Social media is a double-edged sword: It gives utility and DSM program brands a great deal more visibility and credibility, but that visibility can turn against us if it becomes negative. Twitter is a case in point. When irate customers tweet their complaints about a brand, damage control is essential. To cope with the trend toward disapproving tweets, Twitter recently rolled out a direct message button that business can embed on their websites to circumvent more public displays of disaffection.
It would be nice if all complaints lodged at businesses didn’t have to be aired so openly, but that’s the unique power of social media—its ability to be a transparent mechanism for both praise and provocation. You can’t stop negative comments, but you can manage them with integrity—and empathy.
Here’s how to take control of the situation and transform criticism into kudos.
Don’t bury your head in the sand when negative commentary arises. Instead of ignoring, or worse deleting, angry comments the best approach is to deal with them head on. Be on the lookout for comments that may not be on your radar. While most will come via Twitter or on your Facebook page, there will be outliers. Set up Google alerts or other software to track what is being said about your brands on the internet, and stay in the loop.
You need to let your customers know that you take their feedback seriously by replying—the more quickly the better. Remember you have an audience. A lot of people (think hundreds or thousands) are observing the interaction and how it goes down. Timeliness is of the essence. According to Adweek, “when dealing with negative comments, 42 percent of your consumers expect you to reply within 60 minutes, and more than two-thirds of your consumers expect a reply on the same day.”
Think of handling complaints that come from social media the same way you would handle face-to-face interactions. The same rules apply: You need to apologize, help them deal with their issue and offer a solution. Hitting delete is not an option. Instead, imagine yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to muster as much empathy as possible. It’s fine to have a basic messaging strategy in place—and at the ready—but don’t be afraid to make it personal. It boosts your credibility and makes you more trustworthy. The same cut-and-paste response for every situation, on the other hand, does nothing for a brand’s social intelligence factor.
Nip it in the bud
If you don’t have an answer right away, that’s fine—as long as you don’t leave your customer hanging. Complaints have a way of snowballing, so sending out an acknowledgment or pause post, whose gist is, “We are working on it,” is a legitimate way to buy some time without sacrificing responsiveness. The follow-up is critical, so don’t think you are off the hook until the issue is fully resolved.
Don’t be afraid to apologize and offer an acceptable solution. If a website crashes during a program promotion, extend the promotion and perhaps offer an even deeper discount. Avoid making excuses, and focus on making it right. On the other hand, if you are dealing with a trouble maker or a cheapskate who is being unreasonable, you don’t have to make nice. At this point, ignoring them is an acceptable strategy. Another alternative to resolving a difficult situation is to take it offline. If the situation feels too involved or intimate for public consumption, reach out to the customer for their contact information and pursue by email, text or phone.
Take your customers’ feedback and turn it into concrete action to improve your brand. Make the necessary improvements so that complaints won’t recur, and let them know about the positive changes they have helped instigate.
Consumers who share negative feedback on social media can be converted into brand champions—if you respond to their complaints wholeheartedly and transparently. When you demonstrate that your brand cares for everyone individually, you are well on your way to expanding your customer base and creating unassailable loyalty. GoodCents® marketing develops, and helps our utility client’s monitor, demand response and energy efficiency program promotions on social media.