United has learned the hard way how many people are watching every move they make, with their most recent PR nightmare, but they're not alone. Plenty of companies have had issues with social media.
Customer service and reputation management have changed dramatically in the age of social media, and businesses need to adapt their strategies accordingly.
George Orwell could never have imagined the effects that the internet and social media would have on his idea of “Big Brother."
Smartphones and the internet have joined forces to create a million “little brothers”, watching everything companies do, and broadcasting those actions around the world in seconds.
Do the Math
In the age of social media, the customer service rules are simple: act as if everyone is watching.
What might seem like a simple one-on-one interaction can go viral in an instant, ruining people’s perception of your brand and your bottom line.
Every employee in every company needs to ask themselves one question before they interact with customers - “How would I feel if this were on the news tonight?” - because it might be.
Think about what’s best for the company in the long run, and make sure your actions reflect corporate values.
Do the math - if public reaction will cost the company more than the benefit of taking the action, then don’t do it. The math is simple for United - their stock price fell 3% after this latest blunder.
It would have been cheaper for United to charter a private jet to fly its employees to their destination than to take the action they did.
Sure, not every business is going to fail as epicly as United did, but everyone makes mistakes. Your company is going to have complaints and unhappy customers - it’s just a part of doing business.
How you react to these situations is what will determine the long-term effects on your bottom line.
Here are four steps to ensure that problems are noticed, addressed, and resolved, and that improvements are made to prevent similar issues in the future.
Complaint departments are a thing of the past. These days, customers take to social media with their complaints, often while the event or action they’re complaining about is still going on.
Of course, no one can be expected to keep track of every site online, but there are tools to help your company manage your reputation and stay on top of social media mentions.
There are dozens of these tools, just find the one that works best for you. The important thing is to be aware when someone mentions your brand online.
Remember, knowing is half the battle!
Knowing that someone has a complaint about your brand isn’t enough. You need to address this complaint.
Most customers expect a response within 24 hours (for Twitter, it’s within the hour), so someone needs to be managing your company’s reputation by monitoring social media feeds during regular business hours.
Timing can be everything - 3 a.m. isn’t the time for a response, but complaints should be addressed as soon as reasonably possible.
You don’t need to take action right away, but the complaint should be addressed. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction will only make the situation worse.
Take a reasonable amount of time to come up with a solution to the problem, but make sure the customer knows that you’re aware of the issue and are working to solve the problem.
If your response is taking a while, make sure you reconnect with the customer to let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them.
Make it Right
The next step is really the most important. After you’ve seen the complaint and acknowledged it, you need to make it right (we’re assuming the complaint is legitimate).
This doesn’t mean writing the customer a blank check, but your response needs to let the customer know that you’ve taken their complaint seriously and are committed to making it up to them.
Make sure the response is appropriate, as well. If a restaurant customer is complaining about a long wait time, then perhaps giving them VIP treatment and the chef’s table on their next visit would be a good reaction.
If a hotel guest is complaining about noise late at night, a complimentary bottle of champagne is probably not the way to go.
Whatever action you ultimately decide upon, make sure the customer knows that you care about them and their business.
After the situation has been resolved, make sure to address the problem internally. A timely response to a complaint is fine, but you need to take action to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening.
Policies may need to be reviewed and updated, employees may need additional training, or other steps may be necessary.
If changes to the corporate culture are required, make sure you communicate those changes to the affected customer and to the public.
This can be a great opportunity to let everyone know that you care about your customers and stand by your product.
It’s possible to turn around bad press and make it a win for the company if you handle the situation properly.
Every company is going to have problems, but with appropriate, well-thought-out responses, those problems don’t have to explode into PR nightmares.
Listen to your customers, address complaints, and take action - it’s as simple as that. Make your customers your priority, and they’ll keep coming back.