“Your company sucks!” How to turn negative customer comments into something positive.

One angry customer.

Image courtesy of
Flickr user GregPC

Merely acknowledging negative customer comments about your company on social media can do just as much good as resolving their issue – and far greater good than doing nothing at all.

We’re seeing more companies become comfortable in utilizing social media as a too for customer service. Some simply use their company’s Facebook Wall to respond to posts. Others use third party apps like Get Satisfaction or UserVoice to manage the conversation. It certainly takes guts to add this level of transparency to your company’s operations, which is why I feel more (if not every) company who holds customer service in high regard should have some modest level of social media presence. But many don’t, and the #1 reason from management seems to be “I don’t want customers to write nasty things about us.” Or taken another way, “I’m not going to launch a tool just so everyone can bitch about us.”

I’ll admit that there is a subset of your customer base that will never be happy, regardless how much you try. However, I’ve experienced that most customers are surprised, maybe even delighted, that they simply received a prompt yet brief personalized message from a company saying, “I’m sorry.” This does wonders to a company’s social image and brand. But why?

Invisible good service

We are so accustomed to expecting “good” service that it just becomes “service”. We feel ENTITLED to it that this daily occurrence is invisible. I doubt you will call your friend to say, “On my flight home, the flight attendant said, ‘Hi,’ AND ‘Thank you!’ Isn’t that awesome?” But if that same flight attendant is short with you or takes forever to bring your Coke Zero (that you asked 3 times already and the jerks in the row ahead of you with the nice flight attendant already have their drinks AND food?? Deep breath…I’m OK, really.) – posts on Facebook and Twitter abound.

Stepping back, we give companies very little margin of error before we go from “meh” to pissed off. They’ve done this to themselves of course, as quality of service is as much of a differentiating factor as quality of product. This is why we have to calibrate our expectations of consumer behavior when launching a tool that allows us to see the true nature of the modern consumer world: people will bitch, get over it. It’s how you respond that matters.

Our tiny adult tantrums

When something does go wrong, and we have a way to share it with the world, we’re almost always going to throw a mini tantrum. If we can quantify how “bad” your experience is on a scale of 1 to 100 (where 100 is the absolute worst experience), then you’ll probably initially vent and your post or comment will sound as if your experience was a horrible 80, when in fact it really was a 40). I’ve seen this many times on our Get Satisfaction app on up2drive.com and our Facebook page.

The first post is in ALL CAPS with lots of exclamation points and frowny face emoticons. But after this burst, we can assess the situation a little clearer. It also sobers us up if we actually get a response from the company acknowledging our poor experience, apologizes , and gives us options on how to make it better. This puts the ball in our court, and effectively tells us to put up or shut up (in the nicest way possible). Again, on our Facebook page, I’ve seen many customers go from &#!($! to :) after a kindly written post empathizing with their situation. That’s it. We didn’t have to offer a refund, or reduced rate, or a free gift. I think companies have a real opportunity to take part in this customer conversation on social media platforms even if it’s no more than paying some attention to us customers when we are having a bad day.

A  is worth a hundred ‘s

Why should social media based customer service be reserved exclusively for angry customers? It can be equally effective at highlighting the success stories. Remember how easy and emotionally satisfying it is to tell a company they suck? It happens so often that each individual negative comment has little value. Arguably our entitlement for good service has destroyed a culture of gratitude. How many times have we gone out of our way to tell a company, waiter or flight attendant they’re doing a great job? I’m guessing that it happens 1 out of 7 times (I’m guilty in this as well).

When a stranger takes time and effort (and a bit of bravery if they’re shy) to put a few nice words together and hit “send”, they’re probably representing seven other people who felt the same way. At our company, we tell every customer service rep to encourage customers to post their positive experience on our Facebook page. We give them a small gift (like a company branded stress balls or pens) for their time and as a reward for bucking the trend and expressing a rare sentiment these days: “Thank you.”