Charlie Pownall | December 11, 2012
Due to convenience, the opportunity to receive a direct response, and the potential to kick up a fuss when not treated as they expect, customers are turning to social media for customer service and other product and service-related support rather than dealing with call centers.
Despite this, a recent study shows that the top Singaporean telecom operators together receive an average of 1,700 negative customer comments a day via social media. Such volume requires dedicated teams to pick through the debris and assess which complaints should be answered and how.
Singtel’s Facebook page, for instance, is testament to customers’ frustrations with what they see as the company’s poor 3G coverage, high costs, and inferior customer service, to the extent that even the most anodyne promotion is belted with a slew of unrelated moans.
Yet very few of these complaints are responded to. Singtel and others cannot bury their heads in the digital sand and hope the problem will somehow disappear. After all, customer satisfaction is critical to all companies’ reputations and a positive experience can pay significant dividends in terms of more loyal customers, positive word of mouth, and fewer calls to call centers.
But with customers increasingly taking to Twitter to escalate their unanswered issues – 40 percent of Air Asia’s unanswered customer queries are reputedly placed on micro-blogs – it is imperative that organizations tackle complaints effectively.
Here are six basic principles for handling difficult questions and statements on the social web. These apply to communications, marketing, and customer service issues as much as they do HR and other activities.
- Move fast. The longer you take to respond, the more you risk appearing unresponsive, uncaring, or, worse, secretive. According to NM Incite (PDF), users of Facebook pages expect to be responded to within 24 hours and Twitter users within two hours. In social media, it often pays more to be quick than 100 percent accurate.
- Be accurate. Despite the pressure on speed, try to be as factual as possible – angry customers and bloggers love to highlight, question, and poke holes in wooly or cagey responses. Make sure to double-check the facts with your sources and if you’re not confident about the answer, at the very least acknowledge the question or statement, express concern and say you are looking into it. This can help buy you more time to find the appropriate solution.
- Be flexible. Don’t assume that either the complaint is 100 percent genuine (consider carefully its motivation) or that you are 100 percent correct in your response. If you don’t have the full facts, say so publicly and communicate updates thereafter regularly. Appear anxious to help, as opposed to desperate to please. Backing yourself into a rhetorical corner can prove awkward when you have to extricate yourself publicly.
- Be transparent. Admit if you have made a mistake. Denials, evasions, and insincere apologies as a means of quietening a community are often quickly spotted by the community and may simply inflame the issue. And while the tactic of trying to take a conversation offline can help diffuse difficult situations by buying you more time to assess the situation and/or find a solution, it can also be seen by the customer as a sign of weakness or withdrawal and lampooned as such.
- Be sincere. If the complaint is genuine, apologize sincerely and with humility and in a language appropriate to the audience. And yet an apology will mean nothing unless the problem is resolved in a reasonable manner. Sharing what you as an organization have learned through the experience is also a good way of demonstrating that your empathy is genuine.
- Be human. As The Cluetrain Manifesto pointed out, “conversations among human beings sound human,” and are “conducted in a human voice” that is “typically open, natural and uncontrived.” Look to use language that is accessible, engaging, and empathetic while remaining at core professional and objective. Avoid jargon and respond directly to the individual or group using their actual names. “Dear valued customer” doesn’t wash with customers increasingly expecting personal attention.
Six further principles will be explored in the next post in this series.