Sales & Marketing

How to deal with customer complaints on social media

8 min read

21 November 2013

Six marketing experts give their top tips on how you can deal with complaints on social media.

Andrew Warren-Payne, senior research analyst at digital marketing research group Econsultancy:

1. If necessary take it off-line

Some things you won’t be able to solve either diplomatically or satisfactorily through social media. It’s always best to ask them to direct message you an email address or phone number, or ask them to call you. 

That’s for two reasons: it prevents an escalation, which can happen; and, more importantly, if that’s the best way you can give customer service, by taking it offline, that’s what you should do.

2. Be open, honest and transparent

That’s the priority that needs to underline a lot of the social media activities, whether you’re an SME or a huge corporation. People will find you out and they won’t trust what you’re saying.

3. Don’t feed the trolls

Some customers do not want to be satisfied on social media. The trolls are people that are trying to damage your brand and just want to illicit a reaction. 

If you’ve done all you can, nothing is working and they are a troll, then just don’t feed them anymore, which means try and bow out of the conversation and wait for it to dry up, which in 99 per cent of the cases they do.

Louise Durham, social media consultant at digital marketing agency Blonde Digital:

4. Respond publicly, follow-up privately

Not only is it important to respond to complaints in a timely manner, it’s also crucial that you’re seen to be doing so by your wider customer base. 

If a customer leaves a negative comment about a faulty product, for example, reply publicly with an apology and asking them to forward full details to an email address so this can be investigated fully. 

You can then take the nuts and bolts of sorting the issue out away from the public domain.

5. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback

Whilst it’s important to respond to genuine complaints or issues, be wary of appearing too defensive or – worse still – deleting the comment. If you’ve built a reliable, trustworthy brand that provides a good service, you’ll often find your loyal customers will jump to your company’s defence themselves. Their genuine, unsolicited positivity will really help to bolster confidence in your brand for others.

6. Use negative feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow

Your social media audience is the largest, most unbiased focus group in the world. Ensure you’re constantly listening to what they saying about you, on your own digital channels and other forums, such as blogs.

Mark Kelly, a consultant, producer and trainer at digital marketing agency Mark Kelly Digital

7. Plan for social media complaints

Be prepared for a range of scenarios before they occur. Google ‘social media triage’ and you’ll find a range of workflow diagrams that illustrate the point. You are looking to stream different types of comments or complaints to the right people in your business, and have a plan around how to react to each particular comment ‘type’.

8. Don’t be an ostrich

Don’t ignore complaints (they may well then escalate) unless they are very clearly trolls. And respond quickly, having a timely answer stops comments escalating. People (both in their personal and business life) expect quick responses nowadays and get quickly disgruntled if a brand or company seems to be taking ‘too long’ to respond to a query or complaint.

9. Take it off-line

The initial acknowledgement to the complaint or comment should be on the same social channel that the customer used (that will aid brand perception in the eyes of others), but that doesn’t mean you have to solve the issue immediately and in that same public space. You are better giving the complainant a private channel and answering their issues in-depth there.

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Anna Wilson, head of digital at social media training company The Juice Academy:

10. Do your homework

Before you jump in with both feet first, examine the user’s profile, understand what they talk about and how they do it, this often gives you a good insight into how to approach them.

11. Manage expectations

People expect transparency so in the ‘about section’ be clear about when you’re monitoring the social channels, give people an e-mail address for the ‘down times’, and then say when e-mails will be responded to and stick to it!

12. Speak in the right way

People respond to people, so try and avoid using jargon or corporate lingo where possible

Elie Adamson, client services director at social media consultancy We Are Social:

13. Preparation is the key to success

When dealing with consumers on social media, businesses need to analyse the types of conversations happening about their brand and their competitors, so that they can anticipate need. The insights gained from this analysis can feed back to the company management, and can actually help identify and even resolve problem areas.

14. Respond in a timely manner

Because of the instantaneous nature of social media, users expect a quick response to their query or complaint. It’s important that social media channels are always monitored by those authorised to respond – or that these people are always easily accessible.

15. Companies need to make sure their online and off-line customer services procedures are aligned

If the person or team dealing with the company Twitter handle, for example, promises a customer a phone call from customer services, it better actually happen. The only thing worse than having a complaint in the first place, is receiving poor, disjointed customer service that rubs salt in the wound.

Sarah Beresford, managing director at marketing firm TimesEleven:

16. Never ignore a comment

Whilst we love great reviews, complaints and negative feedback can be to hard take. The problem with social media is the bad news spreads just as quickly as the good. But address the negative reviews in a thoughtful and timely manner and customers can become your life-long advocates.

17. Never delete a customer’s post

This is by far the biggest sin in social media. If you do, you’ll unquestionably end up annoying your customer, who will feel that they are not being listened to. Even worse, if they then complain about their post missing, you’ll risk losing all the faith and interaction from your social communities.

18. Learn how to deal with ‘ranters’

You will undoubtedly be able to pin point the ‘ranters’. It’s good to have a plan of how to manage ‘ranters’ without disengaging them – often these people have a strong voice amongst your community. Try to empathise with them and understand their issues.