Social media makes it a lot easier for customer complaints to be heard. A single complaint can mushroom into a roar when it’s shared and shared again.
A negative post on Yelp, an angry status update on Facebook, or an irate-sounding Tweet can seriously hurt your business if you don’t take action promptly. A recent story in the New York Times offered what I believe is some advice on how to diffuse anger and actually turn the complainer into a loyal customer.
- First, listen carefully. “Listening” is Internet-speak for reading the complaints and responses, but it also can mean real listening, as in picking up the phone and talking to the person. Listen fully to the complainer without interrupting, and try to find common points of frustration. You may indicate you’ve been in a similar situation – an action by itself often diffuses a situation.
- Keep a positive attitude. When talking to the customer, try to view it as a learning opportunity, and avoid a shouting match as tempting as it may be. Research shows that a calm attitude can be contagious.
- Do apologize, but don’t leave it there. Tell the customer what you will do to rectify the situation. Customers usually want someone reprimanded, research shows. What you can do is promise to speak to relevant staff and take corrective action so the problem is avoided in the future. That’s the point at which a customer may start to feel a real bond with you.
- Publicly comment back to the person if the complaint is on the Internet. Thank the person, say you’re sorry and that the complaint is not representative of your brand. You may even want to offer a discount or coupon. If you don’t get a response, post another comment saying you are still concerned. The key is to stay public with your apology, so visitors will understand you’re trying to resolve the situation.
- Fix the problem if possible, and ask the customer to give you another chance. Then follow up personally later to make sure the customer got the discount or coupon.
If the customer was at fault, don’t blame him or her, or apologize either. Also, if you simply cannot remedy the problem, explain the solution you’re offering and say, honestly, that this is the best you can do, but you’ll try to find ways to avoid the problem in the future.
At first blush, a negative comment, expressed publicly, may seem like a nightmare, but you can actually impact your brand’s stature by appropriately handling a negative comment.