Monday, February 27, 2012

Turn Negative Social Media Feedback into a Customer Service Opportunity

By now, few companies haven’t been inundated with articles, anecdotes and myriad information resources insisting on the undeniable importance of social media to doing business. Not all businesses have been quick to buy into the hype. It can be difficult to embrace a whole new world of digital interactions with customers after years of cultivating best practices with more traditional methods. There are ample benefits to developing and maintaining a social media presence, but perhaps more importantly, there can be serious consequences to ignoring social media.

Word of mouth has long been one of the most trusted methods for customers deciding which businesses to seek out and which to avoid. Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and the various other social media outlets have changed the meaning of "word of mouth" by vastly increasing the audience that any one person has influence over. An unhappy customer no longer just complains to friends and family members – they have the power to broadcast their discontent to a large group of distant acquaintances and strangers. If these very public complaints are ignored, people will notice. Worse, if competitors are doing a better job of responding on social media, a company will fall even further in customers’ estimation by comparison.

This may all sound intimidating, but there is a silver lining. The flip side of the public nature of customer complaints in social media is that the company’s response is also public. Every time a representative responds quickly and helpfully to a disgruntled customer on social media, others see it.

How can a company turn a potentially negative social media experience into an opportunity to demonstrate exceptional customer service?

Have a Strategy – Have a plan in place to monitor mentions of the company in social media and respond in a timely manner.

Respond Quickly, but not Carelessly – The lifecycle of social media is fast, but not so fast that responses should be rushed. Take the time to craft the right response, keeping in mind the best tone to take to avoid escalating the issue.

Be Active Daily – Keep interest in the account fresh with regular updates. Whenever company feedback appears, aim to respond within an hour and definitely respond within a day.

Create Official Social Media Guidelines – Make sure employees know that use of profanity and sexist or racist language is forbidden and talk of religion or politics should generally be avoided. Be aware of competitors to avoid re-tweeting or linking to.

Put Someone Trustworthy and Experienced in Charge – It can be tempting to hand the company’s social media account over to an intern, but the risk in doing so is high. Any misstep in social media will be very public and especially controversial mistakes will likely spread further faster than attempts to correct them.

Do Not Try to Silence People – Probably the best way to make an issue worse is to pretend it’s not happening by deleting messages. Angry customers won’t just go away, they’ll get louder and have even more to complain about.

Enjoy the Free Feedback – Complaints might look bad, but as often as not, they offer suggestions for ways the company can improve.

One of the main reasons to take a professional interest in social media is to avoid the consequences of ignoring unhappy customers, but there’s no reason not to take advantage of the benefits as well. Just as social media amplifies the voices of the unsatisfied, it also gives a bigger platform to the happy customers eager to share their good experiences. It makes it easy to identify regular, loyal customers and express gratitude or reward them with special deals. If a customer service strategy neglects social media, it means many missed opportunities.

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