How Customer Service Should Respond to Social Media

Whenever I hear someone in the blogosphere or Twitter railing against one of my clients, I immediately bring it to their attention. In most cases, I've witnessed my clients responding immediately and appropriately to the situation in an attempt to rectify a problem. After sending a handful of negative posts to one of my clients, however, I received a polite email back saying, "Thanks for sending these to me, but I just don't know what to do with them!"

For all of you companies who are reading this and asking yourselves the same thing, here are a couple of things you should think about:

  • Consider the issue. Is this an isolated case of one customer who had a problem spiral out of control? Or, is it a policy or procedural problem that is much bigger than one blogger on a rant? If it's the former, you should be able to quickly address the issue, satisfy the customer, and hopefully get a few props from the customer on his/her next post. If it's the latter, then you're wasting your time chasing a bunch of individual consequences from the root problem in your control. Fix the problem, then go out and address the social media outlets.
  • Email the person. Put your Customer Service skills to work immediately. Tell the person that you're sorry to hear about their negative experience and you'd like the opportunity to look into it and make it right. You will quickly learn if the person sincerely wants the issue resolved or if they are determined to be an unsatisfied customer on a rant. Communicating directly and discreetly with the author allows you to quickly address the issue without being viewed as trying to aggrandize your response or without getting into a spittting match with the blogger/tweeter.
  • Don't demand a retraction. If you have successfully resolved the issue and the customer is satisfied, it's acceptable to politely ask that they share the experience with their readers. Don't demand, and don't black mail ("I'll do this for you if…"). Just do the right thing for the customer.

  9 comments for “How Customer Service Should Respond to Social Media

  1. July 24, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Great advice Tom. I’ve had positive experiences (Zappos) and negative (Target) due to how they handle my customer concerns on Twitter.

  2. July 24, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Hey Delaney! It’s great to have you stop by! Thanks for the input regarding your own experiences.
    Some companies seem to see social media as a positive opportunity to respond/connect. Others are clearly threatened and approach it as if all we who are active in social media are nut-jobs on a rant.
    Hopefully we experience more of the former in the days ahead!

  3. July 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

    My academic colleagues are also struggling with how to approach social media.
    Have you seen this article that advocates we shouldn’t use technology in the classroom?
    http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Naked-Effort-Strips/47398/
    I’m sure there were anti-television technology people back in the 50s.

  4. July 24, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I had not. Thanks for the link. My best friend is a prof. and has embraced techonology, using it in innovative ways within the classroom. Social Media, however, provides a host of questions because it can’t be controlled. Sites in which students rate and comment on their profs, for example, raises some amazingly interesting questions for discussion.

  5. July 30, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I disagree with your second bit of advice, Tom. Emailing the complainer privately takes the complaint out of the public sphere, and I’m a big believer in acknowledging public complaints in a public space.
    If someone complains via Twitter, “I’ve been on hold for 45 minutes and still can’t get a refund from Widgets, Inc.,” then Widgets, Inc. should publicly respond with an @ message, something to the tune of: “Sorry to hear that! Can I help?” to let both the complainer and the public know that the issue is being addressed. THEN asking for a private email address via DM would be appropriate.
    But taking the discussion private right away? I strongly disagree. Public complaints deserve a public response.

  6. July 31, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Great comment, Heidi. I hereby amend my thoughts. I agree that the company should at least respond via the social media outlet to let everyone know they have heard and are responding. Then, they can take care of the details of the matter through direct correspondence.
    Well said.

  7. August 5, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Great post and as the general public gets more used to sharing their opinions and experiences this way, the more equipped companies need to be. Seems like the standards are only just being set, but what’s obvious is the more transparent the help, the better the breadcrumb trail works in creating positive traction.

  8. August 5, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Good take, Deb. You’re right – it’s an emerging venue for communication. It will be fascinating to watch in the coming months and years.

  9. April 8, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    had not. Thanks for the link. My best friend is a prof. and has embraced techonology, using it in innovative ways within the classroom. Social Media, however, provides a host of questions because it can’t be controlled.

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