Want to hear a funny/sad story?
I was once involved in a conversation with a major brand concerning the frequent negative posts on their corporate Facebook page. Not an uncommon problem at all. In fact, many of the organizations I’ve worked with over the years suffer from this problem (e.g. negative customer interactions within their social profiles). What was uncommon – and both sad and funny at the same time – was the recommendation given by some of my colleagues at the time.
“Why don’t you just turn off user wall posts and comments?”
Note: If any of you reading this would like to offer a line of argument that supports this recommendation, please feel free to do so in the comment section below.
Now on the surface, that might sound like a perfectly respectable piece of advice. Actually, no. Who am I kidding? That’s a terrible piece of advice for the following reasons (among others):
- Disabling consumer feedback functionality might clean up your Facebook wall a bit, but it won’t eliminate that disappointed consumer, who will likely tell friends, family, and acquaintances about his/her bad experience every chance he/she gets (and not just via other social networks, but also in person, over the phone, and via email)
- Disabling consumer feedback functionality will prevent you from receiving and showcasing happy customers
- Disabling consumer feedback functionality will prevent you from gathering data that can inform future product/service enhancements or other critical business decisions that lie beyond the realm of marketing.
- Disabling consumer feedback functionality will prevent you from ever transforming those disappointed consumers into happy customers and willing brand ambassadors.
It’s this fourth point that is the main focus of this post, because all too often, companies utterly and completely fail to turn negative consumers into positive brand ambassadors. And while some might argue that this is not the end of the world, since the bar is set so low (e.g. so few brands do a good job of this) I foresee a huge shift in the importance of addressing negative customers in a manner that leads to a complete turnaround in sentiment.
Why do I think this way? Simple. Because as the internet transitions into the era of socialized, syndicated commerce the sentiments of friends, family, acquaintances (and niche social influencers for that matter) will be seamlessly woven into the online experience in a manner that will make it almost impossible for a prospective customer to not see what their social circles think about a particular brand and it’s products and/or services. They won’t even have to seek it out (e.g. search for it). It will be presented to them in an almost automatic fashion.
Ok, so let’s assume that you’re with me, and you agree that turning disappointed consumers into willing brand ambassadors is an extremely worthwhile endeavor. Now what?
For starters, you need to listen to the digital conversation by employing social media monitoring tools and reporting methodology. This includes monitoring consumer chatter within your own profiles (e.g. your Facebook page, corporate blog, etc.) as well as external conversations (e.g. Twitter updates, forum threads, etc.)
Simultaneously, you need to develop a set of guidelines for engaging with these people (FYI – remember that these are real people with real emotions and sensibility, not just “consumers”) swiftly and in a manner that makes them feel like the brand genuinely cares about addressing their concerns. So for example, if someone posts on your Facebook wall about difficulty reaching a real human or getting real answers from the customer service 1-800 number, replying to that post a week later with a generic “we’re sorry for the inconvenience, please call our 1-800 number for assistance…” probably won’t cut it (and yes, I’ve seen that happen more times than I care to mention). No response at all is probably an even worse approach.
Incidentally, if you work for a larger organization that has a dedicated customer service division, I would recommend integrating them into the tactical execution methodology (e.g. train customer service reps on how to properly respond to and escalate online customer complaints). At the very least, make sure that your social media community manager and/or agency is well-versed on the execution methodology and has a clear line of communication with the customer service division, so that everyone is on the same page and the best possible protocol is followed.
More often than not, simply responding to a pissed off consumer in a timely manner and with a real solution to their issue will be enough to elicit a positive follow-up (e.g. formerly pissed off consumer coming back to your Facebook wall and posting something along the lines of “Thanks for helping me out with this. You rock!”). If this does happen, and you’re feeling a bit progressive, I would suggest proactively reaching out to this consumer (via email, phone, or via the social network itself) and asking if they would be interested in providing a testimonial. You can even accompany this request with an offer to send them some sort of comp or perk.
If you don’t have the appetite to for being that forward, a simple “Thank You” note along with a “please share your experience with others” might do the trick.
By simply listening, creating strategic guidelines, and following through with tactical execution of those guidelines you can set about the task of converting potential negative sentiment into social-friendly brand ambassadorship.
And who knows. That pissed off consumer that you transform into a brand ambassador might actually be a coveted social influencer (e.g. the critical second tier in the social engagement hierarchy) in disguise.