Recently, my small business has received a few angry tweets from customers about one of our new products. What's the appropriate way to respond to tweets like this? Should we tweet back or ignore it? Is there anything we should always say, or never say?
Most companies have experienced a negative tweet about their brand at one time or another. So what's the best way to respond? Should you respond at all?
#DontFreakOut! Here's some advice from seven ProfNet experts:
"I have seen some of the angriest tweeters thank a brand for how they responded to a difficult situation and then become an even stronger advocate for the brand," says William J. Ward, social media professor at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
When you see an angry tweet, respond publicly, says Mark Scott, founder of Mark Scott PR. "That way, you're getting through to the person who is angry, while also showing the rest of the Twitterverse that your firm is paying attention to this channel and working to solve customer issues when necessary."
Customers expect responses within a couple of hours, says Scott. "Waiting a couple of days to respond is like an eternity. This means someone has to be checking your Twitter mentions a few times per day, or have alerts set up to tell you when you've been mentioned."
Kristen Dickson, public relations specialist at Half Price Books, typically responds to tweets immediately during the day and within an hour after business hours.
All social media channels are two-way streets, says Huma Gruaz, president and CEO of Alpaytac Marketing Communications/Public Relations. So you need to demonstrate that you're listening to customers too.
"Delay may cause the customer to become increasingly disappointed or angry, and may imply you're insensitive or irresponsible," says Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond.
So make it snappy!
What to Tweet
If you already have a solution to the customer's problem, Scott suggests tweeting something like this:
Hey @AngryCustomer, I see you're having a problem with (product/service). Here's a link to info on how to solve this: (link)
You don't have to apologize for the customer's accusation right off the bat, but you can apologize for the inconvenience they are experiencing, says Gruaz. "You have to provide an answer to calm them down," she says.
If you do not have an immediate answer or solution, then it is critical to say 'We hear you. We are looking into the situation. We will get back to you soon,'" says Ward. Then follow through with a solution or more detailed response in a timely fashion.
Keep them updated throughout the process too, suggests Laura Thomas, senior consultant of marketing communications at Dell.
And if the tweet is outright negative, like a customer saying, "I hate @YourCompany," versus articulating an actual reason they dislike you or have problem, then your response should still be public to show to the world that you're paying attention, says Scott. If the tweet doesn't offer specific details, it's best to move the conversation offline as quickly as possible. Try this:
Hey @AngryCustomer, wondering why you dislike our company so much. We'd like to help. Please email/call (contact info) to discuss.
Moving the conversation offline (to phone or email) is also smart for complicated issues because "complex situations are not easily resolved in 140 characters," explains Ward.
"Once the problem is resolved, reach out to the customer on the original social channel to ensure that they're entirely satisfied," Thomas suggests. "This illustrates that you care about your customers as people and not just about extinguishing negative public commentary on your brand."
If the complaint ends up being the company's fault, consider drafting a sincere apology and send them a free product or coupon to compensate for his or her troubles, says Gruaz. And if the customer's discontent is not the company's fault, then try offering a solution anyway instead of saying, "It's just policy."
And whatever you say, don't use Dilbert-speak, says Rosenthal. Say "I made a mistake," not "mistakes were made."
At Half Price Books, the social media team works with the customer service team to respond to angry tweets, says Dickson. Every angry tweet is assigned to a customer service manager who responds to the customer to let them know how much their feedback means, she says.
"Providing customer support through social media requires collaboration between customer service, marketing and product development to address an array of different problems," says Thomas. Your customer service team needs to be trained on the company's brand message and overarching customer-experience strategy.
"If responses aren't in line with your brand's wider goals, it may create confusion and could impact customer satisfaction and retention," Thomas continues.
Once the conversation has been moved offline and is better understood, the issue is then typically passed to a district manager who follows up with the customer on a local level, says Dickson.
Take the High Road
You should always take the high road and encourage the angry tweeter to get their comments and thoughts to you in another fashion, says Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communications Strategies; a Washington, D.C.-based international crisis, media and legal PR firm. "If you argue online, you only incite more arguing and piling on by others. Be polite, and convey that you are eager to hear their thoughts."
Never take an angry tweet personally and respond emotionally, or try to engage in a debate, instructs Ward. "Right or wrong, a person's emotional response to a situation is how they are feeling at the moment," he says.
However, it is also important not to reward bad behavior or abusiveness, Ward continues. This sets a bad precedent and encourages others to do the same. "When someone is being abusive and threatening, it is OK not to respond," he explains.
Sobel also importantly notes that there are legal concerns if you encourage attacks on tweeters or attack them yourself, so it's best to respond professionally.
Assess whether the person who is angry is a loyal customer who has a genuine concern that can be resolved, or if it's just someone with an axe to grind who will never be satisfied, says Ward. "Check the person's social stream to see if they have a pattern of angry, critical and abusive social engagement."
Marta Segal Block, editorial director at GigMasters.com, had to deal with an angry tweeter once when a person in her industry with a reputation for getting upset at companies and exploiting those types of situations tweeted three angry messages to them. This particular individual had recently received a free membership to GigMasters.com through a promotional opportunity.
"His tweets were nasty and factually incorrect, but I had seen other companies try to placate him, only to wind up in either an escalating battle or a no-win situation," says Segal Block. "So I took a different tactic. We replied publicly by tweeting:
@AngryCustomer Sorry you were unhappy w/ your free membership. Contact us offline if we can help in any way."
That tweet would let anyone who happened to be following the situation know that he was blowing steam about something sort of ridiculous, but that we wanted to help if we could anyway, says Segal Block. Any of his tweets after that were ignored, and the rest of the day was spent focusing on positive tweets to push his nasty messages farther down the Twitter page.
Know When to Draw the Line
If you've tried to engage the person and solve their problems, but they continue to rant about your company, it's best to let it go, says Scott.
"You never want to get into a back-and-forth with a crazy person on Twitter or any other blog or message board on a social site," says Scott. "These people will always have more time and energy to come back and say something bad about you if you try to engage in a negative, two-way tweet war with them."
Furthermore, anyone seeing the conversation will see in the thread that you reached out to help and that the person chose not to accept it, says Scott. The angry customer looks foolish by refusing an outright offer for help.
Although it is a golden rule to never ignore customer complaints, says Gruaz, consider blocking a follower if their comments are racist, hurtful or offensive. "Make it clear that you will not condone offensive behavior and foul language so your brand is always protected," she says. Blocking a user from following you prevents them from sending you an @reply or @mention and putting your account on any of their lists.
Create a @WeCare Customer Service Account
"In May 2010, Dell launched a centralized Twitter account @DellCares with the express purpose of helping customers in distress," says Thomas. "At the time, the social landscape was littered with unaddressed complaints about Dell products, so we set out to change how customers perceive Dell and Dell support through listening, engagement and resolution," she says.
Thomas adds that since introducing @DellCares, Dell's customer service and tech support teams have directly connected with more 10,000 customers, and have converted 35 percent of demoters to promoters!
Before @DellCares was created, there were about 20 employees with Twitter accounts who were able to answer questions and direct customer issues to the appropriate departments, says Thomas. However, it wasn't an efficient use of their time, nor the best way to solve problems, she says.
"We launched @DellCares Twitter stream for the sole purpose of helping customers resolve issues, and a s a result, we were able to help over 1,400 people in the first month alone," she says.
"Having a centralized tweeting process is the key to ensuring success and preventing confusion within your company," Thomas explains.
She adds that each @DellCares customer-support representative has their initials and headshot on the @DellCares profile page and every tweet is signed, so customers know who they're talking to and their tweets appear transparent.
Good luck with the haters!