To Err Is Human, To Forgive is Customer Service - Tips For Interacting With Customers Online

October 03, 2016 Alycia Gilbert 0 Comment

We’ve all heard it in customer service: the customer’s always right.

Right?

Well, no, obviously. Sometimes customers are very new to your company and haven’t figured out how your services work just yet, or they’ve misunderstood the purpose of your business. Sometimes customers can seem like they’ve been freshly beamed down from the mothership, or that they were born before the invention of the horseless carriage (“automobiles” for you tech savvy know-it-alls). 

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 Everyone makes mistakes, even customers. The trick is that while the customer isn’t always right, the customer always has insight. And you need to treat the customer like they’re always right.

Always. 

But that’s easier said than, well, said. It’s very normal to feel a little anxiety at the thought of interacting with customers, especially online. When you’ve got a bad case of customer-got-your-tongue (which sounds like a bad CSI episode), it’s easy to become frustrated or discouraged. A lot of business worry that exposing themselves to comments online will attract too much negative feedback in a public, highly visible space. This fear leads them to disabling comments or simply deleted customer responses that cast the company in a negative light. 

Customer interaction online, however, is too valuable an opportunity to pass up because of those fears. Letting your customers comment and respond allows priceless feedback that can better your company’s customer experience, or even your product. Interacting well and memorably with your customers can also help establish your brand and turn customers into brand advocates.

Take a pause from frantically mod-ing the comments piling up on your website—we’re going to walk through each major type of online customer interaction to help your company become a little less socially awkward on the web.

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Don’t Cry for Me, Facebook Timeline

Negative feedback never feels pleasant—any remark against your service/product/customer experience always feels like someone’s personally attacking you. But it’s not time for things to get personal; remember, representing a company online is not the same as logging onto a personal account. You represent a brand, not a personal opinion. Every response that you make reflects on your brand’s ability to please your customers and fulfil your promise. No one likes a company that ignores any complaints made against them, or worse, that responds poorly or ineffectively to those comments.

Chris Brogan gives an easy-to-remember approach to answering negative feedback—the 3A’s..

The 3A’s of responding to negative feedback:

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Apologize
  3. Act

It’s not enough to just paste a simple “I’m sorry” as a reply and call it a good day of human interaction. You need to also acknowledge the situation—verbally (or, I guess, type-illy) recognize the feelings of your customer and the events that led to their frustrations. Then you can apologize for any inconvenience your company might have caused, any issues the customer had, etc. But your response shouldn’t end with an apology; instead, you should show your customer that you’re going to act on the feedback from their comment and address the actual underlying problem. 

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Chick-fil-A isn’t exactly an online company, but they do have a strong online presence! Here’s a great example of an online representative responding politely to a negative comment by following the 3A’s. Their Social Media team/representative immediately acknowledges the comment, apologizes for the bad experience, and asks the customer to give more detailed feedback so that the company can attempt to address the issue fully and effectively. By the way: if your company is large enough and receives constant feedback, you might consider creating a page on your website where customers can submit their feedback to get more immediate service, a la Chick-fil-A’s example. 

And remember that how you accomplish those 3A’s matter too—your brand should have some effect on how you word your responses. Check out the difference between Chick-fil-A’s example and boloco’s response to a complaint.

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 boloco is a restaurant chain, and a quick skim of their website shows that their target audience are Millennials. Notice how boloco still goes through each of the 3A’s, but that they’re tailoring their tone to match their brand—they’ve used an emoji, nothing’s capitalized, and everything’s much more casual. boloco matches the tone of the original tweet sent their way. And they also tailor their response’s word length to fit the social media platform that they’re using—since the interaction is happening through Twitter, their reply requires a much shorter answer than a Facebook comment would.

The Sound of Silence

We don’t feel (very) bad for throwing Walmart under the Customer Interaction bus for a moment. We fully acknowledge that Walmart is typically frighteningly competent at replying to customer complaints. Especially considering how large their social media presence is. They’re a brick house. But everyone has little moments where they slip up, right?

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Worst nightmare (at least when you’re not a corporate giant): a potential or current customer sees another’s negative comment and it affects their view of your company and brand. And another company’s service is suggested. 

Ouch.

But you can see what the second customer immediately targets—not the situation itself, necessarily; the second customer is largely concerned with Walmart’s silence. Silence from a company says a lot online. Failing to respond to a complaint gives customers one of two primary impressions:

  1. That your company can’t fix the issue at hand.

OR

2. That your company doesn't care that the problem exists.

Either of these ideas can damage your brand’s reputation online. You don’t want your customers to harbor either of these thoughts about your company. Refusing to comment on a negative post does more damage than the original comment itself. Sometimes your company’s just wrong; be the bigger person—or business, rather—and make the necessary amends.

Hit Me Baby One More Time

You might be getting a lot of similar questions from multiple customers, and at this point you’re probably tempted to just copy and paste your answer onto each and every comment. 

Usually this indicates that somewhere along the way, part of your message has become unclear. Your website might not be effectively conveying how your business operates, or what your customers need to do to navigate your buying process. Sometimes there might even be a problem with your user experience or how you’ve defined your brand. 

With these sort of recurring issues, you can’t just repeat the answer over and over to individual customers—that might handle the immediate concerns, but you’ve got an ongoing problem here. And you’ve also got a perfect opportunity to use customer feedback to ultimately fix that problem: Act. After you’ve responded to the newest repeated comment, address the flaw in your product, consider switching shipping companies, rewrite some of your website descriptions—do what you need to do to minimize these consistent problems and improve your company. 

But if you’re getting a lot of similar questions that seem confused rather than disappointed or frustrated, there might not be an underlying problem that necessarily needs to be fixed. You might just not be conveying information in an easy-to-find format. To help clarify, we’d recommend adding a page to your website that acts as an FAQ or an About page. 

Positive Feedback

YOU’VE MADE IT.

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The absolute dream, everyone’s hope when they first create that social media account: positive feedback. 

It’s really easy to just bask in the warm glow of a great review, but there’s a wasted opportunity in letting these moments go unanswered. A satisfied customer willing to share their great experience online is your best bet for a future brand advocate. Responding to positive comments gives you a chance to further your connection, and that customer can potentially go on to boost your audience. And other customers can see those positive messages online as well—showing that you take the time to acknowledge and graciously thank your customers for sharing their positive thoughts encourages other customers to interact with you. It also helps your brand’s likeability and trustworthiness.

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 Here’s a great example. Racca’s Pizzeria thanks their customer for the positive review, making sure that their message is personalized and genuine, and then actively encourages the customer to engage with their company again in the future. Responding to positive reviews is like the final step of the perfect customer experience. Not only have they had a wonderful experience with your business, but they know that you appreciate their appreciation and hope to have their business again soon.

No matter the kind of feedback you’re getting online, there’s always an opportunity to improve your company, whether it’s through branding or the potential to develop your product or website. Ignoring or disabling these comments robs your company of that chance. So in spite of the hesitations, the fears, and any potential awkwardness, try your best to respond to as many customer comments as you can! Not only does it help your customers, but it’ll help you in the long run, too—regardless of whether or not the customer’s even right in the first place. Don’t tell the customer, though. It’s our little secret.

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