Don't Panic!

October 27, 2015

by T.M. Camp

There’s an old joke about a guy installing some carpet at a little old lady’s house. It’s a big job and when he’s finished, the guy’s ready for a break. He reaches into his pocket for his cigarettes — but they’re gone.

Looking around, he sees a lump under the carpet, directly in the middle of the room. Cursing inwardly, he realizes that we’ll have to take up the whole thing to get the cigarettes. But it’s the end of the day and he doesn’t want to spend all evening reinstalling the carpet again.

Taking a rubber mallet from his toolbox, the guy carefully (and quietly) pounds the cigarette packet down until the lump is flattened.

As he stands up to admire his work, the little old lady comes hobbling out from the kitchen.

“Young man,” she asks. “Have you seen my parakeet?”

In my role here at Gazillion & One, I help guide and manage the social media presence for a number of brands. And on more than one occasion, I’ve had to gently but firmly take a rubber mallet out of a client’s hand.

At this point, the need for companies to engage with their key audiences on social media is indisputable. By participating in this conversation in a public setting online, you have the opportunity to build awareness and cultivate relationships with consumers in a way that traditional marketing doesn’t allow.

The flip side of this is that social media has now become a new outlet for fielding customer service issues and complaints. Put it another way, social media can be a gripe factory.

Understandably, many companies are uncomfortable with this. They recognize that social media is a conversation but they are leery about allowing the whole conversation to play out in public, warts and all.

It’s an understandable fear. Marketing is supposed to be about putting your best face forward, right?

But what do you do when someone jumps onto your Facebook page and starts ranting?

Some companies go into protective mode. Their first impulse is to delete or hide the complaint from view. They have every intention of handling it offline, but they just don’t want their other customers to see the big mess in the middle of the floor. So they reach for the mallet.

Again, this is understandable. But it is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Rather than try to hide the complaint—which, let’s face it, is more or less impossible in this day and age—it is always better to meet the issue head on, in public.

When you engage with a complaint on social media, everyone can see that you are making a genuine, conscious effort to resolve the situation. In addition to saving a relationship with one customer, you're showing all of your customers—existing and prospective— that you care, that you are committed to doing right by them.

In addition, other people can weigh in on the conversation as well.

Some might add their support. This is a good thing. When your customers advocate on your behalf, it helps rebalance the perception of your brand.

Some might add their complaints. This is a great thing. Those are potential lost relationships that you didn’t know about. Now you have a chance to salvage them.

You can’t save everyone, of course. Some are just taking potshots as they leave. They don’t want to be helped anymore. But when you make the effort, in public, it still sends a message to all your other customers.

So… instead of panicking when someone lights up your Facebook page or your Twitter feed with complaints, don’t try to hide what’s happening. Be a part of it.

Engage in the conversation and let everyone see that you care.

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