Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on July 2, 2012

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3 Steps to Deal with Upset Customers on Social Media

One of the most common objections heard from businesses considering social media is that “people will say bad things about our brand.” When hearing this, marketers often politely remind the boss or client that these conversations about the brand – good or bad – are happening on the social web regardless of whether or not you choose to engage. 

Thankfully examples emerge every day on why this is actually a good thing for brands. It may sound like offbeat advise but negative interactions can actually provide exceptional opportunities to build loyalty and trust. While all examples proving this point are helpful, it’s especially powerful when they can happen at the local level. A recent experience at our local food co-op illustrated this perfectly.

This past week while having lunch at New Pioneer Food Co-op, my wife put in a sandwich order that wasn’t fulfilled. As the artisan deli workers (I have been known to call them “sandwich hippies”) can at times take a while at their craft we thought nothing of it. However, after 20 minutes of waiting we went and checked. We learned they had given her sandwich away to someone else, at which point she was offered someone else’s sandwich! After explaining that this would merely continue the cycle of abuse and that we didn’t have time for them to craft another, we left as they noted that they would scrawl down her name and “owe her a sandwich.” The clerk’s demeanor did little to assure us that this scrap of paper would ever become a sandwich.

Grumpy and feeling bad about my hungry wife, I did what many in the situation would do and took the issue to Twitter. While looking inside my lunch and social media habits may not be a huge concern to your business, what followed provides a textbook example of how engaging with an upset customer on social media is supposed to work in three simple steps.

Step 1. Answer the Social Telephone

Below you can see the initial tweet where I @ mentioned the business (@NewPioneer) as well as the subsequent conversation thread joined by my wife, friends, and eventually New Pioneer itself. Genie Maybanks, Customer Service Manager at New Pi, engaged quickly and without a bunch of robotic customer service tweets. Her tone was genuine and even had a dash of humor to it — playing along with some of the jokes in the thread (see how even that little step helps gain trust?). While this could have been a coincidence, social brands can’t leave this to chance and should consider investing in some form of a social media monitoring system. It’s just as critical as having a phone for customer service to answer.

Step 2. Respond with Humility & Humanity

What happened next was important as well. As quickly as she engaged, she took the conversation to a private communication channel (email) where we discussed further. They offered a gift card for our trouble and explained that they would work internally on the service issue. She also engaged in a little bit of flattery, which is good customer service too (not that I’m susceptible to such things). However, the most important ingredient here and throughout the conversation was her apology. Here’s Genie’s response:

Step. 3 Deliver a Swift Resolution

Finally, here’s the hand-written note and gift card we received in the mail just 48 hours after the initial incident. Simply put — they delivered. And in record time. When you have a negative issue, speed can often be the name of the game. A quick response and a speedy resolution are critical in turning negative situations around. The result? How do you think we feel? A couple of human tweets, a kind email, and a swiftly delivered gift have more than made up for a sandwich kerfuffle. And of course, when looking at the big picture, we’ve gotten the message loud and clear that New Pioneer cares. Beyond customer service, this action also becomes a bit of advertising. Since then I’ve told a few people and I’m telling a few more right now.

Again this is a text book example of how brands are supposed to respond to a negative interaction on social media. Ultimately we are a forgiving society. If treated right we usually come around. Over time, Presidents Nixon and Clinton have returned to favorable light despite transgressions as have wayward celebrities and athletes. While people are looking more and more to connect with brands online, they’re really looking for the ones that engage with humility and humanity. Those that do, like New Pioneer Co-Op, will build even more love and respect for their brands.

Remember positive and negative conversations are happening whether or not you choose to engage. What are you going to do?

Photo via Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker



Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. He also teaches at the University of Iowa and is host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


26 comments
NewPioneerCoop
NewPioneerCoop

@rj_c @NickWestergaard Raul, we aim to always make people smile. Thanks for the compliment. ~g

NewPioneerCoop
NewPioneerCoop

@VegLatino @rj_c @NickWestergaard Thanks for the encouragement. We sure aim to please all the time. ~g

NewPioneerCoop
NewPioneerCoop

@djwaldow @NickWestergaard DJ, Thanks for the kind words. ~g

RaulColon
RaulColon

Wao a big applause to them. I have worked on various online efforts for restaurants even one owned by a celebrity chef and I wish they would have followed this process. 

 

We usually got positive feedback once we fixed it but actually hitting all three points being human via twitter (online), showing they care of you as a customer in the email, and correcting it with a hand written note. I have to say they deserve an applause. 

 

Glad that such a neat story happened because of a sammich who was lost in the world and found its destiny in the hands of someone else instead of the person that ordered it! 

RatherGeeky
RatherGeeky

It's awesome to hear 1) about a company making it right by responding to social media and 2) that you blogged about it. I think more companies need to realize that customers who have a great or memorable experience are going to share it.

 

Side note: I recently realized something interesting about my behavior when interacting with a brand. If they don't  have a Facebook page  or Twitter account linked on their website, I generally move on. I rarely sign up for email newsletters anymore. So, no page = no interaction with me as a potential customer.

kathy116
kathy116

 We learned they had given her sandwich away to someone else, at which point she was offered someone else’s sandwich!

djwaldow
djwaldow

I love a good customer service story - especially one that combines online with offline. 

 

I had a very similar experience a few months ago; however, instead of a small, local shop, it was with ... wait for it ... H&R Block. Crazy, I know.

 

Details: http://socialbutterflyguy.com/2012/02/03/hr-block-understands-social-media/

 

I truly believe that too often, especially in marketing, we are quick to point fingers at "fails" and those "doing it wrong." It's quite refreshing to do the opposite, what I call "Catching Awesome." Thanks for sharing this story, Nick.

 

(FYI: I gave you a shout out on Social Pros today!)

Latest blog post: A Creative Card and Gift

kathy116
kathy116

The differences were important to note in that *technically* the snafu was originally due to an unintentional misread of a menu item, but the restaurant made zero effort to make it right. 

mediatemple
mediatemple

I love reading about customer service "wins" via social media. Companies are starting to come around! Genie perfectly demonstrated what we at (mt) are adamant about when it comes to tone/voice- be authentic & humanize what is otherwise the complete opposite of human interaction. Well done! -Sara C

lctofu
lctofu

Great post, Nick!  Reminds me of an opposite experience we shared with you at one "tex-mexy" establishment in IC.  Remember that?  The differences were important to note in that *technically* the snafu was originally due to an unintentional misread of a menu item (and therefore subsequent ordering of an item not palatable to one in our party), but the restaurant made zero effort to make it right.  The cost would have been one dish for them, but it wound up costing them 4 non-returning customers (at least I'm assuming you and Meghann haven't returned- we haven't). 

Trackbacks

  1. […] | 9:00 am in Community, Features and Columns3 Steps to Deal with Upset Customers on Social Media0 Comments Tweet (function(){var […]

  2. […] that potential customer service fail my wife and I had with our local food co-op? I tweeted angrily at the business as I left the store. […]

  3. […] dealing with an upset customer on Facebook or Twitter is a subject all its own, few talk about what to do in the aftermath of a negative interaction on […]

  4. […] customer service to remedy the situation and go the extra mile. A good example of this is when New Pioneer Co-op converted a negative lunch tweet into a raving fan by responding in real time, taking the conversation offline, and sending out a handwritten apology […]

  5. […] Many consumers turn to social media to voice issues they may have experienced with a particular company. As a brand’s social media manager, your immediate gut reaction might be to delete the tweet, comment, or post. Although this may seem like a good idea to hold up your company’s squeaky clean social profiles, this does not solve the customer’s issue. […]