Customer Gripes: 4 Smart Ways to Respond Online
Social media can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it’s yet another avenue for meaningful connection with customers--and an instructive window into client behavior and perspective. But on the other, it’s something of a “Festivus” medium for the airing of grievances, both legitimate and ridiculous. And no matter which category your social-media feedback falls into, you may need to respond thoughtfully and swiftly.
That’s particularly true if you’ve gotten some negative or inaccurate online reviews. In a previous post, I talked about why digital reviews matter--in essence, they’re a trusted source of information for consumers, and they affect your bottom line. These are two very good reasons to sit up, pay attention, think hard, and start typing.
But first, it’s important to consider how to address social-media feedback in a smart, strategic way.
It comes down to the four Cs:
Of the four Cs, this may be the simplest and most important: Care about your customers, every single one. That’s it. It’s easy to care about the nice customers, the ones who are easy to deal with, polite, reasonable when there’s an issue, humorous. They’re the standouts in a long day. But you should do your best to care about every single customer who picks up the phone, enters your store, or visits your website--even when he or she is difficult. It’s the right thing to do. You owe those customers the same level of courtesy, attention, and respect as your more personable customers. And your patience and commitment to resolving an issue can pay off with huge dividends: Handle a challenging situation with grace and goodwill, and a once-angry customer might become your biggest advocate.
Sometimes you just can’t win, and it’s OK to move on once you’ve done your best. But most of the time, you can make your customers happy by caring about what they want and have to say.
Customers sometimes write reviews, tweet, or post to a company’s Facebook Wall, and it’s hard to know if anyone’s listening. Without acknowledgement, it’s as if they’re standing at the edge of a canyon, waiting for a return shout, and instead, hearing only the lonely echo of their own voices.
In most cases, no matter what the customer posts--positive or negative--take the time to comment. Satisfied customer? It takes no time at all to write, “We’re so glad you enjoyed your experience with us--thanks for letting us know.” Someone’s unhappy? Get the conversation going with “We’re really sorry we didn’t meet your expectations--and we’d love to make it up to you. How can we get in touch with you to talk this through?” You know the very act of being heard matters a great deal to customers, so what are you waiting for?
There are some exceptions. If someone is just plain nasty, it may not pay to engage. It can sometimes make things worse even if you are all sweetness and light. In any case, should you respond to someone nasty, do remain polite and positive in your tone. Others will judge you and your business by the tenor of your reply.
The customer is always right--well, mostly. Correcting a misimpression online for all to see is a strategy to use judiciously. For example, you might see that someone has posted erroneous information on when a last-minute sale you’re running will end. In a case like that, speak up--and keep the tone upbeat (“Actually, we’re excited to share that the sale ends this Saturday--let us know if you have questions! Hope you enjoy our great deals.”).
In the case of a dispute, it is often best to address it offline for both your business’s sake and the privacy of your customer. She may be willing to be more forthcoming in a private conversation directly with you. If you have her contact information in your records, respond simply that you’re interested in resolving the issue to her satisfaction and will get in touch via phone or email. If you need the person’s contact info, just ask for it. And do remember to follow through. If you could only leave a message, try to send a follow-up email right afterward. Establish a record of your disciplined efforts to be responsive.
Companies that approach customer disputes with an "all or nothing" mindset lose in the long run even if they win the short-term battle. Are the stakes really high enough to dig your heels in? Sure, there’s always a case or two where you should stand on principle. But make no mistake: Current and potential customers look at how you respond to reviews online and decide if you’re the kind of business that’s worth their time and money. If they see a courteous and patient reply, that will ultimately be more valuable to your bottom line than the cost of resolving a customer’s complaint, warranted or not.
For many companies, social media--whether online reviews, Facebook, or Twitter--is an added responsibility on top of an already very long list. But ignoring or minimizing its importance can have disastrous consequences for your business. Conversely, taking just a few minutes to be responsive and genuine can really move the needle on positive customer engagement and, ultimately, retention.
MICHAEL FERTIK | Columnist
Michael Fertik founded Reputation.com with the belief that businesses and individuals have the right to control and protect their online reputation and privacy. Credited with pioneering the field of online reputation management (ORM), Fertik is lauded as the world's leading cyberthinker in digital privacy and reputation.