When Customers Attack

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balfour

This was the Twitter message left by Toronto resident Patrick Balfour in late February, after he allegedly spent 11 months trying to get Subway to respond to his complaint of finding a dead cockroach in his sandwich. In all fairness, Subway had asked Patrick to substantiate his claim with a photo of the sandwich; however, he had thrown it away.

After several follow-up promises were made by Subway personnel and not kept, Patrick took matters into his own hands and went to Twitter. In similar style, Hasan Syed paid for the following promoted tweet (among others) after British Airways failed to pay sufficient attention to his earlier tweeted complaints:

tweet

Got a problem with a business? Take it to social media.

Customers are hearing how companies bend over backwards on social media platforms to please their disgruntled customers- and they’re expecting the same response in kind. In fact, Copypress noted that it’s almost as if consumers have acquired a kind of Pavlovian expectation of having businesses suck up to them simply because their complaint might get published on social media.

And that sucking up needs to come quickly too; Convince & Convert reports that, of the 690 individuals it surveyed, 42% of those complaining via social media expect a response within one hour. Furthermore, over half of those reaching out through social media expect the same response time regardless of whether it’s nighttime or the weekend.

Seriously?

With such high social media obligations placed on businesses and corporations, you might want to think twice about creating that Facebook page or Twitter account for your affiliate marketing site or freelance business.

In fact, after seeing the following YouTube video wherein disgruntled customer Taylor Chapman berates and swears at Dunkin’ Donuts workers for over eight minutes, all while threatening to post her video on Facebook, you may wish to unplug your entire Internet connection.

Incidentally, why was Taylor so upset with DD that she brought her mouth and her video camera to the store? Brace yourselves…

DD failed to give her free food.

What to do when attacked by a pack of raging customers

1. Eavesdrop regularly.

Set up your Google Alerts to notify you whenever someone mentions your website, business or just you by name. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, make a policy of checking in at least once a day. If there are online forums or communities where users congregate to talk about matters pertaining to your business, you should also make the effort to check them out.

2. Do not engage the customer.

It’s tempting to get into a drawn-out online argument where you try to justify your actions. Don’t. This only ends up provoking the customer further, as can be evidenced by this online course refund debacle described by freelance writer Linda Formichelli.

Rather than add any fuel to the fire, calmly restate what the customer is upset about, apologize for the oversight (only if you are guilty), and then offer one or several solutions.

3. Go get yourself a coffee.

Back in my technical service days, I took plenty of calls from customers who really didn’t want a replacement or refund or even technical support per se. Rather, they just wanted to be heard. And going back to the aforementioned Subway case, listening may have been all that Patrick was looking for. So sit back, relax, and quite honestly, do nothing. Except listen, of course.

4. Consider the audience.

Some customers do have a real ax to grind with you and/or your business. And they may have posted their entire story, complete with photos, to their blog or Facebook page. However, if their site has only a handful of followers, it may be best to not address the complaint. Why? Because answering a complaint legitimizes it and also attracts a larger audience.

Keep in mind that anyone, including your customer, has the right to free speech and may simply want to vocalize her discontent. Nothing more. As long as you provide some method of contact on your website or blog, that customer also knows how to reach out to you directly.

5. Take it outside.

You may want to show off your expert customer service skills by handling the entire issue on Facebook or Twitter or wherever the complaint originated from. Don’t. Just like with a bar fight, you need to take it outside. Invite the customer to get in touch with you through your email or LiveChat account (if you have one). There is always the chance that the complaint could escalate or get ugly, and you don’t need that kind of PR explosion all over your business page.

Of course, once the issue is resolved, you should always encourage the customer to post something back on the social media platform that he originally used to alert you. Afterwards, you can respond in kind with something like “Thanks for letting us know!”. This tells spectators that everything has been worked out and “there ain’t nothing to see here.”

6. Apologize- or don’t.

Sometimes, a customer’s complaint is quite valid and needs to be addressed. For example, when a FedEx driver was caught throwing a customer’s package over a fence, Matthew Thornton III, the FedEx Senior VP, made a video wherein he apologized to FedEx customers and noted that the driver was under disciplinary action.

However, an apology should not be given if you feel that the fault is actually the customer’s. And sometimes, the customer actually is wrong. So, giving a half-hearted apology like, “I’m sorry you feel that way” will do nothing more than add to the customer’s ire.

The Bottom Line- or maybe not…

You can’t stop your customers from complaining; however, you can take action to stop the bad press from getting out of hand. While not every complaint needs to be addressed and/or challenged, acknowledging the issue and taking steps to prevent it in the future can be critical for maintaining a good online reputation. Because, as you well know, your bottom line ain’t much without a good reputation.

Photo credit by renaissancechambara

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