How do you deal with complaints on social media?

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Advice and tips for jewellers facing disgruntled, vocal customers.

Your company’s customer service may be exceptional face-to-face and over the phone, but what about on social media? Sarah Louise Jordan talks to two digital experts about dealing with complaints and criticism in the digital arena.

No business wants to receive a complaint, but what was once an unhappy situation contained between a customer care line employee and a consumer can now be catapulted onto a larger and potentially more damaging playing field.

With the immediacy and speed of social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, a single customer’s poor experience can soon be shared, liked and retweeted hundreds of times by the very people you’re trying to attract. Instead of fighting to win sales your fight could be with a very different kind of problem: reputation and trust. However, according to social media experts, receiving a complaint on your digital networks isn’t necessarily the crisis situation it might initially appear to be. In fact, handling a disappointed digital customer with the same calm and apologetic manner as you would face-to-face is an incredibly rich opportunity to showcase your brand values to a much wider potential customer base. In short, it’s a golden opportunity to excel.

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TROLLING VS. COMPLAINING
Client director at Rose McGrory Social Media Ltd, Kate Rose, has worked on the social media presences of big Bond Street jewellers. She is quick to point out that not all posts are created equal: “The first thing is to make sure you distinguish between abuse and legitimate complaints or community feedback,” she explains. “If you’re just receiving repeated abuse [trolling] or clearly something that would be illegal in another walk of life, especially if it was written on paper, then that’s different.”

Fortunately for companies experiencing these kinds of problems, Rose believes a genuine customer will be able to see straight through the online facade and uncover the troll beneath. She also suggests a simple plan of action: “If you come across someone who is just obsessed for some reason, you are perfectly in your rights to ask them to remove the post and then block that individual user. The best approach is to stay very calm and reply very politely so people see that you are giving them the opportunity to delete it themselves. If you go in and start wildly deleting other people’s posts, they’ve often got more time on their hands to create additional profiles and make trouble.” She continues: “What we’ve found is that nine times out of 10, where we’ve gone back to somebody and said ‘this is a small business, we’re doing our best, we hope that you can see this isn’t an acceptable way to carry on in a public forum and we’d really appreciate it if you could remove the post’, that is enough to get people to back down unless they are trolls. Luckily everybody else looking at it will understand the situation and won’t take it seriously.”

FIND THE SILVER LINING
But what if the complaint is from a genuine customer and someone who is not simply spamming for the sake of it? Rose continues: “If the person concerned has got either feedback, not necessarily a complaint, but something focusing on what can be improved upon, then you should be jumping on that and welcoming it with open arms. What you’ve just been given is free market research from a customer base.”

On a more serious level, a customer may take to social media to complain about anything from poor in-store service to the diamond falling out of their engagement ring. Both Rose and Look C Social Media Management and Training owner, Georgia O’Keefe, believe this is where companies have a real chance to shine, by showing the lengths they will go to ensure customer happiness. “Stay positive with negative feedback,” explains O’Keefe. “This will leave a direct impact on how people view your customer service. Spending time wording your response will pay off, and anyone who notices you responding to your customers with care and attention will be more likely to buy from you.”

In this vein, Rose believes that customer service via social media can be considered just as important, if not more valuable, than in-store service because of its limitless potential to impress. “Ten years ago a complaint would have been dealt with over the phone, so if they’ve [a business] done a terrible job at rectifying a situation the impact is limited, but if they’ve done a great job that’s relatively limited as well. The satisfied customer might tell a couple of friends about the great customer service they experienced, but it’s only ever going to be quite a restricted audience. If you’re able to do something like that on social media there are a huge number of people watching and the person concerned might choose to share it if they are really impressed.” She continues: “We see lots of examples of people being so blown away by great customer service that they choose to share it with all their friends [on social media], which is the best advert you could ever have. It’s a way of showing that, yes, somebody did have a problem but we’ve dealt with it amazingly well. It’s a huge opportunity for retailers.”

O’Keefe reiterates this, arguing the worst thing you could do is sweep a complaint under the rug, either out of embarrassment, anger or fear of the reputational repercussions. “Never leave complaints unanswered. You wouldn’t ignore a customer in your shop complaining, so you should follow the same theory online. They need to be reassured that you do care for their custom.”

LAID BARE BY SOCIAL
“Social media does tend to expose any problems with a company’s services or products,” muses Rose, when asked about the impact of recurring negative feedback. “If you know that you’ve got issues with quality control, it’s going to expose you sooner or later because you can’t continually say to every single person ‘oh no that happened, well it’s never happened to anyone else’, because the online consumer will soon see it’s not an isolated incident.” Unlike the one-on-one customer service interaction of 10 years ago, social media ensures companies can’t cover up issues or con customers into buying products that aren’t fit for purpose. Sooner or later businesses will get caught out on it.

However, even for those companies who monitor social media interaction with due diligence, problems can arise when customer service managers are met with conciliatory restrictions, especially from bosses who underestimate the importance of digital in comparison to face-to-face service. “If you’re a customer services manager and you know you’ve not been given the authority to send someone a bouquet of flowers as an apology or replace their product, and your company takes a very negative line on that type of service, then obviously getting a complaint on social media puts you in a very difficult place. You’re not empowered to do what you need to do.”

It is this sense of empowerment, of going the extra mile, and not underestimating the potential impact of social media that is guaranteed to garner success for companies. After all, anyone can create a brochure or website highlighting that client care is taken very seriously and if you have any problems they will help, but not all companies will follow through in a public sphere. It’s those that do who will ultimately excel, according to Rose and O’Keefe.

Overall, social media is like a business lie-detector test. It can separate the frauds and the fakes from the genuine customer-focused companies who simply want to offer great service and supply great products. As Rose concludes: “If you are genuinely trying to do a good job for people you’ve really got nothing to be afraid of.” job that’s relatively limited as well. The satisfied customer might tell a couple of friends about the great customer service they experienced, but it’s only ever going to be quite a restricted audience. If you’re able to do something like that on social media there are a huge number of people watching and the person concerned might choose to share it if they are really impressed.”

She continues: “We see lots of examples of people being so blown away by great customer service that they choose to share it with all their friends [on social media], which is the best advert you could ever have. It’s a way of showing that, yes, somebody did have a problem but we’ve dealt with it amazingly well. It’s a huge opportunity for retailers.” O’Keefe reiterates this, arguing the worst thing you could do is sweep a complaint under the rug, either out of embarrassment, anger or fear of the reputational repercussions. “Never leave complaints unanswered. You wouldn’t ignore a customer in your shop complaining, so you should follow the same theory online. They need to be reassured that you do care for their custom.”

This feature was taken from the October issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue in full online.  

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