• July 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

On Social, Not All Negatives Are Bad

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For many companies, social media has proven to be a powerful tool to connect, engage, and establish trust with current and prospective customers, increase brand awareness, build Web site traffic, and lead to increased sales.

But as hard as you might try, it’s impossible to keep every customer happy all of the time, and when disgruntled customers do surface, that same social media channel is often the place where they go to get their gripes heard—and seen.

Negative comments on social media can be scary, and for many companies, the first instinct is probably to ignore them, hoping in vain that if you don’t draw a lot of attention to the negative comments, no one else will notice them either.

That’s just bad customer service. If a customer in a brick-and-mortar location had a complaint and asked to speak with a manager, or someone called or emailed your customer service department, chances are he wouldn’t be ignored. So why do some companies still believe it’s OK to ignore complaints raised on social networks?

“Unless an organization doesn’t respond to customer or partner phone calls or email, there is no reason why social silence would be acceptable, especially if the post was addressed to the company’s social handle,” says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, a research and social business consulting firm. “A failure to respond is a black mark, no matter where the conversation was started.”

But still today, those black marks are all too common. The truth of the matter is that 40 percent of customer interactions—both positive and negative—on social media get ignored by companies, according to Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal analyst at ThinkJar.

That’s because responding to social media, especially when things go wrong, is not easy. “Everyone wants a one-size-fits-all solution, and it doesn’t exist,” Kolsky points out. “It depends on who is talking and what he is saying. You really need to manage to each customer’s expectations.”

Despite the difficulty involved, the lack of a response is “inconceivable,” Kolsky says.

After all, the company’s reputation is at stake. “If a customer complains and you do nothing, not only do current and potential customers see it, but so does everyone else.”

“Your competitors can see it and respond for you,” says Paul Johns, chief marketing officer at Conversocial, a provider of social customer care solutions.

Another problem with the head-in-the-sand approach is that it assumes the worst of people, which usually isn’t the case. Most people who lodge complaints on social media aren’t scary at all. Except for a few bad apples, most complaints come from good customers who truly like the company and are looking for help to stay a customer.

“Recognize that many of the negative posts come from people who just need to vent,” says Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Even when a post takes on a really hostile tone, “the simple act of responding to them—showing that you are listening—is often enough to return a civil tone to the interaction,” Jacobs says.


That’s not to say that there aren’t some bad people out there just looking to make trouble for companies. An unfortunate reality of the Internet is that the few bad apples—the Internet trolls—do exist and they can have a very loud voice. Dealing with them often requires a little customer service—if not marketing and public relations—savvy.

An incident at Target last summer was a perfect example. When the big-box retailer announced that it was going to remove gender descriptions from signage within its toy section, a firestorm of negative comments hit its Facebook page almost immediately. One troll took it a step further, though, and went so far as to create a fake “Ask for Help” page that featured the company’s red bull’s-eye logo and other branding and impersonated Target’s customer service account. He responded to some of the unhappy posts with a flippant, less-than-sympathetic, and sometimes downright cruel voice.

As soon as Target found out about the brand-jacking, it issued an official statement outing the site as a fraud committed by an Internet troll and mixed in its own brand of humor. It accompanied the warning with text and photos to promote the fact that it was going to start reselling troll dolls—the cute, colorful little plastic figurines—after taking them off the shelves several years earlier. “They’re back, and only at Target,” the message said.

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