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It’s inevitable that you will get some bad reviews and customer complaints on social media, but how should you respond? David Burns offers his advice.

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“The production was plodding and dull, the performances were lamentable and it was so loud I couldn’t even sleep.”
“When I arrived at the theatre it was mayhem in the foyer. I had to wait twenty minutes to pick up my tickets and this resulted in me not being allowed in for the first ten minutes. I missed a crucial part of the play.”
“Yesterday I took my kids to see xxx. It is marketed as a show for small children. At the interval I was asked to leave for breastfeeding my six-month-old baby.”

Social media, like Christmas, is about giving and receiving. The clue is in the word ‘social’. When you set up a page and invite people in, you are opening up a conversation and sometimes we could all do well to remember that the conversation is not private.

It’s also worth remembering that whatever industry you’re in and whatever product you sell, at some point you’re going to have a dissatisfied customer and you’re going to suffer negative word of mouth. We all have bad days, we all make mistakes and no system is infallible.

So, on that wonderful online noticeboard that is the World Wide Web; on that place where you engage your audience, promote your product and organisation, and interact with your followers, as sure as night follows day, you will get a dissatisfied customer intent on sharing their grievance.

But what should you do about negative comments in the great universe of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn and the cacophony of other cyber space chatter? Here are a few simple guidelines.

Reactions and responses

Take the complaint away from the public forum and offer to conduct the conversation offline as quickly as possible

Monitor: First and most importantly, remember that if you don’t know it’s there you can’t engage. The really obvious point is to monitor your own pages. All businesses can live in blissful ignorance, unaware that they have a dissatisfied customer who wants to express their unhappiness, but there is no excuse for that ignorance if it’s linked in to your own forums.

So, look at your own pages, search those hashtags and see what people are saying about you. Remember also that not all criticism is handed to you on a plate. People let rip on their own blogs, on a third party forum or on their own social media pages. Set up a Google Alert. Be aware. Be responsive.

Read and absorb: This may seem obvious, but there is always a temptation to fire off a response for all the world to see. You are being attacked; you need to defend. Resist that urge. Listen, empathise and then decide what course of action to take.

To react or not to react: It is not always appropriate to respond to online criticism. In an artistic context, a subjective reaction to the quality of the work presented is valid. If someone doesn’t like the production, the performances, the exhibition or the artworks, that is their prerogative and so is their right to express their opinion online. There is no comeback. Take the punch.

If, however, the complaint is about customer service then it usually needs addressing.

Contain, don’t confront: This is absolutely key. Take the complaint away from the public forum and offer to conduct the conversation offline as quickly as possible. This should not be seen as a way of silencing the critic, nor of isolating them, but as a way of creating an environment in which trust can be established and where the complainant feels they are being taken seriously. It’s also where others can’t stoke the fire and where anger can be dissipated.

Send a direct message, request a phone number or email and start that conversation. It is then and only then that the rules for any formal written complaint can be applied.

The exception to this may be in responding to a comment that is designed merely to grab attention – a post that is merely rude, untrue or downright offensive. In these cases a short and courteous online rebuff may be the best course of action. Don’t feed the trolls.

Dealing with complaints

Once the conversation is offline, you can follow the normal course of action for a conventional complaint. This is the advice I would offer:

Stay courteous: Eliminate the anger. Make the complainant aware that they are being listened to and are being taken seriously. The best results will come about if we appear to be open to criticism, to discussing the issue and willing to acknowledge errors and ready to correct them.

Fact check: Take the time to investigate the complaint. Talk to staff, check systems, check infrastructure. Remember that every valid complaint is an opportunity for improvement. If the complaint is about a member of staff, don’t take sides and don’t jump to conclusions. Get the facts right and respond accordingly.

Contest when appropriate: If a complaint is based on a misunderstanding or a basic untruth, contest it but keep it polite.

Take action and be seen to be taking action: If the problem is systemic or if there is the potential for the issue to happen again, explain what measures are being taken to avoid that occurring and express gratitude that the matter has been brought to your attention.

Compensate: Offer free tickets, refunds, etc. Make the complainant a friend. A satisfied customer is one who feels cared for and that means taking complaints seriously.

Check: After amends have been made and relationships healed, contact the customer again to check their satisfaction.

Use the satisfied voice: The good news is that most complaints can be satisfactorily resolved. If treated correctly, the person who had the grievance can be converted into a valuable asset for you – an advocate for your organisation. A relationship has been built and a trust established. It’s time to ask them to post something positive. Their social media voice may now work in your favour.

Mainstream media

What happens when negative social media criticism leaks out into the mainstream media? Well, that is a whole other story and it may be time to consider hiring a PR agency well versed in crisis management…

David Burns is the Director of David Burns PR.
Tw @DavidBurnsPR

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