. james mwaura says:

    This is great. Any organization that cares for its customers must embrace this suggestions in their social media policies.

  3. LarryB says:

    Great! I have talked through this issue so many times with clients. Glad to see it “Officially” on the radar here…. I tend to address it right up front, while trying to be careful not to bring an immediate negative into the meeting. It is a serious issue and the speed and way the business owner responds is so key in staving off a potential nightmare of bad press. I find many of my clients have a limited understanding of just how fast and deep a bad experience about their business can reach a hug audience and also how they respond and what happens after that.

  4. This is such a timely post in the sense that businesses finally get the idea of using social media to further promote their business but they usually forget to address complaints and address them immediately before serious damage is done. I like your tips on how to deal with the complaints. They’re very practical and doable. I just hope the business people get this as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s