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When Angry Customers Strike on Social Media

By Shannon BarnesApr 2, 2014

angry customers social mediaMy 7-year-old niece, Mayah, loves to shop. And like many girls her age, Justice is her brand of choice. So when Christmas rolled around this past year, rather than taking the risk of buying the wrong glittery top to match this year’s “must have jeans,” I did what any smart aunt would do and opted for a gift card. However, seeing it was December 10, there was no way I was venturing out in a snowstorm only to fight through the treacherous mall traffic. So I decided to place my order online. Problem solved, at least for the moment....

After placing my order, I received the standard confirmation email with my expected delivery date of December 22. I’m not going to lie, seeing that date gave me a minor panic attack but I thought, “It is a gift card, what could go wrong?”

I did not give much thought to the gift card until the morning of the 23 when I was wrapping presents and was missing one; yes you guessed it, the gift card. I quickly logged onto my account and checked the tracking status of my package. The delivery date was updated to 7:00PM on December 24. I called customer service only to be on hold for 30 dreaded minutes, 25 of which I was regretting not going to the mall two weeks prior. Finally, I was transferred to a recording with an alternative number to call due to extreme high call volume. The new number provided only produced a busy single. At this point I started to realize there is a much bigger problem here and ventured to social media for some answers. Surely I was not the only one unable to reach customer service by phone.

My suspicions were quickly confirmed the moment I reached the brand's Facebook page. There were literally hundreds of complaints of about poor customer service, back orders, lost orders, incorrect orders, cancelations and, of course, the numerous threats of never shopping at Justice again. Wow, not a good day to work at Justice.

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Rather than adding to the noise and having my comments lost in the mounds of anger and disgust, I submitted a private message explaining my concerns with my order and surprisingly had a response within a few hours. I was a little perplexed at the outrage—considering the volume of complaints, I felt a response time of a few hours seemed reasonable. So I started to dig into the comments of my fellow shoppers only to learn many comments from the days prior went unanswered.

Perhaps by the time I submitted by private message, Justice quickly learned two important lessons:

  • Negative comments cannot go unanswered. It may have been that the shear volume made it nearly impossible to address the individual comments in a timely manner. Or perhaps Justice intentionally delayed in responding until it had a communication strategy in place. Regardless of the reason, customers felt abandoned by the lack of response.
  • Although I give them credit for owning up to the problem, blanket “we’re sorry posts” are usually not enough to put out fires. Yes, brands should own up to their mistakes and offer a planned course of resolution; however, they must also be prepared to address the concerns of customer’s individually. 

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As Marketers, we must accept the fact that no matter how hard we try to shield our brand from negativity, at some point along the way, it will happen. Perhaps not at the level Justice experienced this past Christmas or 1800Flowers on Valentine’s Day, but you never know and, therefore, preparation is key.

Just as your company has emergency plans and procedures in place for natural disasters, you should also have a crisis communication plan. Waiting until your social channels are flooded with complaints is not the time to get started. When disaster hits, timing is critical. And often, the more time that passes, the more escalated the situation will become.

Here are some tips to consider when your brand is faced with a negative comment on social media: 

  1. Respond, never ignore: As tempting as it may be to delete that one negative comment on your Facebook page, don’t. The only exceptions, in my opinion, are if the comment is discriminatory in nature, contains vulgarity or is just pure spam. You can often do more harm by deleting legitimate negative comments. Generally, a handful of negative comments amongst several positive comments is really not that big of a deal—as long as you are addressing them appropriately. 
  2. Resolve the issue privately: Acknowledge the comment publically first, then make arrangements to resolve the customer’s issue privately. This may be in the form of a private message on Facebook or a call from your customer service department. The last thing you want is an ongoing dialogue for all to see. 
  3. Move On: Once the negative post(s) has been addressed, carry on with your normal posting schedule. Suddenly increasing your posting frequency (say from one or two posts a day to 10) will raise some red flags with your fans. An extra post here or there is completely fine, as long as it is valuable and worth sharing. Don’t post for the sake of posting to bury the negative comment. 

If you would like to read more about this topic, I encourage you to check out these two posts by my colleagues, Meghan Sullivan and Andrew Osegi.

What other tips do you have for dealing with negative comments? Please share them in the comments section.

photo credit: Ѕolo

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The Author

Shannon Barnes

Shannon Fuldauer Barnes has a B2B and B2C eCommerce Marketing background including roles as Vice President of Marketing & Sales Support, and subsequently Vice President of Public Relations & SEO Services, for CareerBoard.com. She has expertise in digital marketing and advanced email communications.
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