[caption id="attachment_3621" align="aligncenter" width="562"]Be quick, courteous and respectful, or you'll leave your customers fuming. Be quick, courteous and respectful, or you'll leave your customers fuming.[/caption]

Customer complaints are as much a part of doing business today as they have been since the first person traded coin for product.

Obviously, the methods have changed. Back in the day, people would either bring it up in the store or, perhaps, stew a bit and then give the owner a call. Now, more often than not, they resort to using anonymous review sites or posting something on your social media sites—perhaps with the misguided notion that the only way their issue will be resolved is if other people know about it, too.

A recent study showed that using social media to file complaints is a growing trend in all industries and, more importantly, nearly 50 percent of people who took the survey expect a response to a complaint through Facebook, Twitter or other channel—within an hour.

While relying on sarcasm and hyperbole may be a tactic for your customers, responding in kind is certainly not something that is an option for you. Your best course of action is to respond a social media complaint the same way you would handle a fuming customer in your store or auto shop: personally, quickly and respectfully. Here are some examples and tips.

Be fast
Responding within an hour sounds like a difficult task, given the 24/7 nature of social media. Obviously,

[caption id="attachment_3622" align="alignright" width="150"]Respond as quickly as you can or your customers will mock you. Respond as quickly as you can or your customers will mock you.[/caption]

your business doesn’t operate 24 hours a day, you don’t have people on staff 24 hours a day—and you’re not awake 24 hours a day. Try to hit that timeframe whenever possible, however. It’s important to say something, even if you don’t have the answers right then. A simple “Hi, thank you for bringing this to my attention, let me look into it” is enough to take away the immediate heat of your customer’s anger. Be sure, however, to let them know when they can expect to hear from you and touch base with them then, even if you don’t have an answer yet.

If a substantial amount of time has passed, don’t worry about it. You want to make a personal response, anyway, and reminding the customer that you’re only human will help. Try: “Hi, I’m sorry I didn’t respond to this sooner, but I am just seeing this.” Follow that up by asking what happened, or how you can help.

If you do run a large business, however, you want to make sure someone is keeping tabs even when you are not open for business.

Acknowledge mistakes
Sometimes, this is enough for an angry customer. Oftentimes, people want to point out bad service just so they can be heard. If it’s something that you legitimately did wrong, apologize for it and offer to fix it. If it’s a perceived sleight, apologize for the experience and ensure the customer that it won’t happen again. You can use that to reinforce your brand or stance on customer service.

Here’s an example: “Hi Bob, I’m sorry you felt that way. That’s certainly not the kind of service we try to provide here each and every day. Give me a call (or direct message) and let me know what we can do to satisfy you.” That brings us to the next point:

Take conversations offline
Responding to a public complaint in a public arena is important because it shows your happy customers how you react when someone is unhappy. Every unhappy customer is an opportunity to build your brand loyalty, both through the resolution of their issue and by showing potential customers how you handle it.

That said, the details don’t need to be public. You’ll be able to have a more honest conversation with an angry customer either through private message, phone or email. It might sound secretive, but it’s actually not. It reinforces the idea that you’ll handle complaints directly—and that personal attention will help improve customer loyalty.


Be personal
An automated response may get things going, but don’t rely on them—and make sure you follow up personally. There’s nothing worse than someone repeatedly trying to bring something to your attention and getting only a bland, repetitive response in return.

The above principles apply: use the customer’s name, if they give it to you. Tell them how you’ll correct the situation. Be conversational and admit responsibility.

But don’t take it personally
It might feel like someone is making a personal attack when they talk about a substandard experience, but in most cases they are not. (Unless, of course, they start name-calling or something like that.) Consider this response a Detroit city council member had to an article in one of their daily papers. The biggest lesson here is in one of the replies to his tirade: “You won’t be successful with an attitude like that.”

Good advice for politicians, children—and business owners.