At some point, every business has to address a complaint from a customer. The difference today is, in this age if social media, you may well be addressing it while a large audience stands by, watching for your next move (and chiming in!). So what do you do when you have an unhappy customer who has taken to social media to air their grievances?


First of all, if your customer comes at you via social media, that can actually be a good thing. It gives you the chance to interact with them directly and hopefully ease the situation.


Okay, thanks, Pollyanna. So what do I do? Here is our strategy for how to respond to angry customers online:


Plan ahead. One of the best things you can do is prepare for this kind of situation before it even occurs. Work with your team to develop a strategy for how your company engages on social media, including interacting with unhappy people. This strategy needs to reflect your company’s voice and be consistent across all modes of communication. Consider different scenarios and how they will be handled. Practice overcoming objections. These are not situations where you should be winging it. Just like with so many things in life, if you have a plan in place, you will respond better.


Pay attention and respond quickly. Social media interactions can happen very quickly. You need to be monitoring your accounts and responding to your customers in a timely manner. Don’t fall silent! Real life scenario: A software service that our business uses throughout every day had a major service interruption a few months ago. We went to their Facebook page (along with many other people) to inquire about the status of the outage and…crickets. They finally spoke up after several hours, but people were furious by then. The company said that its process was to respond to emails to its support system before addressing social media. This seemed like a poor strategy to me, and it also rang untrue.


Take the high road. You can’t control what customers say, but you can control how your company responds. Do not ignore negative feedback or get defensive. Keep your tone courteous and professional, and show a genuine desire to remedy the situation. No matter how disparaging, do not delete posts or comments you don’t like, unless they contain profanity or other particularly ugly language. All that does is fuel the fire and make people more hostile. If the situation is not diffusing, take it offline and attempt to connect with the customer privately to resolve the problem.


Don’t be a doormat. All this being said, if and when appropriate, do stand up for your business and use the opportunity to communicate your brand’s message and ethics. Every situation is a PR opportunity if you look at it the right way.

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