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How to handle complaints on social media

07 December 2017 | 08:30 am

Brands are failing to cope with the vast number of queries and complaints they receive on social media, research has shown. In fact, only 34% of tweets and 35% of Facebook messages received are successfully answered.

This growing trend is being attributed to the vast increase in the number of people and businesses using social media as a customer service support channel, placing companies under pressure to firstly respond, and secondly respond effectively.

How to handle complaints on social mediaWith 67% of consumers claiming to have recently used a social media channel for a customer service enquiry, the demand for excellent social customer care seems only likely to grow.

Forbes reports that social customer care is one of the main priorities for today’s marketers. With significant benefits for businesses who get it right, generating positive referral and reputational superiority in contrast to those who continue to drop the digital customer service baton.

Of all the inbound messages and customer comments, perhaps the one that poses most threat if left unanswered for any period of time is the ‘complaint’. Left to fester it can gain other complainants and snowball, act as a barrier to sales and negatively impact on the brand’s reputation.

The F-E-A-R-S framework to complaints on social media

One helpful approach for marketing, comms and customer service teams is Jay Baer's F-E-A-R-S framework to dealing with complaints on social media:

  • Find all mentions
  • Express Empathy
  • Answer publicly
  • Reply only twice
  • Switch channels

This is a use acronym to remember and apply to your own social customer service efforts. Let's dig into it.

Find all mentions

First, Baer recommends finding all the complaints that can be found, stating that "it’s impossible to hug the haters you never see". Time is of the essence when considering an era where 40% of customers expect a response within an hour. Using a suitable social media management software platform is critical, automating the process of finding mentions and monitoring reviews at speed, leaving more time to craft a response and engage with the customer to derive a satisfactory conclusion.

Express empathy

When it comes to empathy, Baer says that this is not about bending over backwards for your customers and does not mean they’re right. However, something as simple as an acknowledgment can go a long way. Furthermore, Baer urges caution over scripted apologies or response, highlighting that it can be just as shattering as no response at all!

Answer publicly

Thirdly Baer recommends answering social media complaints publicly. Stating that social media can be termed a ‘spectator sport’ and as such, it is vital that responses are kept public. Trust is also highlighted as a fundamental reason for keeping the conversation in the public’s eye. A private response can look as if there was no response at all, losing the impact of being able to demonstrate the temperament, values and customer service of the business.

Reply only twice

Baer recommends keeping replies to a minimum and just two where possible, showing that the company cares, but is not willing to divulge into an onslaught of abuse. One reply should be used to find out what the issue is, and a second to move the conversation into a more private route i.e. a direct message.

Switch channels

Switching channels is used mostly when sensitive information is required such as an account number. So, to resolve the issue the second reply should try and direct the customer to a more private channel. This can also then allow the business to show more empathy and humanity by being able to listen and deal effectively with the complaint. This is not withstanding the fact that the customer has a right to choose and if they feel more confident staying on social media rather than calling or emailing, then it is essential that the brand tries to accommodate the customer’s communication preference.

Across any complaint situation, it is important that the complaints are treated individually, feel listened to and treated empathetically. Despite feeling personal, of course the system that is in place will have been well rehearsed, tested and continuously evolving to tackle new types of customer complaint.

Getting started handling complaints on social media

Getting started handling complaints on social media

Trying to identify the source of customer complaints and solving the issue should be a priority for any organisation. However, using social media to its fullest by listening to customers and tracking conversations, will provide a better insight into how customers are feeling and will improve their experience. In turn, helping you minimise complaints. Sometimes, despite doing everything right, there will be complaints, so it is vital you are prepared.

Here's our advice to aid you in creating your own social media complaints strategy:

  • Listen out! Conduct regular buzz searches to find conversations where customers are talking about you, but have not @mentioned your company or brand, and aim to respond within an hour.
  • Manage Expectations, set out when and what you’ll reply to your customer.
  • Be Prepared! Have a plan in place and ensure the team are equipped and well trained. Have official statements drafted to be published in the event of a potential crisis on social media.
  • Set the tone, ensure consistency across your social media team's posts by ensuring each is friendly, personable and able to show empathy.
  • Same channel, always answer in the channel that the customer contacted you in. Don't immediately try to take the conversation offline (unless you are asking for personal / sensitive details).
  • Limit your replies, the Jay Baer rule, only reply twice! (Baer, 2016)
  • Evaluate, how effective were your responses? Did you respond quickly? Did the customer go away feeling valued?

Follow these steps and you'll be on your way to handling complaints on social media in a more effective and timely manner, delivering a better customer experience.

Delivering Returns From Social Customer Service

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