"Over the last year, there has been what we call a consumer awakening--or almost a consumer revolution--taking place," said Zendesk COO Zack Urlocker in an interview with The BrainYard. "[In the past,] if you were a customer and you had a problem, you had to deal with the company on their terms. You called their call center from 9 to 5 and you went through the phone tree. And maybe, if things were automated a little bit, you could fax them something, but that's about it. Today, if you have a problem with a company, you take it to the Internet."
Urlocker noted recent examples of companies that have done 180s after making changes that incited customers to very publicly express their displeasure: "We saw this last year with Netflix, Bank of America, Best Buy, United--where companies had made a change that was ill-considered, let's put it that way, and customers stood up and took notice and told the company what was on their minds. ... These are major, billion-dollar companies that had to re-examine their policies and say, 'If we have really angered our customers, maybe this isn't the right thing to do.'"
[ Love it or hate it, online customer feedback is the new normal. See Yelp Ratings To Hit B2B Companies: Are You Ready? ]
But while social media empowers customers, it also empowers companies that make the effort to harness the data that customers and potential customers are generating as they voice their opinions. It's important to listen to, analyze, and apply all of that data, but when opinions are negative, companies need to be especially mindful of their responses.
Here are five things you should do when you are in the social hot seat.
1. Address the comments. Ignoring negative comments will give the impression that your company doesn't care. If your organization has committed to a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks, it has to commit to engaging with the audience--in good times and in bad. That means delegating resources to the cause.
2. Respond with care. It's not enough just to address the comments. Many companies have a canned response that they use for negative comments--something like, "We are sorry that you are experiencing an issue and will look into it right away. We appreciate your business." There are few things that will make a dissatisfied customer more dissatisfied than feeling like his or her concerns are being "dealt with" in a flip or careless manner. However, this doesn't mean that your resolution to the customer's problem should take place totally in the public eye. Many times it is best to respond to the customer initially on the public forum--letting him or her (and the potentially thousands of other customers and potential customers observing the interaction) know that you have heard and are responding to the issue--but include in that response an email or phone number that the person can call for direct and immediate service. In the best-case scenario, the customer will then, on that very public forum, express his or her satisfaction with the process and the resolution.
3. Develop policy and provide training. While response to customers on social networking platforms should feel personal and individualized, it should never be ad hoc. Companies should include in their social media policy (you do have one, don't you?) some sort of language stating that only authorized personnel can speak for the company on social platforms. Those authorized personnel should be trained in what to do and not to do and what to say and not to say when they are dealing with customer complaints (and compliments, for that matter) on social media.
4. Be a good listener. To be proactive in your response to negative sentiment, you have to know where that sentiment is coming from. That means listening across the social media universe for any mentions of your company, its products and its people, and then responding appropriately. This is no small task, but there are many good tools out there that automate much of the process.
5. Own your mistakes. When you are wrong, feely admit it. Then do something about it.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller at @debdonston.
New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)