making is not listening for mentions of your brand that don't include your exact Twitter handle," she says. "Just because someone doesn't directly'@-message' you in a tweet doesn't mean you shouldn't respond. In fact, these [responses] often present opportunities to surprise and delight customers, which can mitigate negative backlash."
Experts also suggest using social media to ask for feedback from customers. This might mean asking them how to improve a specific product or service or the business overall, or asking them what their pain points are.
#4: Respond in a timely manner
More than half of Twitter users expect a response within two hours of tweeting a company, according to a 2012 report from Oracle. And when social media inquiries remain unanswered, 55 percent of consumers will follow up with a call to the company, according to a Zendesk survey released in November 2013.
"The protocols for social media are so much different than for other channels," advises Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group. "Assume that you have to respond much more quickly."
Keep in mind that for every minute, hour, or day that a complaint goes unanswered, its impact may increase, he and others warn.
Responding quickly, even when you don't have an answer right away, can make all the difference in the world, Verrill maintains. A "boilerplate response" such as "I am looking into this for you and will get back to you ASAP. Sorry for the delay," could be all that a company needs to calm an upset customer and buy it time to craft an adequate response, she states.
Fluss says the response time should be standardized specifically to each social media channel. Posts to Twitter, for example, should minimally be answered within 30 minutes, but a response within 15 minutes is even better. For Facebook, a 24-hour response is minimally acceptable, but, ideally, a response should be logged in 25 minutes. For LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Yelp, responses should be posted in no more than 24 hours, though a same-calendar-day response is preferred. On Tumblr and Google+, the ideal response time is 60 minutes, and on Reddit, it's two hours.
Verrill also mentions that customer service automation software can be used to alert agents if a ticket doesn't receive a response in a set amount of time. For social media, this time limit would ideally be two hours or less, she says.
Fluss also suggests creating a time-sensitive escalation process for social media posts that are at risk of going viral.
But Greenberg warns against assuming that all negative customer posts on social media could go viral. "You do not have to give things away just because someone tweeted something negative at you," he says. "Don't fall prey to blackmail like that."
#5: Don't forget chivalry
Receiving customer complaints never feels good. But instead of dreading them, companies can turn them into opportunities to showcase their customer service values. By acknowledging and apologizing for mistakes, companies can turn uncomfortable, potentially damaging situations into opportunities to show their followers that they truly care. They can generate positive sentiments simply by acknowledging customers, apologizing when appropriate, and offering thanks to customers who praise their brands. Even when customers present a challenge, it doesn't hurt to offer up the "Thanks for the opportunity to serve you" closing at the end of the interaction.
Verrill says it helps to look at it this way: "A complaint handled properly is an opportunity to solve the same problem for other customers who may be following the conversation."
#6: Have a personality
The repeating of automated, generic responses is easily spotted and can have a far worse effect than offering no response at all. Glossing over customer posts with generic statements such as "We're sorry to hear about your experience" will likely only escalate the situation.
Conversely, personalized, unique interactions with customers on social media create stronger consumer/brand relationships. As such, let agents include their names or initials in their replies so customers know they are talking to real people.
And while a friendly, positive, and cheery attitude can go a long way toward changing an angry customer's mood, it's important to always be professional and courteous, Pombriant advises. A little empathy goes much further than humor or too much levity. "Customers don't expect a company to be perfect all the time, but they do expect a modicum of empathy when dealing with their issues," Pombriant says.
Because of the public nature of social media, it's also important to be honest and fully transparent at all times, he adds.
#7: Know your customers
When possible, companies should link their CRM systems to their social media engagement platforms to identify customers on social media and then gauge their level of involvement, social influence, revenue potential, and overall value as a customer. "If you're tracking