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Customers on social media: Opportunity for engagement or cause for complaint?

(Image credit: Image Credit: iStock)

An internet presence is fundamental for a business to attract new customers. What may not be so obvious is the full extent of the internet’s reach and how this affects your company’s customer service.  

A recent report on social media use reveals 1.59 billion people engaging with Facebook, 320 million with Twitter and over 100 million people on LinkedIn.  Millions of people are networking, selling products, attempting to influence opinion; and, of course, complaining about poor service.

Before the rise of social media, if the service was terrible in a restaurant you could complain immediately – face-to-face. You could ring the company later, or write a letter. These remain valid customer service routes but require waiting – and the longer you wait, the more time your anger has to fester. 

In a society dominated by screens, many are keen to avoid confrontation. It’s not even a conscious decision. When it is normal to publicly share even the smallest everyday occurrences; any interaction with a business – positive or negative - is likely to be highly visible. 

Talking high stakes 

Thankfully, while some share immediately on their own social media accounts, many still choose to contact the company direct, via social media, to share their concerns and anger - aiming to get a satisfactory outcome. This is your opportunity to turn those opinions around with effective social media management and to visibly do the right thing in a very public setting. 

An article by the Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service, reveals the alarming statistic that from January 2014 to May 2015 the use of social media for complaints increased eight-fold. Additionally, their research shows that one in four users employed this avenue to make a complaint between March and May 2015.   Can you afford to ignore this trend? As an enterprise with ‘key stakeholders’ and ‘margins’, you really need to know what those people, your customers, are saying about you.

Managing complaints 

Social media allows customers to vent their anger in real time, but it also presents an opportunity for businesses to promote outstanding customer service and turn their critics into advocates. 

To have an online presence that is proactive and customer-centric, you need to target precisely. Adequate software to capture complaints and analyse data is a must; as well as policies and procedures in place for colleagues to exemplify good practice. All levels of the business, from the boardroom down, should be engaged and positive. There’s no reason for panic. Complaints aren’t new. As you already know how to provide great customer service - why shouldn’t you be able to translate it into excellent social media engagement?

Engaging employees

Equip your customer service team with the right skills to respond. A badly-written response or negative tone may do as much damage in a public forum – if not more – as not responding in the first place. All employees should be aware of your company’s mission statement and objectives.

Ensure your Customer Service and Marketing departments are communicating effectively. Empower your employees to make good decisions. Once they’re confident with their own judgement, you minimise risk. Technology is available to add layers of protection, if required.

Great customer service looks the same on all channels. Customers want the same things: they want a swift response; they want you to be honest and acknowledge your mistakes; and they want a satisfactory outcome.

A genuine approach offline

Train your staff to recognise genuine engagement: let them use their own natural tone of voice; their own words; and their name to ensure that personal touch. Placatory comments without substance, or using obvious cut and paste templates should be avoided. One engaging, conversational response addressing the customer’s concerns directly, offering an appropriate solution, is much better than going through the motions. Reward colleagues who demonstrate the best you have to offer.

A public apology and transparent ownership of mistakes show customers you care. However, you could set a precedent for every customer to demand the same outcome. You might even encourage unscrupulous people to make false complaints if you offer public compensation. If you need to have a conversation about sensitive data, let the customer know that you will contact them privately. Avoid pushing the initiative back on to them to complain again elsewhere, especially via a different channel. 

Embrace technology with technology

Invest in software to analyse your presence and feedback on the main social media channels. It’s not just complaints - many people will share positive experiences too, or even seek the answers to basic service questions which also need to be identified and addressed. Every customer who comments about you must be addressed; the one you overlook is the one that will escalate and damage your reputation. Technology can help you to catch negative feedback before it escalates. Have a system that alerts you to a problem and aim to resolve it within a set time.

Some people just want to cause trouble. Identifying trolls and dealing with them effectively is a key part of your strategy. Again, look to your processes – do your employees know what to do? Make sure you teach them how to handle potentially sensitive public situations. 

Controlling influence

Communication at all levels is vital. Align skills and knowledge about best customer service practice. Possess a clear vision that is shared throughout the business. Ensure marketing provides feedback and reports on social media analysis and that Customer Service craft responses that reflect this vision. If you have a separate complaints team bridge the divide by creating one team, or by improving connections. 

Effective social media management helps to develop and maintain a healthy brand and improves relationships with your customers. As your customers are talking about you - you have nothing to lose, and much to gain – by giving them a platform to talk to you. Reinforce this daily and show it working publicly through social channels. And you remain in control. 

Martin Ellingham, Respond’s Product Manager, Aptean
Image Credit: iStock

Martin Ellingham
Martin Ellingham works for Aptean as Respond’s Product Manager. Day to day Martin works with the customers of Respond to develop the product’s roadmap based upon the needs of industry professionals.