Back before the internet became a staple in most homes throughout the developed world, it wasn't that often you'd come across customers vocally complaining about businesses.
It's not that customers weren't complaining, it's just that they didn't have such a readily available platform to air their grievances and advise others against dealing with particular companies. Unless these customers called up a radio station or took to a show like A Current Affair, complaints stayed mostly behind closed doors between a business's customer service call centre and the disgruntled customer at hand.
But the internet has changed all of this. With the significant popularity of social networks, business review sites and online forums, any customer who feels as though they've gotten a raw deal can now express this frustration to a very public audience. So what are you to do if your business is facing crticism from a disgruntled customer online?
Word-of-mouth goes both ways
Remember you're a business. You're going to make certain customers happy and you're going to upset others. It happens. Hopefully you make customers happy the majority of the time, with only a few incidents where a customer forms a bad impression regarding your services and/or products.
But just because a customer jumps online and criticises your business negatively doesn't mean you're allowed to get upset. Word-of-mouth goes both ways, so you have to be willing to accept that for every customer that has something wonderful to say about your company, others may have less-than-wonderful things to say.
Under no circumstances is it okay for you to respond in an aggressive or petty manner. While there are trolls out there who may only be interested in getting a rise out of you, you need to approach each customer complaint with the weight it deserves. Because an unhappy customer can do some serious damage to your image.
It's still about customer service
The main difference with the online world is that complaints can go far more public than ever before. But on a fundamental level, you deal with these complaints in the exact same way: It's all about good customer service.
Of course, the one difference is that while they may have made their complaint publicly (on a social media page, in a forum, on your website, etc.), you should encourage them to discuss the matter with you further away from the public eye. This could include you providing them with an email address to contact, asking them to you send you a private message on Facebook, and so on.
But before you ask them to detail the issue to you privately, make sure you actually indicate you care about their problem. If someone complains and your reply only amounts to "Message us privately", then all you're doing is demanding them to do something. It's better to use a reply similar to this:
"Hi (name), we're sorry to hear about your recent experience. If you'd like to send us a private message, we'll do our best to help resolve this issue ASAP."
The thing is, when we're frustrated, we want to vent. The same rule applies to customers. If a situation has frustrated them, they may jump online to vent their frustration and criticise your business. But if you reply with a genuine expression of wanting to help them, it will make them feel better. Not only that, but it will show them that you care; as well as anyone else who saw the original complaint.
Do not engage with trolls
Unfortunately, with the often anonymous nature of online users, this opens up the potential of your business becoming the target of trolls. Trolls will essentially say anything to try and get a rise out of you. What seemingly starts off as a customer complaint can quickly devolve into trolling.
With trolls, there may be no way of immediately identifying that they are indeed a troll. So with each customer complaint you receive, you should still respond to them in a professional and compassionate manner. A genuinely upset customer will likely respond positively to your interest in helping them out. A troll, on the other hand, will respond to your offer of assistance with hostility. Although sometimes genuinely annoyed customers can do the same.
You simply need to approach trolls in a liberal manner. If they respond negatively to your offer of assistance, give them the benefit of the doubt and try to calm them down. If they only get angrier, use profanity and show no interest in being civil, then the best approach is to ignore them.
Troll or not, if you show a genuine interest in helping someone and they only continue to get angrier and can't be reasoned with, they're not worth your time. They'll ultimately either be a troll or a disgruntled customer who has no interest in resolving the problem. And when all is said and done, you can only help those who are willing to receive your help. What matters most is that you don't allow a troll to anger you and cause you to say something that would hurt your business; because that's what they want you to do.
Margin Media is an inbound marketing company based in Brisbane. We offer a range of digital marketing solutions to help your business increase its website traffic, qualified leads and customer base. To find out more about our services, visit our home page.
* Image source: FindYourSearch