Four Ways to Address Customer Complaints Online
Written by Micah Solomon
Principle 1: Minimize the likelihood of public social media complaints in the first place.
If your friend saw you had your fly undone, or there was spinach in your teeth, would he tweet about it? No, he'd quietly tell you.
In this same spirit, why should unhappy customers complain indirectly via Twitter or their blogs when they can use email, the phone, or a feedback form on your website and know that it will be answered -- immediately and with empathy? With their round-the-clock access to the social airwaves, make sure that the first impulse of customers is to reach you directly, day or night, by offering "chime in" forms everywhere; direct chat links for when your FAQ's fail to assist; and an easy way to reply directly to every corporate email you send out.
Principle 2. Digital arguments with customers who do post negative items are an exponentially losing proposition.
We all know: You can't win an argument with a customer. If you lose, you lose directly; if you win, you still lose -- by losing the customer. But online, the rule is multiplied manifold because of all the additional customers you'll lose if they catch sight of the argument. So, you need to learn to breathe deeply and think of the future of your company rather than reacting in haste.
Principle 3: Turn twankers into thankers: Reach out directly to online complainers
Okay, now that you're lying back, being careful not to fly off the handle, you can respond in a considered, positive manner. Let's say you've spotted an outrageous tweet about your firm:
Company X double-bills all customers -- Must Think We R Suckrs -- _FAIL
How should you respond? If this person follows you on Twitter, that makes you able to send him a direct message -- so do it. Include a direct email address and direct phone number. If, however, said twanker isn't one of your followers, you'll need to figure out another way to reach him. How about replying publicly, on Twitter, listing your email address and expressing your chagrin and concern. (In an online forum such as a blog, TripAdvisor, or Facebook, you can respond in a similar manner, but through the comment mechanisms available there.)
By responding this way, you have a good chance to move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting every move or, worse, catching bits and pieces as things progress, without ever grasping the whole story. This dispute resolution approach is like an in-store situation where you take an irate customer aside, perhaps into your office, to privately discuss the matter, giving you both a chance to work together to arrive at a resolution.
And, after a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw those original ugly comments.
Principle 4: Avoid the fiasco formula: a digital stitch in time . . .
Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula is:
Small Error +Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster
That is, the magnitude of a social media uproar increases disproportionately with the length of your response time. Be aware that a negative event in the online world can gather social steam with such speed that your delay itself can become more of a problem than the initial incident. A day's lag in responding can be too much.
About the Author: Micah Solomon, author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, is the customer service strategist and speaker termed by the Financial Post "a new guru of customer service excellence." Solomon is a top keynote speaker, strategist, and consultant on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture -- and how they fit into today's marketing and technology landscape. An entrepreneur and business leader, he previously co-authored the bestselling Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. His expertise has been featured in Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg Business Week, CNBC, Forbes.com, and elsewhere, and he created and helms the "College of the Customer" website. Connect with him at http://www.micahsolomon.com.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.