How to handle complaints on social media

Posted on 06/08/2020 by Hannah Tomaszewski

Almost every business will, at some point or other, encounter complaints on social media, but it’s how you handle them that makes all the difference.

Did you know that 47% of consumers use social media platforms to complain about services and products?

While social media offers businesses the chance to engage with existing and potential customers, it also provides audiences with the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings and gripes. Which, for some businesses, can be a nightmare. Where, once, you’d write a letter or pop in-store to complain, nowadays, one disgruntled customer can go viral with a single tweet or Instagram story. 

But, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you’re providing a good service and staying honest. Find out how to avoid a social media meltdown with our top tips and best practices.

Don’t panic

To put it simply, negative reviews hurt. Whether you’re a start-up business or an industry giant, every company wants to provide the best possible service to its customers. But, the best piece of advice when encountering negative reviews is to not panic, as it only makes everything worse. 

Every business will garner complaints or negativity at some level. Given that the issue is not a legal challenge, the bad PR you may worry about can easily be outweighed by the great PR you‘re likely to achieve from responding well.

Speed is the key

We’ve all been there, struggled 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.

With most of us spending so much time on social media on a daily basis – 2 hours and 24 minutes a day on average, to be exact – it’s no surprise that your customers expect a quick response, especially when they’re feeling disgruntled. 

From everyday customers to celebrities, most of us are likely, at some point, to use our social media channels to voice our opinions about the service we’ve received. For example, Chrissy Tiegan tweeted recently about 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!

chrissy tiegan twitter complaint

Think about it this way – if you were in your physical store and had a customer 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 to avoid disturbing or influencing your other customers. The same rules apply on social media. 

Own your mistakes

Honesty and transparency are important when it comes to customer loyalty and brand perception, especially on social media. The brands and businesses that ‘do well’ on social media 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. But, instead of panicking, they issued a tongue in cheek advert to apologise to 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.”

Don’t simply delete negative comments

Deleting negative comments won’t get you anywhere. In fact, the offending party will probably comment again and is likely to be even angrier at being silenced. Similarly, they might even leave you a review or comment in a place where it can’t be deleted, which may cause yet more complaints from other users for censoring your customers. 

Ignoring and removing negative comments can actually harm your business more than if you were to own up to the issue and publicly acknowledge it. At the very least, offer your customer an apology and try and rectify the situation by getting to the bottom of the problem.

Tailor your responses to each customer

There’s nothing worse than getting in touch with a company, only to receive a generic response back that proves they don’t really care about your specific question, query or complaint. Instead, while it’s good to have a specific tone of voice, brands and businesses should take the time to identify the type of customer complaining, as it’s all about responding in the right way.

For example, if you’re dealing with an aggressive customer, be professional yet firm while those who are apologetic in their complaint are likely to not want to be a burden and so offering a more sensitive response is best. You should always ask questions to get to the bottom of the issue and try your best to resolve it, however, don’t be afraid to be confident and stand your ground if you know the customer is trying to get something for nothing.

Similarly, while it sounds obvious, personalising your response by addressing your customer by their first name and signing off with the team members name will go a long way towards helping your customers to feel more valued and creating a positive sentiment about your brand or business.

The best response we’ve seen in recent years is Johnson & Johnson, who won favour with their customers by creating a hilarious personalised video which they sent to their customers. 

Consider your tone and never try and ‘win’ 

Trying to win and get one over on your customers or being defensive over complaints or negative comments will only make you lose. Remember, the customer is always right, and responding in a hostile manner will only make you appear bitter or petty, and can damage your brands’ reputation. 

The perfect example comes from fashion retailer Oh Polly, whose tone-deaf response to a competition they ran during lockdown received thousands of complaints after they launched a competition for NHS workers during the pandemic, only to tell the lucky winner, Lara,  that she couldn’t claim her winning package and outfit as she wasn’t available for a video call as she was due to work a 12-hour shift on the front-line at the same time. 

oh polly customer service messenger oh polly twitter fail

While Oh Polly did, eventually, apologise, they received a huge backlash from people on social media criticising their initial response and tone-deafness.

Try and avoid problems in the first place

Easier said than done, of course, but do take the time to think before you post. Could a Tweet be deemed as offensive? Could you phrase your Instagram caption a little better? Perhaps that LinkedIn post doesn’t need to be shared?

Sometimes, there’s no escaping bad news, but there’s definitely a right, and a wrong, way to share it. Be positive, even when highlighting bad news, and always be honest and transparent – your customers will appreciate it. 

Top tips:

  1. Reply to your customers publicly, but always conduct sensitive conversations via private or direct messenger.
  2. Never try to ‘win’ an argument or discussion – at the end of the day, while the customer might not always be right, it’s a good idea to keep them onside.
  3. Be personable – at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all make mistakes, but it’s how you deal with then that makes all the difference.

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