While most of us recognise the great many benefits of engaging in conversation on social media, the ‘pro’ sentiment isn’t altogether universal.
What I hear time and time again in social media workshops, or when chatting to clients about implementing online engagement channels is ‘what if it all goes wrong’.
What they tend to mean by that is, ‘what if a customer criticises me’, or indeed ‘what if I attract a negative commentary and the whole world gets to see it’.
This paranoia is the very reason some companies remain adamant that they won’t take their dialogue into social media space – because the prospect of a highly vocal critic is too much to bear.
And today, we’re hearing the news that within hours of Barack Obama revealing his new twitter account, he was attracting racist slurs on his feed.
Even he, as President of the United States, is relatively ‘powerless’ to dissuade such behaviour or stall the opportunity for others to see this unhelpful and distasteful commentary online.
So with that in mind, is it any wonder small businesses think twice about opening themselves and their brand reputation to the potentially negative exchanges of others?
Well, the reality is, whether you’re online or not, there’s opportunity for your customer or associate to take a negative view of you or your activity.
What social media enforces however, is the potential for one person’s tainted opinion to spread, spread fast, and spread far.
The best handling of this, is a strategy which ensures you are never on the ‘back foot’ of escalating issues.
Here’s some top tips for making it possible for you to enjoy the many benefits of social media, while being armed with the tools and the processes to curtail the occasional occurrence of criticism and brand-threat.
Be a constant observer of your own brand and its part in conversation:
The more you are keeping track of what’s being said about your company online, the more likely you are to have the time to respond swiftly to any awkwardness.
Remember that you’re not expected to be spotlessly perfect – but that people will expect you to respond in a timely fashion.
You can use social media in a number of ways to track where you feature in conversation, so get yourself comfortable with those facilities.
Don’t hide. Converse:
Just as it’s really not acceptable to issue a ‘no comment’ response in traditional media, it’s highly unlikely to do you any favours to ignore what looks like a criticism or slur on social media.
Even the brands with exceptionally high records for customer service occasionally face rants by those they serve ‘why was my delivery late’ / ‘I can’t get through on your call centre number’ / ‘I wasn’t impressed with the product’.
But the best brands expect a certain degree of such dialogue and are swift to respond with an apology and appropriate action.
That response in itself can quickly comfort a customer because you have ‘shown willing’ by merely responding. Most of us just want to be heard!
Get it back to a humanised response.
If something does look like it will need some ‘attention’, the quicker you remove it from a to-fro chat on social media / your website / even email, the better.
Get the customer’s details and put in a call. It’s human. It’s personal. And yes – it stops the world and his wife from having an online reference to an ongoing tit for tat.
Let’s remember – core customer service is about decency and respect:
You don’t have to feel a customer is right in everything they are saying, but whether you’re seeing them over the counter in a shop or dealing with them through an online medium, the very best brands will be respectful and be prepared to learn from their experience.
Remember what is giving them grievance feels a great disappointment and they want you to show your true corporate culture to either reverse or confirm their opinion of you.
You may not be able to ‘undo’ everything for which they are criticising you, but your response in time and in tone can make all the difference in terms of ensuring you do not open yourself to a wider audience of critics.