Customer interaction has been moving swiftly online and onto social media platforms, but the rapid international spread of COVID-19 means almost everyone is working to make as much communication as possible digital.
When this transition is actively managed with a clear strategy, there’s the potential to maintain high standards or even improve the quality of communication.
Companies may find they’re suddenly faced with customers or clients that have a lot more time on their hands; people are spending more time on social media and emotions are even more intense. When people have spare time with pent up energy and emotions that are contained by social distancing, customer communications may become more frequent, more intense and - in some cases - more emotional.
1. Don’t default to negative
People rarely take to social media with neutral opinions and the customers who reach out are likely to be the customers with more extreme cases (either positive or negative). But even when these are negative, don’t default to a negative response. Most people with a complaint actually have a desired end goal in mind. In psychological terms, frustration means the negative emotional response when a goal is blocked or denied. With COVID-19 and the surrounding social and spatial restrictions on people, frustration is going to be a shared experience for many people.
In many cases, everyone is sharing similar frustrations and challenges so understanding this can help to build some shared understanding and camaraderie online. If it’s not clear what the problem is, or the person’s desired outcome, try to clarify that early on. Most people will actually be quite satisfied if you acknowledge the problem and help them fix it.
2. Don’t escalate the situation
For many people, the natural response to complaints or criticism is instinctual self-defense. Perhaps it was a complete oversight despite the best intentions of people in the company. Or maybe it was a problem that was completely outside the company’s control. Maybe the criticism is a bit too aggressively directed at people who genuinely want to help.
In most cases, an apology and a promise to resolve the issues goes a long way towards solving the problem. When possible and reasonable, the apology should offer a remedy to the problem or concrete steps towards a resolution.
Of course, anyone who has worked in customer service knows that some complaints just can’t be solved. Some people come in looking for a fight, and sometimes they lose their temper with the wrong person. This can’t always be avoided, but if there is clearly no resolution to the problem, then avoid making the situation worse, de-escalate as much as feasible or reasonably and quietly allow the person to move along.
3. Respond quickly
Responding quickly can help keep the problem from escalating. Even if their problem takes a few more steps to solve, make sure it doesn’t go ignored. Explain the next steps or the progress to show that you’re taking them seriously.
Make sure to pay careful attention to what the person is saying in their first post or comment. If they’re asking for something clear and concrete, it should make the response fairly straightforward. If their product was faulty, there should be some clear steps to rectifying the problem. If they had a poor customer service experience, perhaps an apology is in order. Try to identify what their desired outcome is as soon as possible. Complaints, in general, should be relatively straightforward to resolve in a satisfactory way if you know what the other person wants to get out of the interaction.
4. Actions are essential
Promises are easy to make, but it’s important that reasonable steps are taken to follow through on what people are told on social media. If the issues is complex or will take some time to solve, keep people updated on the progress. Even if the problem can’t be solved in a way that will completely satisfy the complainant, they should still see that you have taken all reasonable steps, or at least figure out what went wrong and explain it to them.
A quick response and an apology may help in the short term, but it won’t help if the necessary action is not taken to address the issue.
Myths of Social Media has more detailed advice about managing customer communications on social media, and embedding that within an overall digital communications strategy.