Handling social media complaints like a pro

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It’s a fantastic marketing tool and customer service channel, but social media can also be the preferred grievance method for customers, and handling these complaints can be tricky territory.

In fact, more than 870 million complaints are posted on social media each year by consumers.

For franchisees, it can sometimes be doubly as difficult as not only do they need to deal with customer complaints, but they also need to deal with franchise policies that can invite even more issues.

A notable example of this is Domino’s No-Questions-Asked campaign, which promoted the company’s 100 per cent money back guarantee. The problem here for Domino’s franchisees however, is if complaints weren’t resolved with the store directly, the franchisee was being charged a fee to head office. Often, this was on top of the replacement dish or refund.

For many customers, there are reasons behind their decision to complain on social media. While some would have already tried the usual channels and aren’t satisfied with the resolution, others simply want to scream loud and proud, hoping by complaining publicly, the resolution will be stronger in their favour.

And then there are some people who simply need a rant, they don’t even want a reply.

But as a social media manager or marketer, it’s crucial to get the response correct. If handled incorrectly, a complaint can quickly go viral, ruining brand and franchise reputation. So, how can you best handle complaints on such a public forum?

Acknowledgement is key  

Regardless of whether the complaint is legitimate or whether the company is at fault, acknowledge the issue. Always respond and respond as quickly as you can.

Avoid the ‘delete’ button as this only shows other customers that you’re not willing to engage in conversation. Remember, to the customer, the problem is important enough to complain, so you need to recognise their grievance.

As a general rule, try to respond to complaints within an hour. While you don’t necessarily have to have the answer right away, an acknowledgement of the issue and a promise that you’re looking into it can be enough in the first instance. Just remember to follow it up.

Take the conversation offline

In order to ensure the conversation doesn’t move even further into the public realm, it’s crucial to move it offline as quickly as possible. If further action is required, invite the complainant to provide more details, including their contact details, direct to an email address or via private message.

However, ensure this first step is taken in public. Other customers need to see that you take complaints seriously.

Show compassion

In the initial invitation to chat to the complainant further, show compassion and understanding. Make sure to mention that you would like to ensure the situation is resolved and that the customer’s satisfaction comes first.

Without being specific, ensure the message is empathetic and compensation is implied.

Channel the complainant to the right person

There will be some franchises that have specific staff on hand to deal with complaints. There may even be a more appropriate person or channel in head office that you can send complaints on to.

If this is the case, explain that while you cannot personally help the complainant, the centralised support personnel can. Direct them to the correct person and provide the correct email address. Remember though to give merit to the complaint.

Offer compensation

Once the complaint has been taken offline, apologise and offer compensation. While there will be some customers who are happy with a replacement service or product, there will be others who will not accept any compensation that is not monetary.

It’s a good idea to offer the replacement service or product in the first instance.

If the customer is seriously upset, they may well have made their mind up to never use your business again, even for free. If that’s the case, so be it, the main thing is their negativity is contained and doesn’t impact the buying behaviour of others within the realm of social media.

That’s why you want to publicly acknowledge their issue, offer compensation and take the conversation offline. By following these steps you’ll avoid reputation damage.

 

Be open and honest

The key when it comes to handling social media complaints is to walk the fine line between satisfying the customer and being insincere. Remember, on social media, it can be very difficult to get tone of voice across correctly and some phrases can come across as sarcasm.

It’s crucial to be careful and calculated with your responses, while still ensuring the customer feels they are being heard.  A copy and paste response though will very rarely, if ever, convey empathy. Make sure each response is personal. Sometimes, scripted responses are worse than no response at all.

Finally, if the mistake is genuine, acknowledge it. No business is perfect and consumers know this. Take ownership of the mistake and be genuine. Consumers will appreciate that you were honest rather than trying to cover something up.

The service recovery paradox

Nearly every marketing textbook touches on the ‘service recovery paradox’, a phenomenon where a customer with a well-handled complaint ends up significantly more satisfied than a customer that had no reason to complain in the first place.

This is something to keep in mind, and even strive for. Every social media complaint is in fact an opportunity to show the human side of your business, demonstrate that you truly care, and do the right thing for your customers in a public forum.