Most companies view Twitter and Facebook as a great tool to monitor what customers are saying about them. But let’s say the worst happens and an irate customer decides to air her grievance using social-media channels instead of reaching out to the company directly. Or perhaps she did try to reach the company via traditional channels (phone, email, etc.) and didn’t get the response she was looking for.

When a customer complains on social media, his usual goal is to get the company to respond. The company’s goal, on the other hand, is to mitigate or eliminate any negative impressions and show the customer—and the rest of the world—that they are responsive to customer needs. Managed properly, a complaint doesn’t have to turn into your worse PR-nightmare come true.

Here are five simple steps to managing a customer complaint on social media:

  1. Respond quickly. Many customers feel that a same-day response is acceptable. Some companies attempt to respond within an hour. (I just worked with 1-800-Flowers and their goal is to respond within five minutes—a pretty amazing goal!)
  2. Think of it as a conversation. Respond to your customer in a conversational tone. Don’t use a canned answer. Customize your response wherever possible.
  3. Don’t become defensive. If you do, you’ll risk starting an argument in front of everyone. Instead, take control of the situation by first apologizing for any issue he is having and letting him know you are there to help.
  4. Direct message. Ask for contact information so you can get the information needed to call her or start a longer email conversation—in private.
  5. Reach out via the initial social media channel used. Then, thank him for giving you the opportunity to fix the problem. Show that the issue has been satisfactorily resolved.

The bottom line is this: If you don’t deliver an acceptable level of customer service, the whole world can find out about it in the blink of an eye, a very damaging proposition indeed. For better or for worse, your customers have embraced social media and so should you.

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Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and best-selling author. For more information on Shep’s speaking presentations, call 314-692-2200, email shep@hyken.com or go to www.hyken.com.