The social faux-pas: managing complaints on social media

James Day, Social Media Manager of Ingenious BritainA guest blog by James Day, social media manager

It’s a business’ worst nightmare: a complaint going viral. Due to the very nature of social media, tweets and posts are so easily shared that before you know it, one negative comment can spiral into a PR disaster.

In 2012, a mother named Suzy Macleod complained on Ryanair’s Facebook page that, after checking in online & forgetting to print off her boarding passes, she was charged EUR60 p/p for ‘printing a piece of paper’. Left unattended, the complaint received around 450,000 likes and 20,000 comments, and received national press coverage. Whilst the company weren’t necessarily in the wrong (the supplementary charge was in their Terms and Conditions), it just shows the power of social media to tarnish a brand or business.

It’s inevitable that over some point in your copywriting or business career in general, one of your customers will not be 100% happy with your service. There’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do though is optimise yourself so when this happens, you’re best-equipped to deal with it in a professional and measured manner on your social platforms.

Here are my top tips should a negative comment appear on your feed:

  • Do not, under any circumstances, ignore it. Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. Even if it’s a case of saying to your customer ‘I’m sorry, we’re really busy at the moment, but I’ll respond properly when I can’, that’s a lot better than leaving it to fester. The customer will think that either you’re incredibly rude, or worse, that you don’t care – and they will tell you that, in no uncertain terms.
  • Try to respond as swiftly as humanly possible. Yes, you’re busy; but if you take fifteen minutes every couple of hours to check out your social feeds (as I suggested in my previous article), then you should, by process of elimination, only take a maximum of two hours – which is very reasonable. If you leave it for longer than three hours, again it begins to fester in the customer’s mind, which is unlikely to serve you well when you come to mediate the situation.
  •  Always apologise, even if it’s not your fault. It’s the first thing you should do – apologising acts as a diffuser to a potentially-volatile situation. The customer isn’t always right, granted – if you know you’re not in the wrong, start with something like: ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way…’, which is a lot more mediated than ‘I think you’ll find…’ or ‘Actually…’, which are both likely to spark confrontation.
  • Keep a measured, professional tone. Again, this is one to steer the conversation away from conflict. As this is a very public battlefield, the last thing you want is to be seen as is a company which reacts with hostility to criticism. And as the adage often goes, the person who loses their temper first is the one who loses an argument.
  • Don’t respond privately. This is for two reasons – the first being that in effect, the damage has been done, and responding privately will only make it look to others like you’ve ignored the complaint. The second is if there’s a tendency to try to isolate the incident immediately, the customer will believe you have something to hide. Instead, make your initial contact on the public domain, and if needs be then it can be taken to the private.
  • Limited characters don’t make for a suitable explanation. The problem with Twitter in particular is you only have 140 characters to identify the problem, explain it, and what you can do to rectify it. So, after the initial contact, ask them if you’d like to continue the process via email/phone – they’ll appreciate a chance to explain their own problem in more detail, as well offering a more satisfactory explanation.

From personal experience, I’ve found that using these strategies, you generally get a more reasonable customer as a result. And one, who if dealt with correctly when you properly connect with them, is not only placated, but willing to use your services again.



3 Responses to The social faux-pas: managing complaints on social media

  1. As a pretty good complainer I’d say spot on. Companies have made these errors and I have used it against them. For one company their poor sm correspondence has added to the evidence I will be using in the Small Claims Court against their company.

    What I would add though is often people use sm as a final resort. It’s when they haven’t had a response so I’d say your last point is vital, give a name and make sure you look for the email coming through and tweet back that you have it and are dealing with it.

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