According to research studies, 90% of businesses expect that they’ll need to use social media for customer service by the year 2020. Around 67% of customers are now using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to get quick resolutions to their customer service issues.
Social media can be a great way to communicate with your customers and fans, but it can also be a channel where angry customers can write negative things about your business.
So what can you do if a customer posts negative comments about your company?
While it may never be possible to prevent disgruntled customers from being vocal on social media, it is possible to deal with negative consumers and maintain a positive brand image. Here are 10 communication hacks that you can use to deal with negative customers on social media.
1. Monitor social media conversations about your brand
Customers can talk about your brand anywhere on the web and with social media, even an unknown individual could reach lots of other people with their message. That’s why you need to monitor social media conversations about your brand.
According to research conducted by Jay Baer and his associates, 42% of customers expect a response on social media within an hour. So use a mention monitoring tool that will alert you anytime someone mentions your brand online and be sure to reply quickly to any negative customers.
A prompt reply will let your customer and anyone else who’s listening in on the conversation know that you care as well as prevent negative publicity from spreading.
2. Establish a real and emotional connection with your customer
Do you want to know one of the best ways to diffuse a negative customer?
Empathize with them.
Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their disappointment. Then offer them a solution to the situation.
Sometimes when a customer is upset with your product or service, they automatically view anyone at the company as the enemy. To overcome this initial customer perception, you can use a classic negotiating tactic known as the good cop/bad cop negotiating gambit.
In the good cop/bad cop setup, one person plays the “good cop” who is trying to help the other person out and another person plays the “bad cop” who is more interested in pursuing their own agenda. This setup allows the person to view you (the good cop) more favorably and be willing to work with you to find a solution.
So how does this work in a customer service situation?
Here’s an example…
Let’s say that your customer is upset because they aren’t going to receive a package in the time frame that they were expecting to receive it. Many times, situations like these are not your fault, but it is still your responsibility to resolve them.
The package might have been delayed because your supplier shipped it out late or because UPS didn’t deliver it on time.
For this example, you can be the “good cop” and empathize with your customer by sharing their frustration with the delivery carrier for not delivering the package in their stated time frame.
The delivery carrier, in this case, is the “bad cop”.
Empathizing with the customer lets them know that you are on their side and increases their willingness to work with you to resolve the situation. You can then offer a solution to resolve the issue, for example, shipping them an overnight replacement.
3. Prepare an outstanding script for common complaints
Wouldn’t it be nice if your customer service agents knew exactly what to say to an angry customer?
Well, they can…
If you prepare scripts in response to common complaints.
After you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll probably notice that most customers complain about the same things. Some issues like product defects can be fixed, but not all issues can be resolved permanently.
Shipping delays can occur and delivery times are often outside of our control.
Prepare a list of frequent complaints and scripts so that you can diffuse common situations in a systematic and predictable manner.
While scripts can be helpful, keep in mind that each customer is different and be sure to personalize your response accordingly. You should reply in a way that the customer does not suspect that you are using a script.
Some social media channels, like Twitter, have limited space so you may have to prepare different scripts for each social media channel.
4. Take advantage of reciprocity by over-delivering (if possible)
In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini discusses the power of reciprocity on human behavior. Basically, if someone does something nice for you, then you feel obligated to do something nice for them in return.
A great example of how a company used reciprocity to grow is Zappos. In the early days, Zappos grew rapidly through word of mouth and one of the tricks they used to spurn this growth was to secretly upgrade everyone’s orders to overnight shipping even when they picked the standard shipping option, which was 4-5 days.
As a result, customers were thrilled with the level of service they received and in return, they told their friends and family about the company.
Want to know how to apply this idea to social media customer service situations?
Here’s an example…
Let’s say you have a customer that wasn’t happy with an item they ordered. They might expect to have to return their item for a refund.
How can you over deliver for this customer? You could issue the refund without requiring them to return the item and perhaps send them a bonus gift for their troubles.
Not only will the customer be happy, but your reply will be visible for all followers to see what a great and caring company you are. And that customer and others might buy from you again, write positive reviews online or even refer other customers.
5. Assign specialists to different product lines or locations
Got multiple products or locations?
Have people that specialize in those products or are local to those locations reply to social media inquiries.
One big frustration that customers have is when they receive a generic cut and paste response from customer service representatives who know very little about the actual product.
Let’s take a Whole Foods example to understand in a better way!
Whole Foods is one of the best examples of social media marketing and customer service and has even won awards for their social media practices. Whole Foods has over 300 Twitter accounts and 250 local Facebook pages. They created localized accounts to give more targeted information to local customers. It’s Instagram profile has over 2.6 million followers, which makes this brand stand out from others!
If your company sells multiple product brands or has multiple locations, then you can assign people to specialize in responding to customer service issues in these areas. Customers will appreciate getting meaningful responses from people who are better able to deal with their specific situation.
6. Pre-emptively announce known issues and keep customers informed
Sometimes the best way to deal with negative customers is to minimize negative complaints in the first place. If you know of an issue or impending issue, you can use social media to announce these issues and keep customers informed.
For example, Blizzard games often announce via Twitter and Reddit when their games are having login issues.
This reduces customer service requests and direct messages so that their customer support teams aren’t overwhelmed.
Aside from announcing the issue publicly, they also replied to people who had questions in the Twitter thread.
Maintaining a culture of transparency by pre-emptively announcing known issues with your products builds trust and goodwill with your customers.
7. Have high-level executives or employees be accessible on social media
Another underutilized tactic for dealing with negative conversations on social media is to have high-level employees or executives be accessible on social media.
It wouldn’t be practical to have high-level employees replying to everything, but sometimes it makes sense for them to get involved occasionally, particularly for high visibility situations.
As an example, Blizzard games developers sometimes reply to fan requests, questions, and criticisms in their subreddits. Ben Brode was the lead game director of Hearthstone and a bit of a celebrity in the Hearthstone community.
Here’s an example of him replying to someone on Reddit.
Having an important company personality reply to a customer can make them feel even more important than if they just receive a reply from an unknown customer service agent. While having high-level people participate in social media customer service isn’t required, it can be a great way to let consumers know that upper management really cares about the customer experience.
8. Actually encourage people to provide feedback
Encouraging people to provide feedback is a great way to both, prevent negative customer interactions on social media in the first place as well as to diffuse current negative customer interactions.
You can send a direct email after an order with clear instructions on how to provide feedback and consider even incentivizing feedback with a gift or coupon. After their order arrives, send a follow-up email to make sure everything is okay.
Experts estimate that anywhere between 50-96% of customers won’t ever complain to you, but will tell other people about their bad experience, which results in a lot of lost business.
If a customer is already complaining on social media, encourage them to give you feedback on your product and service. This gesture lets the customer know that you value their input and by making them feel important, you are moving closer to resolving the situation in a positive way.
Let’s take the example of #SocialPilotChat on customer experience on social media.
In the Twitter chat, people lead to a great discussion on “customer’s experiences”, which caught the eyes of many people!
These days, fulfilling the customer’s expectation is more like hedging one’s bets because there are a number of businesses that are just waiting to seize away your consumers.
So, why give any chance to take away your consumers, when you can retain them?
By respecting their feedback and solving their problems.
9. Use people’s names to personalize communication
I bet you’re probably not using this simple, but effective hack…
On social media, people often simply reply without using the other person’s name because it is faster and easier to communicate that way. However, when communicating with a customer on social media, you should try to use the customer’s name when talking with them.
Why does this work?
According to Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, using a person’s name will make them feel validated as an individual which makes it more likely that they will like us in return.
Using someone’s name is a simple, yet highly underutilized technique for social media customer service. Get into the habit of addressing people by name and they’ll remember the great customer service that you provided.
10. Apologize even if the customer is wrong
As a customer service agent, sometimes you may feel like you did nothing wrong or even that the customer is being unreasonable. However, offering an apology is a powerful way to build goodwill and resolve a negative situation.
Psychology research shows that apologies help the other party stop seeing you as a personal threat and shifts the perception towards empathy. Moving the customer towards a more positive mindset will make it easier for you to resolve the situation.
Even if your company is not at fault, you can still offer an apology.
For example, if the delivery carrier was late you can tell the customer that you are sorry that the delivery carrier didn’t send their package on time. Or if the customer didn’t like the item, you can apologize for the item not meeting their requirements and offer a refund.
Look for an opportunity to apologize to the customer early on. Sometimes, an apology is the main thing the customer is looking for in the first place.
To sum up…
Despite your business’s best efforts, negative customers will sometimes pop up on social media and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with them. Be sure you are offering great products and services and develop a customer friendly culture and customer service policies.
Hire and invest in people-centric customer support staff and train them in the above tactics and you’ll be able to turn negative customers on social media into positive publicity for your business.
Guest author: Manvi Agarwal is a Marketing & Communication Strategist at SocialPilot