Mike is the owner of The Social Penguin Blog, a popular and well-respected social media blog based in the UK. During the day, he can be found delivering social media and digital marketing strategies for multi-national brands in his role at The BIG Partnership, one of the UK’s largest communications firms. You can catch him on Twitter at @mike_mcgrail.

Business owners dream of the day when everything about their products or servicse are perfect, their customers are super happy, and that their balance sheets are constantly on the up.

In reality, it can be nearly impossible to keep everyone happy, and the social media platforms are now a first point of complaint for many disgruntled customers — or indeed prospective customers. So what do you do when faced with a negative comment? These five tips that will help you smooth the way.

Say You’re Sorry

It sounds obvious, but simply saying sorry can quickly stop a minor issue from turning in to a lengthy negativity nightmare. Take a bus company as an example — let’s call it Wonder Bus. Stephanie’s bus was 10 minutes late this morning, she jumped on Twitter and posted: “My @wonderbus bus was 10 minutes this late, so annoying.”

Note that she isn’t actually asking a direct question; she was merely venting her frustration. This doesn’t look great from the Wonder Bus point of view, as this is a public grumble from a customer. From experience, a simple apology may well be enough to restore Stephanie’s faith: “Hello @stephanie we are really sorry to hear that your bus was late, please do let us know if you have any issues in the future.”

Wonder Bus apologizes and lets the customer know that it is there for her should there by a problem in the future. Make a private Twitter list of people who have complained. That way you can keep a track of any historical issues. Create similar lists for other key platforms too — like spreadsheets. It’s a simple yet effective approach.

Have a Process

Clearly, not all issues will be resolved with a simple apology. When a more serious complaint comes in, you need to be in a position to deal with it effectively and quickly. Creating a simple process will aid this.

  1. Establish a dedicated point of contact within key departments. This will be the person you flag the issue to and who will take ownership of the complaint. You need to maintain contact with him or her and ensure he or she is working to resolve the issue.
  2. Set expectations with the customer. Once you’ve received initial feedback from your department, you should get back to the customer and let him or her know when to expect a full response. Please note that you should have already interacted with the customer. If the complaint is public in nature, aim to take it private (email or even phone) as early as possible. This not only makes it easier for the customer, but keeps any further negative details out of the public eye. Set an internal time scale rule for responding to complaints that were instigated via social media — you don’t have the time luxury that existed before the growth of social media customer communications.
  3. Respond. Once you have the relevant information, respond to the customer with a resolution. That may be an explanation of what went wrong, or you could perhaps offer a discount on future purchases. This is down to your business and how you wish to deal with complaints.
  4. Publicly resolve. While you should always attempt to communicate and come to a resolution with the customer away from the public eye, it’s very important to publicly resolve the issue. For example, if the initial complaint came in through your Facebook Page, you should close off the initial comment with a message such as, “We are very happy that we have managed to help you with your issue and look forward to your future custom.” This shows your customers that you do pay attention to issues flagged via social media and that you will work to resolve them.

Make Changes

The best way to avoid negativity is to not create any reason for it! By having a process in place, you will learn so much about the things that your business is not doing so well. Take that intelligence and work with key departments to make changes that will go a long way to improving your customer relations and the overall sentiment around your brand.

Encourage Advocacy

It may sound strange, but often customers who receive great service after an issue can be the best advocates for your brand. Nurture those relationships and the results may well be surprising. Building advocates is a huge area, but one you must have in mind at all times.

Never Take Things Personally

If you are in charge of monitoring social platforms, it can be difficult to maintain calm during times of high levels of negativity. The worst possible thing you can do is react in a defensive or aggressive manner; you must maintain a helpful and reasonable approach at all times. Yes, there will be times when a customer is being unreasonable or even using harsh language, but never, ever respond in a similar fashion!

How is your business dealing with negativity? Do you have any great tips to add? Please let us know in the comments below!

[Image credits: DesiQuinn Dombrowski, Parker Michael Knight]