One of the big fears many housing associations and local authorities have about social media, is that if they begin to engage, customers will use it to try to take advantage of your offering. They know it’s a public space, they know it’s being monitored by other customers and your executive team and they complain and complain and complain. I like to call these types of friends social media bullies.
However, should you be scared of these customers? Before you answer this question, consider the following..
1) Ask yourself why….?
- Products and service issues: Is there something wrong with the services you provide that would make customers so frustrated that they’d go to any length to say bad things? If so, that information has to be provided to the departments within your organisation that can fix it. What we’ve learned is that customer service (and especially social media customer service) provides real-time, often genuine and valuable feedback that we can’t get any other way!
We are all customers to some extent – we’ve all experienced bad service and we know it doesn’t feel good. Having an insight into what a customer of ours has experienced helps us learn and put things right.
- Manage customer expectations: Is there something misleading about the promises you’ve made your customers? Is your marketing misleading or has it created a situation that is a set-up for customer disappointment? Reviewing your website and matching brand promises to create realistic expectations is key.
2) Beyond the basics. If you are getting the basics consistently right, then you want to think about how you are going to handle customers who either start or migrate to social media channels to air their frustration. Just like anything in life, there are always the “bullies” who think they can trash a company in social media to get preferential treatment and better service.
Unfortunately part of what’s happened is that when customers do use social media to complain, many companies provide better service than if the customer used the traditional channels of phone, email or chat. By rewarding a customer who ‘flames you’ in the public eye, you’re setting yourself up to have that behaviour repeated by others.
3) The witness factor: What you need to realise is that customers are very smart. They figure out very quickly where they can get the quickiest and best results and answers. If you consistently provide poor customer service in traditional channels like your phone or email service, consider that you are setting the company up for bullies to take advantage of the “publicness” of social media.
What I mean by that is what’s known as “The witness factor” – the idea that because something is public — everyone can see it — that THAT changes how companies treat customers. There can’t be one way to treat customers who call on the phone or email — i.e., poorly — and then a different way to treat customers who use social channels- better and faster. It’s a clear set-up for bullies to use social media to try to take advantage. They’ll figure that out and use it to their advantage — because they know you don’t want to see bad press about you in the public.
4) You’re fired… In the words of Alan Sugar, when we get a social media bully – a customer who consistently complains, we “mark that person’s card”. We allow a number of complaints, and offer them the same level of service to rectify their problem or issue as anyone else who contacts us in other channels. If we feel that this customer is being misleading, unreasonable, making false claims and lying about their treatment (e.g we know they were called and visited by a contractor, and they post that we’re liars), we fire them.
We have only had to do this once in a year – quite a track record we think!
A top tip is to 1) identify theses conversations early — you will notice the same names and same profile pictures appearing on your wall. The second top tip is to try and take the interaction offline and out of social channels into channels that are less visible to the public. Once you take it to other channels, then discern if the customer’s concern is real or if you have a “social media bully” on your hands.
5) Gratefulness is repaid in spades: We have found that often times when customers who do have real issues are helped, they are so appreciative and sometimes even flabbergasted that we’ve been so helpful, that they return to Facebook and make a compliment. There’s nothing like sincere, authentic and genuine compliments about your company in social spheres. You can’t pay for PR like that, especially in a world where customer service has now become PR. And especially in a world where social customer bullies are trying to take advantage of the company using social media.
So, my message is simple:
- Offer the same level of service on social media as you would on any other channel.
- Don’t be afraid of social media bullies and don’t be afraid to use the ‘remove user’ if you’ve got one on your hand.
- Embrace complaints as an opportunity to learn – after all it’s real time feedback on your service.