Dealing with social media complaints

Dealing with online customer complaints can be a daunting task and can, if the customer has exhausted all other options, turn ugly.

Dealing with social media complaints

Dealerfloor met with digital guru Mike Stopforth, the founder of companies like Cerebra and Beyond Binary and the creator of the popular podcast One-Eyed Man, about dealing with social media complaints.

DF: To set the scene, has social media really changed a dealer’s interaction with a customer or is it the same thing, just on a different channel?

MS: Without a doubt social media has changed the customer - brand dynamic. We've never really had to be that concerned about the opinions of customers, but today our brands (not just the brands of cars we sell, but also the brands of dealerships and even personal brands) are less what we tell our customers they are, and more what our customers tell their friends they are.

DF: There is some debate about whether you should reply to a complaint on social media. Where do you stand on this?

MS: The first thing you need to consider when someone complains on social media is, is this true? There is very rarely any benefit to responding to a social media claim or complaint that is rooted in very little or no truth. Why? Well, our responses to complaints often validate the complaints. If someone accuses me of being a racist homophobe online, and I come back with a defensive tirade, that smacks of some deep insecurity that it’s true. If it's not true, what possible merit could there be in responding?

The second thing to consider is, if it's true, how big an impact is it likely to have? There are two ways to think of this - brand sentiment and actual revenue. Bizarrely, I've seen incidences where a reputation disaster for a big brand (big retailers in particular) actually drives sales up! Remember, social media audiences are the most fickle of all.

Brand sentiment is tougher to measure directly, and so must be calibrated for on an instinctive and best guess basis. Your response to any truthful complaint should ideally be proportional to the expected impact of the complaint on your brand or revenue. Any more and you're overcompensating.

DF: OK. So we have decided to respond to a complaint. Should we do so publicly or move offline or to direct messages (DMs) as quickly as possible?

MN: Again, there is no hard and fast rule. By the time people get online and are losing their mind, they've probably already explored traditional channels. If they haven't, that plays into your favour as you can invite them to do so and if they don't, everyone can see in a public forum that they're just being stroppy.

Where you can and where appropriate, invite them to a private conversation but understand that in social media, you're at the customer’s dinner party, and customers might well tell you that they want it solved publicly. There can be huge benefits to doing so as well. I've seen brands in a tough position turn it around brilliantly with a sincere, considered response.

DF: Any golden rules to dealing with a complaint?

MS: Don't make promises you can't keep. The customer’s happiness equals expectation minus reality. Manage expectations, especially publicly, and you have a better chance of success.

Lastly, there's no substitute for a sincere apology. If you did wrong, it's okay to say, "We've heard you, we're really sorry, and we'll do ABC to fix it. It's extremely difficult to argue with a sincere apology.

You can listen to the popular One-Eyed Man podcast here: http://mikestopforth.com/podcast/ or follow Mike on Twitter at @mikestopforth.

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