That's a challenge, but not necessarily one to shy away from. "It comes with the territory," said Ivar Kroghrud, CEO of the social customer relationship management (CRM) firm Questback, in an interview. "Social media can be used for many things, and one of them is customer complaints or negative feedback about your company."
Kroghrud sees social complaints and other negative online chatter about your business--usually shared in very public fashion--offers more opportunities than downsides. He points out that dissatisfied customers are nothing new--they existed long before Facebook. Engaging with an unhappy customer in an honest, open manner--and, of course, resolving their issue in a positive manner--can turn them into your next evangelist. In that sense, the carping consumer can prove far more valuable than your unremarkably satisfied customer.
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Some large enterprises are beginning to devote entire teams to interacting with customers and prospects in the social realm; smaller companies rarely have that luxury. Kroghrud offered these tips for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) on handling negative social feedback without spending too much time doing so.
1. Use Technology Tools To Listen And Learn
The ever-growing list of social media management, social monitoring, and social CRM tools can help SMBs avoid drowning in the seemingly non-stop crush of input. Kroghrud thinks using one (or more) of them is a no-brainer because of social's 24-7 nature.
"The tools are getting better at things like sentiment analysis," Kroghrud said. "It will help you sort through some of the clutter and get to the things you need to address."
2. Be Prepared And Set Expectations You Can Live Up To
If you want to reap the good of social media, you must be prepared to take the bad, too, if not the downright ugly. Have a strategic plan for social media that includes your business' rules for responding to complaints and other negative comments about your company. The SMBs that don't take this step, Kroghrud says, are usually the ones that get overwhelmed. In a similar vein, don't set yourself up for failure. Create expectations that you can meet or exceed.
"The worst thing that you can do is to give the impression that you're very open--invite people to share their views, feedback, and reviews—then not respond or not be able to cope with and manage all of that data," Kroghrud said. "That can put you in a very tough spot."
3. Decide Who You're Going To Respond To--And Who You Can Ignore
As part of that plan, lay out your approach for what types of people and messages you are willing and able to address online. Then determine the criteria for what you're going to turn a blind eye to. Trying to chase down every single bit of chatter is probably not an efficient strategy; the ignorance-is-bliss approach won't work out well, either. Kroghrud said some companies use Klout or other tools to assess what kind of online influence the dissatisfied consumer wields before responding. Some use sentiment analysis and other metrics to guide their decision-making. On the flip side, there will likely be situations where you're better off leaving it alone. Kroghrud said people or comments that get into legal or ethical gray areas, for example, are likely not worth trying to please.
4. Don't Forget You're Still Dealing With People
Kroghrud offers a reminder that some companies seem to need: In the social era, you're still dealing with people. Don't lose sight of the human element, even when it's confined to a Facebook comment. "How would you respond to an email or a telephone call with a complaint or negative feedback?" Kroghrud said. (I might add: How would you respond in person?) "There's no reason why your response on social media should follow different guidelines. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that it's an open channel where, depending on how you respond to the customer, it's out in the open for others to see."
5. Move Irate Customers To A Different Channel
The public nature of many social platforms adds pressure to negative social interactions. The sites themselves only complicate the matter: "You may need more than 140 characters to explain something," Kroghrud said.
Consider offering particularly upset customers the chance to address their issues in a different forum, such as a phone call, email, or feedback survey. Just don't make it inconvenient or difficult to do so. Otherwise, you might be making a tough situation worse.
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