Does Your Worst Nightmare Have 140 Characters In It?

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“For an airline, the only thing worse than an angry passenger is an angry passenger with a Twitter following.”      –
Kurt Wagner, writing at re/code

In our techno-happy world that never unplugs, along with the advantage of being able to read Moby Dick without having to haul it around, navigate our way across the country without ever unfolding a single map, and order Christmas gifts for the entire family without ever leaving our living rooms comes the disadvantage that anyone with access to the Internet has—for better or worse— a 24/7 opportunity to fully (and fervently) exercise his or her right to free speech.

And exercise it we do. Like teens tattling on a teacher’s pet, we flock to the great tell-all social media platforms to complain about everything from rude clerks and bad behavior (warning: NSFW language) to products that fail to deliver and service that’s downright appalling.

But here’s a startling statistic: 4 out of 5 complaints about a poor customer experience are ignored.* Perhaps that makes this statistic not quite as startling: according to one research study, U.S. companies lose 50% of their customers every 5 years.** Given that it costs significantly more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one, doesn’t it make sense to try really hard to keep those existing ones happy?

Assuming that you are a reputable company for which quality products, reliable services, and excellent customer service are the norm, it’s likely that most of the comments showing up in your social media channels are positive. But when those negative comments come (and if they haven’t yet, they will), here are some tips to make that experience as painless as possible:

  1. Set up Google Alerts, Mention, TalkWalker, or other monitoring alternatives for your company name, brands, and trademarks so you’ll know when someone’s talking about you.
  2. Monitor all of your social media accounts regularly and frequently. The quicker you know about and respond to negative comments, the more in control you’ll be.
  3. Respond appropriately. Is the comment a legitimate complaint or observation? If so, it deserves a fair response. If you’re at fault, admit it and offer up a satisfactory resolution. If your product has been misused or the customer seems to be at fault, politely suggest ways to rectify the problem. But if somebody just seems to be having a bad day or looking to pick a fight, don’t let yourself get drawn into an altercation and don’t get defensive. Always remember that you are the one with something to lose: a customer.
  4. Act quickly and decisively. If you screwed up, admit it right away and take action. If you need to apologize, do it sincerely and without blaming someone else.
  5. Find the silver lining. Even if the complaint is legitimate, here’s an opportunity to demonstrate your concern for your customer’s satisfaction and your commitment to making things right. Customers use social media to vent their frustrations because they know there’s an eager audience watching. Addressing those frustrations promptly and professionally may bring more benefits than you ever dreamed.

* Oracle’s RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report. The study was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive via its QuickQuery omnibus on behalf of RightNow Technology among a total of 2,291 adults aged 18+ from September 19-21, 2011. **Business strategist Frederick Reichheld in his book, The Loyalty Effect

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