1. Minimize the likelihood of online complaints in the first place. If your friend saw you had your fly undone, would he tweet about it? No, he’d quietly tell you. And if nobody tells you that you’re fly is undone, you clearly have no friends!
In this same spirit, why should unhappy customers complain indirectly via Twitter or their blogs when they can use email, the phone or a feedback form on your website and know that it will be answered—immediately and with empathy? With their round-the-clock access to the social airwaves, make sure that the first impulse of customers is to reach you directly, day or night, by offering “chime in” forms everywhere; direct chat links for when your FAQ’s fail to assist; and an easy way to reply directly to every corporate email you send out.
2. Arguing with angry customers online is a losing proposition.
We all know that you can’t win an argument with a customer. If you lose, you lose directly; if you win, you still lose—by losing the customer. But online, the rule is multiplied because of all the additional customers you’ll lose if they catch sight of the argument. So, you need to learn to breathe deeply and think of the future of your company rather than reacting in haste.
3. Turn twankers into thankers: Reach out directly to online complainers.
Okay, now that you’re breathing deeply, being careful not to fly off the handle, you can respond in a considered, positive manner. Let’s say you’ve spotted an outrageous tweet about your restaurant. How should you respond? If this person follows you on Twitter, you’re able to send him or her a direct message—so do it. Include a direct email address and direct phone number.
If, however, said twanker isn’t one of your followers, you’ll need to figure out another way to reach him or her. How about replying publicly, on Twitter, listing your email address and expressing your chagrin and concern. In an online forum such as a blog, TripAdvisor or Facebook, you can respond in a similar manner through the comment mechanisms available there.
By responding this way, you have a good chance to move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting your every move without ever grasping the whole story. This dispute resolution approach is like an in-store situation where you take an irate customer aside, perhaps into your office, to privately discuss the matter, giving you both a chance to work together to arrive at a resolution.
And, after a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw those original ugly comments.
4. Respond quickly and with urgency.
The magnitude of a social media uproar increases disproportionately with the length of your response time. Be aware that a negative event in the online world can gather social steam with such speed that your delay itself can become more of a problem than the initial incident. A day’s lag in responding can be too much.
Micah Solomon is a customer service, hospitality and marketing speaker, strategist and author of the new book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Find him at www.micahsolomon.com .