If you’re a small business owner then you’ll know that peer-to-peer recommendation, especially via social media can be one of the biggest referrers of new business.
Similarly, positive feedback and reviews on your own business social channels are gold and can be a major competitive advantage.
But at some point, and especially if you’re in the hospitality or food industry, you will face negative social media comments.
So what’s the best way to handle them?
We sat down with Gerry Avalos, Social and Digital Customer Care Manager for NRMA Insurance, to get his experienced view about how to manage online complaints.
Why is managing negative comments on a small business social channel so important?
“One of the main functions of social media for businesses is aiding in managing reputation.
Many businesses are afraid of social because they feel they will get negative comments for everyone to see.
What some businesses (big and small) don’t realise is that these conversations will happen regardless of whether or not you have a social presence.
We've found that when a business doesn’t address negative commentary on social, people will find other ways to vent.
For example, companies that are not on social media will often see ‘hate pages’ flourish.
Complaints are an inevitable component of doing business, but the mark of good customer service is how you actually deal with them and because social is so public it’s a great way to demonstrate your brand values.
It’s an opportunity to let the whole world see that you care about addressing customer satisfaction.”
Do you have an example of where a company didn’t handle negative comments well?
“Sure, there are plenty of examples out there, but the most recent one that comes to mind is United Airlines.
They’ve had a few high profile incidents and their response both on social and through the media has been disastrous and its cost them dearly not only from a reputational stand point but financially as well.
On the counter side JetBlue, another US based airline, has a solid reputation for social media service.
It’s actually well known for how they respond to customer complaints and it’s become part of their business DNA. They often convert complaints into positive news stories:”
What are your golden rules for managing negative comments?
- “Timeliness - responding quickly is of the essence and this will vary from industry to industry but a rule of thumb is, reply at least within an hour, if you can do it quicker than that, then do.
- Be as transparent and empathetic as possible. You need to genuinely care for your customers, people can smell a standard response from a mile away.
- When dealing with private information invite the customer to message you privately. This is for their protection but it will also enable you to discuss things that you might not want to, publicly.
- Just remember that you should still be transparent and try to genuinely resolve the query - private conversations are just a screenshot away from becoming public!
- Use natural language - be conversational and try to avoid pre-prepared responses when possible.
- And of course keep your cool, even if you think the customer was in the wrong.
- Manage expectations – do what you need to to put a bad customer experience right, but don’t overpromise, once you’ve established an expectation the customer will hold you to it.
- Close the loop - once you’ve resolved the issue make sure to go back to the original complaint and publicly state that you have resolved (or not) the issue, this is crucial for other customers to see that you are proactive in addressing customer complaints. Everyone understands that things go badly sometimes it’s how you react in these instances that counts.”
What are common mistakes that companies make with negative comments?
“A common mistake, and one of the most offending, is deleting genuine complaints in the hopes the problem will just go away.
This will exacerbate the situation and will make it look like you have something to hide.
Another one of course is to completely ignore a comment.
As I mentioned before frustrated customers will find a way to vent.
Not addressing concerns is the quickest and easiest way to lose customers."
What about arguing your point if you feel the complaint is unfair?
"There are many examples of businesses getting into arguments with customers on social.
While it can be hilarious to read about, you don’t want it to be about your business.
It’s natural to feel defensive about your product and service but getting into it on a public forum is not the way to go!
You can explain your side but ultimately you want the customer to leave feeling better about doing business with you.
While that may not always be possible, you can show you tried."
Is there a way to manage bad language, or derogatory comments?
"Yes, by establishing house rules.
House rules are a series of guidelines on how you expect customers to behave when interacting with you.
Its sets the boundaries of customer interaction and help you moderate offenders.
House rules should establish when and why you (or another member of staff) would delete a tweet or block a person from your page, this includes but is not limited to: Defamatory, obscene, offensive or violent language and/or images spamming etc.
You should define these rules and post them on a website so you can share the link to offending customers as well as including them in the about section of your social channel.
If you’re not the only one who looks after comments for your business make sure that anyone else who does knows what’s expected in terms of appropriate customer responses."
What advice would you give to small business owners who don't have much time for managing social media?
"There are pretty cheap tools that will help you manage your social media presence.