Social media and customer complaints: How do you deal with it?

The other night I was out with friends enjoying a beer when I found myself being introduced to a stranger. This is not unusual when you’re out in a crowded bar enjoying drinks with a few friends.

However, he and I started talking about what it is we do. He works for some kind of financial firm. When I mentioned that I work in “Social Media Consulting”, the conversation really began flowing.

He seemed to have a love/hate affair with social media. They use it for his business. While he did not seem to be the one actively doing the social media himself, he obviously was seeing what was being said.

He understood that he “should” be doing social media, but only from the standpoint that it was a “new fangled thing”.

“How do you handle negative feedback?” He asked me genuinely wanting some kind of cure-all to stop his clients or former clients from complaining.

My answer was not what he wanted to hear.

“Thats great that you’re getting feedback from your customers. Dealing with it depends on the complaint.  Is any of it constructive? Are you using it to help correct any problem areas?”

He confessed that the complaints were genuine and known problems within the company.

But rather than change his company practices to get a better customer experience, he wanted a simple method to just stop the complaints.

Unfortunately people don’t work that way, and business doesn’t work that way.

If you’re not giving people what they want, or at least managing their expectations of doing business with you (for example: don’t promise quick service if you know its going to take weeks), then your business isn’t going to last long.

Complaints are actually one of the most under-appreciated and often under-valued components of social media.  Generally a complaint is a hopefully small window between what a customer or client needs and what is actually delivered.

How awesome of a company could you be if you knew exactly what your customers needed and could give it to them in the way they actually wanted it?

This is one of the ways that companies are benefiting from social media.

The key here is to employ a bit of problem-solving:

1. Listen – All feedback is valuable. Listen to what people are saying. Really hear it, no matter how hard it is to do so.

2. Define the Problem – 20 people are unhappy. Why are they unhappy? Was it a simple mistake that you’ve already fixed? Is it a known problem that you’re working on? Is it an old problem you didn’t really think was important? Or is it something new that you’ve never considered before?

3. Find the Solution –  If the problem is already fixed, would an apology or coupon help to ease over the issue? Did you think that the problem wasn’t important? Then now you know it is, and you can fix it. Are you working on the solution already, but can’t seem to find a solution that makes you customers happy? Then maybe ask a few of your constructively complaining customers for their ideas.

Both you and your customers want to make the transaction work, and often your customers will come up with things that not only make it a better company for them to deal with, but a better company for everyone. Customers love companies that care and listen, and value them.

Don’t be afraid of criticism. Often it’s our strongest hardships that help make us into something pretty awesome.

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