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How to handle social media complaints

Whilst social media offers businesses the unique chance to engage with existing and potential customers, it also provides audiences with the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings and gripes. For some businesses, this can be a nightmare: there is always the fear that one disgruntled customer can go viral with a single tweet or Instagram story.

It is said that 47% of consumers use social media platforms to complain about services and products. So, know you’re not alone if you’re receiving negative customer feedback on your social channels. It’s how you handle these social media complaints which makes all the difference.

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you’re providing good customer service on social media whilst protecting your business reputation. 

Find out how to avoid a social media meltdown with our top tips and best practices for handling social media complaints.

Handling Social Media Complaints 

1. Don’t panic!

If we’re being honest, negative reviews on your social media channels can hurt. Whether you’re a start-up business or an industry giant, every company wants to provide the best possible service to its customers. When met with complaints, don’t panic: it only makes everything worse. 

Physical symptoms like increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing patterns are natural and what makes us human but don’t offer the best environment for handling serious business. 

Panicking can lead to responding in haste and without any reasonable thought. It’s important to carefully consider the circumstances and rationally decide on the next steps.   

Remember that every business will run into complaints or negativity at some level. Given that the issue is not a legal challenge, the bad PR you may worry about often doesn’t materialise. Great PR can be achieved by responding well.

2. Don’t delete negative comments

It can be an understandable reaction to simply delete any negative comments or feedback which occur on your social channels. However, when you consider 54% of people look on brands more favourably if they respond to customer service queries or complaints on social media, it’s worth putting in the effort to reply.  

Deleting communications will often offend the party further and possibly lead to additional comments again as the customer becomes angry for being silenced. Just acknowledging a social media complaint can increase customer advocacy by 25%.  

Ignoring and removing negative comments can actually harm your business far more than if you were to own up to the issue and publicly recognise it. Take steps to offer your customer an apology and try to rectify the situation. According to research conducted on Twitter, when a customer receives a response from a brand or business on the channel, they’re willing to spend up to 20% more on a product in the future. 

3. Speed is key

We’ve all been there – struggling to get a hold of a customer service representative, ending up with us taking to Twitter or Facebook to vent our frustrations. 

Normally, this public outcry stems from a poor customer service experience, such as not being able to get through to a call centre or complaints team, or sending multiple messages that are simply ignored. The world of social media is a reactive and responsive one so it’s no surprise that customers expect a quick reply, especially when they’re feeling disgruntled. In fact, 80% expect brands to respond to social media comments and messages within 24 hours. This decreases to as little as an hour on fast moving platforms like Twitter. 

There’s also an incentive on some social media channels to earn customer service status through swift replies. On Facebook, you are able to achieve a ‘very responsive to messages’ badge on your profile if you get back to 90% of your comments within 5 minutes. This looks particularly good to approaching and prospective customers.    

From everyday customers to celebrities, social media offers a channel to voice our opinions about services or products we’ve received. Whilst unlikely to happen often – each one has the potential to ‘go viral’ or snowball in terms of reach or engagement. For example, Chrissy Tiegan tweeted recently about her poor internet service and, in just one day, it received 983 comments, 2,800 retweets and 60,200 likes – not great news for the internet provider she was complaining about!Think about it this way: if you were in your physical store and a customer was shouting loudly about how rubbish your products were, you’d do everything you could to resolve their problems and quieten them down as quickly as possible, whilst avoiding the risk of disturbing or influencing other potential customers. The same rules apply on social media and other review platforms. 

4. Personalise your responses

There’s nothing worse than getting in touch with a company, only to receive a generic copy and paste response. To the customer, this simply proves any opinions they had that the brand doesn’t really care about them or their query or complaint. It’s a good idea to take time to assess the individual and their circumstances so you can respond in the right way.

Dealing with an aggressive customer can be tricky, but adopting a professional yet firm tone of voice can help guide the conversation in the right direction and avoid escalation. Whilst those customers who appear more apologetic in their complaint may benefit from a more sensitive approach, ask questions to get to the bottom of the issue quickly and try your best to resolve it. However, don’t be afraid to stand your ground if a customer becomes unreasonable – be confident that any potential customers will see through their pushiness too. 

Personalising your response by addressing your customer by their first name – or with titles and surname for more formal businesses – can help reassure the individual that you are looking into complaints on a case by case basis. Never use colloquial pet names or greetings – now is not the time for terms of endearment such as ‘hun’ or ‘mate’ which would only result in riling someone up further! 

It’s worth considering signing off your reply with a team member’s first name, rather than something generic like ‘The Customer Service Dept’. This will go a long way towards making the customer feel valued, as they are talking to a respectful human person. 

5. Don’t go back and forth

Good customer service may require a few exchanges in order to retrieve all the information you need to investigate the issue and further resolve the dispute. However, trolls and haters do not. Sad fact: some people are just out for a virtual fight and you or your business will never gain glory through humouring keyboard warriors. 

Use your judgement – when deciding what ‘type’ of customer and feedback you’re dealing with and if you feel this may be a lost cause, we’re advocates of Jay Baer’s Rule of Reply Twice: simply put, ‘never reply more than twice to any one person in any single conversation.’ Baer’s theory is that anything more and you risk being pulled into an endless back and forth of commenting with no reasoning. Two replies are enough to legitimately try and solve the problem or complaint, or move the conversation to another means. Any onlooking fans will also see this to be true. 

6. Don’t get sucked in

Leading us on to our next point nicely – don’t get sucked in! Consider your tone of voice and never try to ‘win’ an argument. While the customer might not always be right, it’s a good idea to keep them onside. 

Trying to get one over on your customers or acting on the defensive after a complaint or negative comment on social media will not only look bad on you, but it is bad for business. Remember other potential customers can witness these conversations and responding in a hostile manner will make you appear bitter and can damage your brands’ reputation. 

A perfect example comes from fashion retailer Oh Polly, whose tone-deaf response to their social media competition winner led to thousands of complaints against the brand. The giveaway was for NHS workers during the Covid-19 pandemic and lucky winner, Lara, was outraged when she was told she couldn’t claim her winning package as she wasn’t available for a video call with the company – as she was due to work a 12-hour shift on the front-line at the same time. 

oh polly customer service messengerWhile Oh Polly did – eventually – apologise, they received a huge backlash from the social media community, criticising their initial response.

7. Take the conversation private

The aim of your response to a social media complaint should be to gain key information but also encourage the discussion to another channel. It’s a good idea to suggest the customer drop you a direct message or sometimes it may be more appropriate to direct them to email or telephone so that they are speaking to the relevant team. This keeps the exchange short but professional; potential customers can see you publicly acknowledging the comment but keeps all the ‘gory’ details away from prying eyes.  

It’s important to always conduct sensitive conversations via private means or direct message. Don’t ask for personal or confidential information on the public facing side of your social media account and if people do give this away without being encouraged, it’s best to hide or delete the comment but, of course, let the customer know why you have taken this action – to protect their privacy. 

8. Own your mistakes

Honesty and transparency are integral when it comes to brand perception, especially on social media. The brands and businesses that are successful in this realm are those that openly admit when they’ve made a mistake, apologise and rectify the situation as quickly as they can. There’s real power in saying “we messed up and we’re sorry”.

Take fast-food giant KFC who, back in 2018, suffered a chicken shortage, which caused outrage online. 

Instead of blaming others, playing the victim or becoming defensive, they took an altogether different approach. Issuing a tongue in cheek advert, they launched a nationwide campaign to apologise to its customers:

“We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”


KFC’s public atonement went down a treat, as customers chuckled and agencies all over the UK wished they had played their part in it. The fast food giant had managed to appear human, offering heartfelt confessions to their devoted fans only strengthened their customer loyalty and gained respect in even wider circles.

9. Be prepared with a process

There is solid logic behind the phrase ‘preparation is key’. If you know all businesses at some point or another will experience negative reviews or complaints on social media, it must be a great idea to have a plan in place to deal with them. 

You can prepare your team by placing responsibility with an individual for replying to customers and you can outline a process for that person to adhere to for each social media complaint. You might want to use a social media management system such as SproutSocial or Hootsuite to pull in all conversations to a central inbox making them more manageable. 

FAQs for your services or products is a valuable document in its own right for your business. Useful on places like your website, you can translate them for the world of social media. Craft social media friendly responses to common queries or complaints, remembering to differentiate them according to channel (your tone on LinkedIn will probably vary from your tone on Facebook or Instagram, for example). This keeps your response focused when getting back to people quickly, although we’d always encourage you to tweak the replies with each customer so you don’t sound like a customer service bot. 

It’s also worth considering worst case scenarios so you’re ready and rehearsed if this was to happen. Include support around deleting or hiding comments or banning individual users if they breach your social media community guidelines. 

10. Follow up

Sometimes you may put all the effort into crafting a personalised, prompt and professional response to a social media complaint only not to hear back from the customer. What do you do if your customer goes cold? 

Your social media community management process should outline how to manage your inbox and keep tabs on your complaints cases. It’s always worth re-visiting those which you were unable to resolve. 

Follow up with the customer to see if their situation has changed and if there is anything else you can do to assist. Whether you hear back from them or not, this always looks good if you treat each case as personal and respected. 

To conclude…

If in doubt, go back to marketing basics when responding to social media complaints. 

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and consider how you would like to be spoken to and what you would like from a business if you were complaining about their products or services.

Key takeaways 

  • Remember complaints and negative reviews on social media happen to most brands and businesses. Don’t take it personally. 
  • Expect social media complaints to happen at some point and prepare for this with a plan and process. 
  • Respond quickly, loading responses with the fundamentals of customer service – be polite and professional, friendly and helpful. 

Do you want Team Hallam on your side?

If you enjoyed our 10 top tips on how to deal with social media complaints, we’re always on hand to support you further. 

Get in touch to arrange an informal chat and learn how our experts can help your business to thrive online.

The post How to handle social media complaints appeared first on Hallam.

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