How to Effectively Handle Customer Complaints Online


Before the popularity of social networks like Twitter or Facebook, customer complaints were typically between the consumer and the company.

But now when a customer is unhappy about a product or service, the world is their audience, which prompts some companies to overreact to quickly rectify the situation. While large corporations can afford all the freebies that may result, bad reviews can take a significant toll on small businesses.

“Some customers are taking complaints on to social networks and companies are starting to react in a way that may not be sustainable,” said Ashutosh Roy, chief executive of eGain, which  makes customer service software.

“In one extreme case we know of a company that has dozens of employees doing nothing but tracking negative commentary on social networks and jumping on any complaints.”  The end result: Companies are giving refunds, coupons and even gift cards to pacify disgruntled customers, but that might not always be necessary.

To prevent a small business from falling prey to what some call ‘Internet bullying,’ Roy suggests companies follow the following tips.

Put a Name (and Address) to a Complaint

When a customer makes a complaint through normal channels such as e-mail, a letter or phone, more information about him or her (like name, phone number and in some cases, address) is known. But complaints on Twitter and other social networks are anonymous, making it hard for a company to even know if it’s valid.

“You have to make the customer more than just a voice,” said Roy. “Quickly identify the customer so you can address the concern.”  Once you have a name and address, the company can look up transaction history so that they make the best decision to address the concerns.

Keep Customer Service Under One Roof

According to Roy, many businesses keep their call center and Internet systems separate, which means a slower response when complaints come in from the social networks.

By housing both systems under one roof, employees can react quicker and more privately to a complaint.

“When a customer complaint comes in from Twitter or the Web the company should acknowledge the complaint but get the customer off Twitter,” said Roy.

He said the company should acknowledge the complaint in a public way, but fix the problem in private-- whether it’s over the phone or via e-mail. “There’s some fake complaints going on; it’s not fraud but an exaggeration. Consumers are starting to realize that complaining (in social channels) gets better service.”

Respond Accordingly

The advent of social networks means everything happens in real time, which can lead to knee-jerk reactions from companies to customer dissatisfaction. According to Roy, small businesses should have a process in place that addresses online complaints in the same manner as phone complaints.

A complaint “can’t be addressed in 142 characters,” he said.

Use Social Networks to Your Advantage

For many small business owners, running across an unhappy customer on Twitter or Facebook conjures up feelings of dread, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Roy suggests companies embrace the platforms and use them to promote their brand. Complaints will always be there, but businesses should counter them by posting good things the company is doing and offering special deals and promotions.

For example, Roy said that if a customer posts a positive review or compliment, the business can re-tweet those accolades.  “You start to amplify the positive and not just worry about the negative,” said Roy.