- Responding selectively. Once you start engaging openly with customers on Twitter or Facebook, you can't go back, so think first. Most companies still don't have the staff or processes in place to efficiently handle social media complaints. About 45% of questions posed on Facebook go unanswered, according to Socialbakers. Many of those are critical comments that companies can't or don't want to deal with. SocialOps found that 70% of the companies it audited had deleted Facebook comments, a practice that can create more problems than it solves. If you build a branded presence on social networks, you should post a written comment policy, then enforce it consistently. Fans and critics deserve equal attention. Most gripes can be effectively dealt with by simply showing receptivity, and critics often become promoters. One survey of 700 problem incidents in the airline, hotel and restaurant industries found that one-quarter of customers' best memories actually began as problems. People complain because they care.
- Not responding at all. Creating a Facebook Page or Twitter account is an invitation to converse. If all you do is post press releases and happy talk, you'll be viewed as a spammer. No one “likes” that. If you're not ready for two-way dialogue, then don't put your brand on Facebook. It isn't a federal requirement yet.
- Responding erratically. You should have a target window for response times with limits at both ends. If you answer complaints too quickly, others will come to expect the same service. Are you prepared to give it to them? A good rule of thumb is a four-hour minimum and a 24-hour maximum response window. If you can move faster, great; but be aware that you may be setting a precedent, so add staff accordingly.
- Cutting and running. Our instinctive reaction when confronted with a complaint is to dispatch it quickly and get the person out of our face. That typically means either apologizing or promising to “take your comments into consideration”" Neither is a good response. People complain because they feel an injustice has been done. Most are looking for a receptive ear and a promise to address the problem. If you lead with an apology, it looks like you're not listening. That makes people really mad. By the same token, promising to think about it looks like a brushoff. If you're really going to take a critic seriously, set a timeframe for a response—such as, “We'll post a follow-up here within two weeks”—then stick to it. By the way, “no” is a perfectly acceptable answer if you have a reason.
- Appeasing. Coupons, freebies and giveaways are never a good strategy unless they're accompanied by genuine regret. Once you set the precedent of buying off angry customers, you'll find yourself with a lot more angry customers. Everything gets shared these days. Make-goods should be given on a case-by-case basis when it's clear that the situation merits it. If you're going to institutionalize appeasement, then apply the policy fairly and consistently. L.L. Bean, Lands' End and Coach all promise no-questions-asked refunds or replacements. JetBlue distributes a flight voucher to any customer inconvenienced by a problem within its control. If you manage appeasement right, it's actually a competitive advantage.
E.J. Schultz on 04.18.2014