Good, Bad & Ugly Ways to Deal with Social Media Complaints

Years ago when a consumer made a complaint, it was rarely seen by the outside world unless they staged a sit-in at the business premises or went to extreme lengths to make themselves heard. These days, it’s a completely different story, thanks to social media and its proliferation.

Customer complaints are now commonly conducted through Facebook and Twitter and beware the company that gets it wrong – not only can it be hugely damaging to the reputation of the business, it can also make the company involved into a viral laughing stock.

This is naturally something that those of us in business want to avoid at all costs. While it may be said that all publicity is good publicity, that doesn’t necessarily follow when it comes to the web. Social media fails, as they’ve become known, are unfortunately all too common and for the most part, it’s a lack of understanding of how social media works and the etiquette that should be employed by businesses.

With that in mind, let’s have a look today at some examples of customer complaints gone crazy and what you can do to avoid your business getting it all wrong.

Amy’s Bakery

One of the most famous examples of a social media disaster was that of Amy’s Bakery. The business first appeared in the public eye when foul-mouthed chef Gordon Ramsey took it under his wing for the purposes of his TV show, Kitchen Nightmares. For the first time in the history of the show, Gordon was unable to complete the usual transformation and guide the company into being a profitable business. This was due to conflict with the restaurant’s owners, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo whom Ramsey described as being incapable of listening.

The upshot of the show was that people, naturally, took to social media to comment on it. Sadly, Samy and Amy also took to social media and before you knew it, had dug themselves a huge hole to bury themselves in.

Oops. This wasn’t the first post, they did begin slightly (although not much) less aggressive. So what’s wrong with this? Surely they have a right to defend themselves right? Well sure, if they have no intentions of doing business ever again, then of course they should defend themselves by laying into the very customers who pay their bills…

Firstly, of course, capital letters when typed online in this way are regarded by most people as shouting. Nobody likes it, we all know that it’s bad manners and most people avoid the use of caps when online.

Secondly, alienating your audience in such a way as this – calling them stupid, assuming that they are poor etc. – is plain inexcusable. Everything about this post is rude, inflammatory and frankly, could have been crafted specifically to gain bad feedback.

Of course, it got worse.

Hmm. Millionaires typically also know how to behave when they’ve built a business from scratch. Of course, this example is an extreme one, but it’s also a very good one for illustrating what not to do on social media. How it should have been handled is through tact, humility and diplomacy, ignoring any abuse.

Tips for avoiding a situation like this:

  • If your business is criticised on social media, respond politely but don’t accept abuse, especially if it’s personal. Should someone swear at you or make threats, warn them once that their behaviour won’t be tolerated and that further abuse will result in them being blocked and their comments deleted.
  • Don’t come out attacking, it will only make the situation snowball.
  • Don’t ignore the situation, it’s unlikely to go away quickly if you do.
  • Where possible, use humour, you’ll be surprised how quickly people come on board if you show that you can laugh with them and at yourself.

Greggs Bakery

Now let’s take a look at another bakery, based in the UK, which came in for ridicule after some bright spark changed its logo and uploaded it to Google Places.

Of course, this prompted much hilarity once it hit social media and while some users contacted the company through Twitter to warn them, most simply jumped on the bandwagon and shared the logo alongside their own amused comments. Greggs’ social media team responded quickly and with aplomb.

This prompted the Google UK team to respond quickly, offering to fix the issue within the hour should Greggs throw in a sausage roll or two. The issue rocked on throughout the evening with Greggs’ team posting reply after reply that were very amusing and more importantly, showed the world that they can laugh at themselves.

Greggs could have responded with anger, or they could have ignored the situation, or worse, they could have abused anyone with the temerity to bring it up. They didn’t and the end result was that they were applauded across social media and the press for their humour and brilliant handling of the situation.

Lesson one: the use of humour will often lead to followers admiring your stance and applauding you openly on social media. While the story of the logo was shared extensively, so too was Greggs response and they have since enjoyed a boost in business.

Of course, this scenario and that of Amy’s Bakery isn’t strictly about customer complaints, but serves as a great illustration of how very differently two similar companies dealt with a social media crisis.

Dealing with Complaints

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that complaints come in different guises and as such, you should have a strategy in place to deal with each type. They are, in general:

  • Fault or dissatisfaction with a product or service -this kind of complaint is simple to identify, the customer merely tells you what went wrong and asks for something to be done.
  • Merited attack - this is where a customer feels that your company has acted badly over something such as laying off staff, for example, and wants to make his feelings heard on the subject.
  • Feedback – customers take it upon themselves to point out where you could improve your products and/or services.
  • Trolling – an unmerited attack that’s designed to be difficult for no other reason than they wish to discredit your business.

No matter what the size of your company, you can’t please everyone all of the time. At some point, it’s inevitable that you’ll have someone post on your social media accounts with a moan about a product or service.

One of the most prolific and damaging mistakes that many companies make is giving the social media account management over to a member of staff who has no authority to act and offer the customer real help. Worse still, many of these will also have a script in place that sets out what the customer service representative should say when faced with a complaint. This leads to the rep repeating the same phrase to customers over and over again parrot-fashion – the most common being “send me the details via DM so I can pass it on to our customer service department” (who will take weeks to reply).

Another one I see commonly is something along the lines of “we’re sorry to hear that you’ve had this problem, please call our customer service team direct and they will deal with this for you.”

Lesson two: people go on social media to complain for instant action, not to be fobbed off to a customer service number that 9 times out of 10 they’ve already called and become frustrated with.

While it may be difficult to sort out a problem there and then, especially when it comes to faulty goods, there are ways to placate the customer until you can get it dealt with properly. Such as:

  • Offer immediate compensation such as a discount on the next order. This doesn’t have to be much, it’s a goodwill gesture.
  • Ask for images of the faulty goods so that you can begin the returns process for them and advise what you’re doing and how long it will take.
  • Always offer an apology.
  • Give your social media representatives the authority to act. You can set up some guidelines, but don't be too restrictive.

It is of course up to management to effectively train staff in policies and procedures so that they’re capable of dealing with a situation immediately. Things get out of control rapidly on social media, so you should aim to deal with complaints as soon as possible. For many businesses social media is not the priority that it should be and as such, they give the management of it over to staff that are not trained to deal with complaints – not a good move.

What About Trolls?

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll also get some input from trolls on social media now and again. Internet trolls are those people that derive some pleasure from posting inflammatory and malicious statements on social media. While some people believe it’s better to simply ignore them, this is a little dangerous as they may choose to then go ahead and post all over your page, on every comment and post, just to gain the reaction that they crave.

Lesson three: don’t give trolls what they want. Warn them once, politely, that their behaviour won’t be tolerated and that you won’t enter into a discussion with them unless they are reasonable.

The surprising thing that often happens when a troll attacks a brand is that other fans and followers jump to the defence of said brand and do a lot of the work for you. Of course, other users do have the luxury of saying things that you really can’t. It’s important that you don’t get into a battle with the troll or respond to threats or bad language beyond your first comment. While it’s not wise to ignore them, it’s also not a great idea to really engage them and allow them to take their attention seeking behaviour further.

Never Ignore or Delete Complaints

Another common mistake made on social media is for the company to simply ignore, or worse delete, any complaint made on the company page or profile. This leads to frustration for the customer and can make a situation spiral out of control quickly, as the customer looks for other ways to vent their anger.

You could quickly find that the ignored/deleted user begins to copy and paste their complaint into every comments field on every post and pretty soon, you’ll be spending your day just chasing them around social media. Or you could find that soon, all of their friends get involved and you’re deluged with negative posts about your company.

Social media means that the way you conduct yourself in the face of criticism and complaint is there for the whole world to see. Transparency always works best and fosters a sense of trust in both the customer that you’re dealing with and other fans who are no doubt watching carefully.

Lesson four: social media is very public and as such, you should avoid actions that make it appear you have something to hide.

Feedback and Merited Attacks

These can be difficult to deal with on a ‘human’ level as often, the social media team has no way of redressing whatever is seen to be the problem. Feedback and constructive criticism should be welcomed with a thank you and a promise that the information will be passed to the correct department. However, when someone has determined that your company has acted in an unethical manner, that’s a little more difficult.

Ideally, management should have some kind of prepared statement that addresses issues surrounding ethics and social teams should be given training to help them to deal with it transparently on social media. It’s important that you still engage with people that believe your company’s acted badly and that if nothing else, you let them know that you take what they are telling you seriously and will speak to the relevant person in a senior position.

It’s also ideal if the company has its hierarchy listed with key personnel included for the social team to refer to, how to contact them and the role in the company. That way, even if the social media manager can’t offer any redress, then they can point them to someone who can.

Lesson five: transparency is vital on social media, as is giving the customer the ability to reach someone who will deal with their problem quickly and without issue. Often a customer is directed to take action in a manner that they’re just not satisfied with.

Social media has been a game changer for business and many now use it wisely and effectively. However, not doing so can have far-reaching ramifications for your business, so ensure that you follow these tips to get the most from your customer communications.

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