I was recently asked by an AllBusiness.com reporter to comment on how a business can deal with a social media crisis. Here is the full article on How to Clean up a Social Media Crisis. I also wanted to share my original responses. Much of this is based on online reputation management services we provide for clients.
How important is it for business owners to learn how to manage customer complaints on social media?
It is absolutely crucial that small business owners learn when and how to manage customer service issues on social media. As consumers, we are giving new meaning to the phrase “I want it my way.” In an era of instant happy meals and books delivered to your device faster than you can blink, our expectations as consumers have gone up. On the flip side, as business owners we have to meet that demand. Your customer may prefer to call your toll-free number or send you an email or chat with you live on your website or send you a message on Twitter. Yes, the list is long. But, the goal is to provide your customers with choices, because as consumers we will settle for nothing less. This doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every message or tweet within seconds, or that you even have to respond to every message. It just means that you are listening to your customers, and making a genuine effort to be of service to them – on the platform of their choice. All good businesses require systems, and offering customer service through social media is no exception to the rule. It, too, requires a solid system for monitoring, filtering, and responding.
Why are negative comments on social media sites so potentially disastrous to a small business?
Because as a society, we are fairly jaded. We don’t blindly trust the company’s press release. If we see something negative, we are much more likely to believe it as true vs. when we see something positive. A negative comment, when truly constructive, can be a great opportunity for the business to walk its talk.
Let’s say an unhappy customer posts negative comments on Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, etc. What should be a business owner’s first steps?
The first step when faced with a negative comment is to analyze it. Is the complaint truly constructive, and is this truly a distraught customer you are dealing with? Unfortunately, cyber bullies and online bullying is becoming a greater problem. If faced with vulgar or inappropriate remarks, it may be best to ignore it. As trying to cultivate a discussion in such a situation can just aggravate the bully more. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say 10% of all online comments and reviews fall in this category. 90% are honest people who have a genuine complaint. In which scenario, I’d recommend responding promptly and courteously to the customer. At the end of the day, people realize that businesses make mistakes because they are run by human beings. They will judge you (the small business owner) based on how you deal with a situation, vs. the situation itself. I am more impressed when a business takes the time to say “sorry, let us make it better” vs. turning a blind eye.
Are there any “golden rules” or “best practices” business owners should follow when monitoring social complaints and dealing with them?
When we work with clients on reputation management online, we ask them to follow 3 Golden rules. 1) Work on building a positive brand before you need it. A restaurant that gets just two negative reviews is going to feel the pinch a lot more than a restaurant that has thirty positive and two negative reviews. Encourage your happy customers and clients to share their experiences online. 2) Make the most of free websites like socialmention.com to keep a check on your brand. Even a weekly search will do. 3) Do not censor truly constructive comments – even if they are negative in nature. Feel free to delete (when on your website or Fan Page), comments that are cruel, discriminatory, violent, or vulgar. If you have a Facebook Fan Page, take the time to create a Fan Page policy – one that clearly states the intent of your online platform (customer service and feedback for example) and what you will not tolerate. Then, you can deal with the comments and interaction there based on your pre-set policy.
How can entrepreneurs turn these negative situations into positive ones—and ultimately protect their integrity?
By cultivating positive relationships online and offline, and dealing with the negative comments and complaints in a timely and courteous manner.