We all love our customers. And almost all of them are kind, rational people.
And then there are a few who are not so kind or rational.
Sometimes they get disgruntled.
And then they get on Facebook and they talk about you in unkind terms. They impugn your brand, blacken your name, and drag your company into the mud.
What do you do?
1. Address them nicely. If they’re hostile, responding with hostility will not help. This is not a bar fight, this is the internet, and the internet never forgets. Unless their complaint is genuinely offensive or nonsensical, you do not delete the post — that makes you look North Korean. No, you swallow your frustration, and using your calmest voice express your concern that they are not happy and assert your desire to fix the problem. But not here on the Facebook page.
2. Solve their problem, but not in public. In a public forum, you can’t predict how people will react, so at your first opportunity direct them to email, phone, or even face-to-face to address the problem. This allows you a certain freedom of movement, but more importantly deprives the unhappy customer of the opportunity to turn up the drama. Offline, you can concentrate on fixing the problem, and not worrying about every word you say.
And be sincere about it — this is important. Sometimes even you make mistakes, and you have to try to resolve them in a humane way. This technique only works if you genuinely try to solve customer problems. (If you ignore customer problems, then they’re right to throw mud on your Facebook page.)
In most cases, you should be able to solve their problem and have them walk away happy. In that case, go back to the original Facebook post and either delete it (sucker move — makes you look like you’re hiding something) or add a comment pointing out how happy you are that the problem has been solved.
Remember, the brand is a sponge. A data point on your page that shows you have an unhappy customer makes you look bad, and outweighs the input of a lot of happy customers. By adding the data point that the problem has been resolved, you effectively cancel out the negative data point and show you have good customer service.
For most customers, that should do it. You have tried sincerely to solve their problem, and they accept. Hooray.
But for the rest of them who STILL aren’t happy…
3. Restate the degree to which you have helped them. If the customer continues to say bad things about you, it’s time to go over their head, to the other members of the community. State (calmly and politely) the many ways in which you have tried in good faith to solve their problem. For example “I’m sorry you’re unhappy. I believe that the four emails we exchanged and seven phone calls effectively addressed your problem. I’m sorry that our [generous offer] hasn’t been enough. Please contact us at 555-555-5555 and ask for Mary to see if there’s anything more we can do.”
Now people will realize who you’re up against. Every customer service issue begins as “the little guy against the big bad business." But if you can show that you have tried hard to solve the problem, and the person will not accept Yes for an answer, people start to see it as “High-maintenance whiner vs. Beleaguered customer service person.” We all know drama queens. If you can subtly underscore how high-maintenance they are being, their credibility goes away very quickly.
This needs to be backed up by…
4. Call in the cavalry of happy customers. By any means necessary, reach out to your happy customers (a tweet works well) and ask them to help you (a) solve the unhappy customer’s problem or (b) tell their story of how happy they are (which makes the unhappy customer look even more like a jerk).
You can’t do this cavalierly, but if you have done a good job of building a community of happy customers, they should be delighted to say good things about you. Make sure you take care of your happy customers — they’re who keep you employed.
5. Stockpile happy customers. Finally, think about the most common problems your customers have with your company, and plan for how you would counteract a complaint in social media. Do you need a video shot explaining how to solve the problem? A pdf of the owner’s manual? A special section on your website? At the very least, keep a list of happy customers who can help you address the problem. Don’t exploit your happy customers, but don’t be afraid to ask for their help. The Ben Franklin effect shows that asking someone for a favor is more likely to make them like you than doing them a favor. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true. Give your fans a reason to declare their tribal loyalty — they’ll love you for it.
An unhappy customer is a tragedy. And 90% of them are reasonable people. But some people are just crazy. Deleting their comments makes you look like the bully. By leveraging social proof and the Ben Franklin effect, you can prevent them from tracking mud all over your Facebook page. Pleasing customers is hugely important, but you can’t be held hostage by an unreasonable person. Life’s too short.
Adrian Blake is always reasonable. He is CEO of Social Media Contractors—Outsource to Omaha.
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