Keep Your Cool Online When Customers Complain
By Courtney Cairns Pastor
All I wanted to do was send an e-mail. I would have settled for a Tweet.
Instead, my little customer service gripe blew up faster than I could type. At the end of the day, I walked away feeling worse about the business than when I started. And I saw from the customer’s view how important it is for businesses to have a social media presence — and how wrong it can go if they aren’t on top of online customer feedback.
I had seen some signs recently at my favorite Tampa pizza joint, the Seminole Heights Cappy’s, that struck me as not family friendly. As the mom of a toddler who always thought of Cappy’s as welcoming to children, I wanted to find out more. I decided to e-mail them to share my concerns and find out the deal.
Cue communication breakdown.
The web site had no contact information — no names, no generic e-mail link. The Facebook page was a bunch of customers talking to themselves. No Twitter. I tried to brainstorm other options (Snail mail? How would I know someone got it?) and in the meantime, I vented on my private Facebook page.
A friend who saw my post shared a public version on her Facebook site, UC Tampa Magazine.
A debate immediately started. It was 25 posts deep by the time the Cappy’s owner jumped in to list the problems kids had caused in the restaurant and say he couldn’t please everyone. “Thank you to everyone that eats at Cappy’s,” he wrote, “and for those that have chosen not to return, we understand.”
That spurred more debate. The thread chugged along, topping 100 comments by the end of the day, migrating to Twitter and attracting attention from local media. People fought with each other and also weighed in on where they stood, shared other complaints and offered suggestions.
But this isn’t a kids-in-restaurants problem. It’s a customer service problem. And it boils down to accessibility and responsiveness.
Not long ago, we would have written an actual paper letter to bring something to a business’s attention.
Technology has spoiled us. We want to complain now. We want to hear back now, and we’re as bad as toddlers when we don’t get what we want. We whine and complain and throw a temper tantrum on Facebook (or Yelp or Trip Advisor).
So make it easy for us to reach you before we blab to the world. Get on social media sites and put your contact information all over the place. Make sure someone checks the accounts regularly, so when people do complain — via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook — you can provide a prompt response.
If people can talk to you directly, it’s more likely you’ll have negative conversations privately and resolve problems before they snowball. Public arguments are risky, BusinessNewsDaily points out, because you can lose additional customers who are watching the saga unfold.
With no e-mail address listed for the business, Cappy’s Facebook page might have been a good choice for my question. It has nearly 900 “likes,” but it’s a ghost town. The company doesn’t appear to have posted anything since February 2011, not even thank you’s to the people saying how much they love it. One poor woman asked if they were open on Easter and was just left hanging.
You can’t set up social media pages and then ignore them. It’s important, though, to respond in the right way.
- Be prompt but thoughtful. Don’t be so quick to jump in that you say something you regret.
- Move public comments to a private forum. You’ll probably have to respond publicly initially, and then you can ask for contact information to discuss it away from prying eyes.
- Don’t delete (unless offensive or illegal).
- Use a sympathetic tone and follow up. I’ve used this technique as a community manager when I see complaints on sites we manage — more times than not, someone who sounded angry and irrational is instantly softened.
Outback Steakhouse follows the formula well on Twitter even with nearly 20,000 followers. Complaints about service get a “Sorry mate” or a “Crikey!” along with a request to “drop us a line and we’ll make it right.”
Chipotle Mexican Grill also shows excellent engagement on Facebook. They have 1.8 million “likes” and still interact with fans personally. They’re so friendly when responding to complaints that the commenters don’t seem to be bothered at all by the end.
Can’t I Just Hide?
Social media sound like more trouble than it’s worth? It’s not all about negative feedback. Take the initiative and you’ll find you have a cool community out there that wants to talk to you. The community director at Zaarly put it like this in a Mashable article: “Every time you can genuinely engage a user on a personal level, you have the opportunity to strengthen their connection with your brand.”
With active Twitter and Facebook accounts, Cappy’s could:
- Chat up Tampa restaurants and food bloggers
- Showcase seasonal beers
- Share photos of their unique antique toy decor
- Update fans on new developments — parking improvements, new lunch hours, neighborhood involvement
- Show video of the kitchen making that yummy deep-dish pizza
In no time, they’d have everyone salivating and talking about what’s really important — the food — and not their personal complaints.
Now, who’s hungry?