Most customers use at least one form of social media on a regular basis. As a result, it has become natural for customers to contact companies through these channels. Due to the fast nature of social media, when customers reach out, they expect a quick reply. This is one aspect of social media where a lot of businesses are failing.
In this article, I’ll first give you some of my own recommendations for how to respond to customers on social media as well as how to handle negative customer reviews on sites like Trustpilot, TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Channels and silos
Most companies think of social media as just another channel like phone, email, and chat. The first, and most important advice I can give you, is that it’s important to realize that customers are not thinking in channels. They think in context. They have an issue they need to have resolved and they communicate in the most convenient form available at that particular moment.
Unfortunately, in many companies, social media support often floats around, sometimes living with the marketing department, sometimes sales and sometimes with customer service. It also has a tendency to move around between departments quite a bit. Many companies are still trying to work out a social media strategy and find it difficult.
As many as 30% of companies still design their customer experience on a channel-by-channel basis. Structuring your customer experience on a channel-by-channel basis will invariably lead to customers receiving inconsistent communication and support depending on the channel they contact you on. You’re only as good as your worst experience. Designing a channel neutral customer experience eliminates this risk and ensures your customers will receive a consistent experience across all channels.
Many companies are failing on social media
The early 2010’s saw an increase in the number of customers who wanted to contact companies through social media. That trend has actually been steadily declining the past couple of years. That decline isn’t because customers don’t want to communicate with companies through social media - quite the opposite in fact; it’s because businesses have been so slow to adapt to social media that many are still either hard to reach and/or slow to respond. As customers, we will move to different forms of communication if we can get a reply faster by using another channel. Time is of the essence here.
Contact Centres channel mix over the past 3 years: Social media has actually dropped 41% and is still sitting at a measly 1.6%, while voice is on the rise. Let’s be clear, what you’re seeing here is the complete and utter failure of businesses as a whole to take advantage of an opportunity to get closer to their cherished customers.
Communicating to the world and the notion of not being online
When you post a reply to a customer on social media you’re not only answering that single customer but all current and future potential customers. That means you need to have two agendas when formulating your response. To get your priorities straight, your primary focus should be to send a message to the customer you are responding to and secondarily to send a message to everybody else who might read it. By focusing on the issue and customer at hand, you are also showing other potential customers that you care about them.
That means you should also consider if your reply creates value for others, not just this single customer. If it doesn’t, my advice is to write a short and general reply and take the conversation off-site.
Two examples of such an interaction:
- After resolving the enquiry through personal messages, you can publicly write: "Thank you for getting in touch and resolving this through personal messages."
- "Thank you for contacting us, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Please private message us or feel free to email (email@example.com) or call (xxx) us so we can work with you to resolve this issue!"
When the response does create value for multiple customers (e.g. when providing an answer to a frequently asked question or something you expect to come up again), you can use the opportunity to show how quick you are to respond and how much you value that the customer contacted you. Also, don’t be afraid to over-inform, so you actually answer more than what the customer asked.
In short, this is one way to differentiate your business. If you provide speedy, helpful customer service on social media, you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors. And your customers will appreciate that. Just think of how many customers must have been let down by a company for them to turn away from social media in the way that they’ve done these last few years. Now is your chance to surprise your customers, and you should take it!
On that note, businesses are no longer "not online." Every single business, whether B2C or B2B, in tourism, real estate, manufacturing or tech, is an online business. There is no ignoring that. In fact, the longer you ignore it, the larger the risk that a competitor doesn’t. Also, the biggest growth stories of the past decade has been off the back of great customer experiences and in turn great customer service (Amazon first and foremost). Not changing with your customers is essentially disappointing them. For the sake of your bottom line, don’t do that. Saying "social media is not us" no longer applies. Whoever you are, it’s simply not true.
Responding to negative customer reviews
Another very public thing that all companies have to deal with is getting reviews. A bad customer review is virtually impossible to avoid, so chances are you will get one from time to time. When you do, it is important that you do the following:
- Respond quickly - this is a customer who’s probably disappointed, distressed or both.
- Take responsibility - even if it’s not your fault.
- Be sorry (for the customer having had a bad experience).
- Work out a solution with the customer.
If a bad customer review is left for long without a response, people can lose confidence in your company. A company that doesn’t respond (quickly) to a bad experience is not very trustworthy in the eyes of many customers.
Try to respond to all reviews as quickly as possible. Even a very short response where you simply recognize the customer’s position is better than no reply.
It’s easy to blame somebody else like a fulfillment center or a distributor for a bad experience. Don’t be tempted to go down that route. Your customer didn’t choose your fulfillment center or your distributor. They chose you. That means you are responsible for any mistakes even if the fulfillment center or the distributor is in fact at fault. You have to own up to it and take responsibility. The only finger-pointing done should be pointing at you. You can always take it up with the entity at fault later, but leave the customer out of that process.
Sorry really goes a long way. Even when a problem is not your fault, you still need to take responsibility and apologize to your customer. At the very least you can always be sorry that the customer has had a bad experience. No one wants that for their customers.
Work out a solution with the customer
You should always strive to find a satisfactory solution with your customers. In the review, you can suggest one or more resolutions (reduction in price, a gift card as compensation, replacement of item, instructions on how to rectify a bad situation, etc.) and invite the customer to contact your customer service to find a solution that works for both parties. You can also contact the customer directly as a result of a negative customer review and find a satisfactory solution. Then you can write in your public reply that you have been in contact with the customer and have resolved the issue.
The customer always has the right to be understood
No matter how unreasonable a customer might seem, you have to respect the fact that it’s their experience and you can do yourself a disservice if you don’t take it seriously. Acknowledge that you understand their point of view and that you sympathize with their position. This is not the same as being in agreement. It’s absolutely possible to disagree with a customer without creating a conflict.
Just like you, your customers read the bad reviews first
If you have ever been to a review site it’s likely that you skipped the five starred reviews and went straight to the one or two starred reviews to see if the company had replied and what that reply was. This will heavily influence your willingness or unwillingness to purchase from or deal with a company.
Cherish negative customer reviews
It’s actually a gift when you get a bad customer review, because it makes it possible for you to show the world that you take responsibility and try to work out a solution with the customer. Your ability to show how you handle issues with customers publicly can give new potential customers more confidence in your company too since they can see you care about your customers. You are also more likely to turn that customer’s negative experience into a positive one and work towards restoring that customer’s confidence in your company. Remember, it is much more cost efficient to keep current customers than acquire new ones! In fact, a 5% increase in customer retention can boost profits by 25 to 85%.
If you want to read more of that vein, I wholeheartedly recommend Jay Baer’s book "Hug Your Haters."
To summarize: Three rules of thumb
- Respond quickly and publicly to everyone.
- Say you’re sorry for their bad experience and own up to it (this will not hurt your company, quite the contrary).
- If the customer has an issue that others might have, it’ll create value for you and your customers to post the solution publicly.
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