Michelle Han January 19, 2016 | 06:21:56

5 Steps To Good PR From Social Media Complaints

Social media has become a favorite medium for customer service complaints, but is there a way to transform such complaints into good PR for your company? We think there is. Customer service and public relations are growing closer, and engaging complainers on social media — the right way — is an opportunity to turn critics into fans. If done well, a frustrated customer could end up singing your company’s praises. Here are five ways to turn social media complaints into positive PR.

First, do no harm. When complaints are rude, spiteful, or – worst of all – making claims that aren’t true, it can be tempting to respond swiftly and emotionally, but that’s rarely advisable. First, don’t make it worse. Avoid threatening legal action or posting anything confrontational – social media simply isn’t the place. Defuse the situation by doing the equivalent of escorting a disruptive customer out of a public place — show willingness to engage and invite them to discuss the matter offline to resolve the issue. Which leads to…

Reach out directly to public complainers.  Assuming the complaint isn’t profane, respond directly to the customer on the same social media channel they used. The conversation is public, so onlookers can see that someone’s home and someone cares, which helps a brand’s reputation. Acknowledge and validate the complaint if appropriate (“You’re right, waiting 20 minutes in a check-out line is not acceptable”), speak to how it’s being addressed (“I’ve escalated your situation and you will hear from us within 24 hours”), and offer to continue the conversation offline if warranted. Be human, not robotic.

Respond immediately.  According to a study by Lithium Technologies, 72 percent of customers who complain on Twitter expect the brand to respond within one hour. It’s worth it for brands to invest in full-time coverage of all social media channels. Waiting even a few hours can irk consumers even more, and a swift response earns points. Monitoring tools, including free ones, can help track mentions and complaints across social media channels. Hootsuite is one of the best, especially when your social media is monitored by a team rather than an individual, and Social Mention or Mention can help keep on top of hashtags and brand mentions. Go with one you can tweak to meet your company’s needs.

Offer a genuine apology if warranted. A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward appeasing cranky consumers. Honestly assess the nature of the complaint being made. If it’s a valid argument, acknowledge it. And don’t make the mistake of issuing a non-apology apology or botched apology.

Be surprising. Once in a while, do something that takes complainers by surprise — give them what they ask for, or throw in a bonus. Airlines are well known for offering vouchers or upgrades when complainers have legitimate gripes. And PayPal, though not dealing with customer complaints, won praise for its #treatyourself campaign around Valentine’s Day (which we wrote about here), in which the company surprised some followers by offering to deliver on the wish they tweeted about.

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