1. You can’t react if you don’t know
While it’s altogether possible that you’ll get negative comments on your own site or one that you manage (eg your Facebook page), this is not always the case. People can blast you on Twitter, a third party forum, their own blogs or a hundred other places online.
To do something about it, you have to be vigilant for all mentions of your company, people, products and brands. You can begin to do this with a service such as Google Alerts. However, to get more serious, you will need something like Radian6 which can monitor conversations that mention your brand in real-time and even give you a heads-up on the sentiment behind the words.
2. Be quick to acknowledge
The reason many people post negative comments online is because they don’t think they’re being listened to (in store, on the phone or by email). So they lash out. Some do this just to warn their friends off using what they believe to be a bad product. Others – the more social media savvy ones – will do it to hurt you and force you to pay attention.
Speed is of the essence. Acknowledge the customer’s issue as quickly as possible before it snowballs and picks up other customers and prospects on the way. You do not necessarily need to have an immediate solution – an open, non-judgemental enquiry about exactly what happened will be enough to start the process of constructive engagement. (Of course, you’ll also need to follow this up with concrete actions.)
3. See it from their point of view
For the most part, customers don’t know or care about the issues that have caused them problems. It’s irrelevant to them that your supplier let you down or a delivery was sent to the wrong office. All they know is the inconvenience it’s caused them and, potentially, their customers.
Too many companies begin the process of engaging with an irate customer by listing all the excuses for why it happened. These may be entirely true and legitimate. But the customer won’t care. All it looks like to them is that the company is trying to shift the blame away from itself. In social media, this can be a red rag to a bull.
It is far better to begin every interaction from the viewpoint of the customer –what happened to them, what it meant and, ultimately, what can be done to make it right.
4. Take it out of the spotlight
Social forums may not be the best place to actually resolve complex issues. And being in a public forum may make it hard for an angry customer to soften their stance. Offer to continue the conversation in an appropriate forum – whether that’s phone, email or an existing support forum online. This shouldn’t be an attempt to silence the critic, simply to help them where it makes sense (so you’re not trying to give complex tech support in a tweet).
5. Say sorry when it’s your fault
For some companies on social media, “sorry” is indeed the hardest word. Often it’s because they don’t want to take the blame. Or they don’t agree with the customer’s point of view. But, if we look at it from the customer’s viewpoint (see above) then it is hard to argue with their experience.
Of course, if it is clear that your product failed, then a sincere apology followed by a quick replacement (or refund) should nip the issue in the bud. If it was a service failure, then an apology to the effect of “We’re sorry that you did not get the service you expect from us on this occasion” is a good start. Following this up with something tangible (eg a money-off voucher for their next purchase) will also help.
For most companies, most of the time, social media offers a way to engage positively with customers and prospects. But, as in the offline world, you should be prepared to deal with unhappy customers on a regular basis. The good news is that by treating them right and following through on your promises, it is entirely possible to convert them into good, long-term advocates for your brand — so their amplified social voice will work in your favour again.