Adieu, customer call centres and online feedback forms. Hello, social media. More and more, customers are turning to Facebook and Twitter to register complaints or customer service issues. As these are on display for the world to see, it is more important than ever that companies handle these issues promptly and professionally. What are the risks for companies that ignore or mishandle opportunities to engage with grumpy customers? Research shows that some 50% of consumers give a brand only one week to respond to a question before they stop doing business with them, while some 89% of consumers took their business elsewhere following a poor customer experience. Avoid alienating your customer and sending her running towards the competition. Instead try these easy steps to turn unhappy customers into your biggest fans.
1. Don’t lose your cool.
Remain calm and professional at all times. The last thing you want to do is pick a fight or lash out in any way, even if you are tempted to do so. No matter how accusatory or insulting the customer may sound, remember, this is not a personal attack. So stay zen.
2. Don’t ignore it.
It was never a good idea to turn a blind eye to negative feedback, even if it was easier for companies to get away with before the days of social media. Yet some still think they can ignore negative online feedback. This makes things worse. Brands like Gap, Walmart and United Airlines learned the hard way. Remember the famous United Breaks Guitars video that got 14 million views? How much business could United Airlines have salvaged by addressing this situation before it went viral? Probably lots. So take all negative comments seriously. Acknowledge them promptly. Show empathy. Set appropriate expectations so that your customer knows what to expect and when. For example: “Thank you, Sandra, for letting us know you still haven’t received your package. Our customer care team is looking into it and will get back to you within 24 hours.” Don’t forget to follow through to make sure that customer service responds within the deadline.
3. Start a private conversation, if appropriate.
Online retailer Asos (https://www.facebook.com/Asos), for example, routinely invites its customers to discuss the matter via private messaging. You could also propose to continue over email or over the phone. This is a precautionary measure to keep a potentially volatile situation from erupting under the public eye. If customers prefer to post in public on your Facebook wall or on Twitter, don’t insist, just continue the exchange via their preferred method.
4. Prepare for the worst.
An online onslaught could happen to anyone at anytime, so get organized today. Consider using a listening tool like Google alerts so that you can be instantly notified when your company name, product or designated keywords pop up online.
Dust off that organizational chart so that everyone knows what steps to take when faced with a potential PR disaster. Do team members have scripts for addressing angry customers? Do they know exactly what steps to take in case they need to escalate the issue? What member of management or 3rd party needs to be alerted and how (via sms, email, a call on the home phone if it happens to be a weekend)?
5. Apologize and take responsibility.
Nobody is perfect. Nor is any company. When things go wrong, be honest, offer a sincere apology for your mistake and fix it. This applies whether you think the customer is right or not. Clothing and accessories retailer, Zara, recently came under attack from consumers who claimed one of their t-shirts resembled the uniform worn by Jewish prisoners during the second world war. The retailer quickly responded, begging their pardon in several different languages across its social media platforms. Crisis averted. (See Forbes’ Fast Fashion Chain Zara Faces Backlash For ‘Holocaust Uniform’ Shirt.)
Hardly the case for Airbnb, who suffered a public relations mess in 2011 when a customer described in detail on her blog how her apartment had been vandalized by a guest, and how numerous attempts to reach AirBnB in the wake of the incident were unsuccessful. Her story took off like wildfire across the internet. One month later, the CEO made a statement of apology. He explained what steps had been taken to address the problem, including insurance coverage for hosts, a 24-hour hotline and more. The company seems to have recovered from this costly mishap, as it continues to experience impressive growth.
6. Keep your Friends Close and your Critics Closer.
For every complainer, there are likely many more customers who experienced the same issue but never bothered to complain. So don’t hesitate to let the complainer know how grateful you are that he or she helped you resolve a problem. You may offer a coupon or a gift, or simply say how thankful you are.
Set a calendar reminder to reach out to this person on a monthly or quarterly basis to continue to build the relationship. Ask if she is still happy with your service or whether there is anything you can do to make it better. Invite her to upcoming events, sample shows, new product test drives, etc. She may take part and get her friends to join, too.
If you are tired of complex social dashboards to manage customer relations, you might want to try Sleek. Designed by Tigerlily, this real-time, unified social inbox is super simple to use. Sleek is currently looking for beta testers. Sign up or find out more here: http://sleekapp.io/.