Social Media Manners: Responding to Online Customer Complaints

If your business has a social media presence, it may only be a matter of time before someone issues a complaint online. Handling the situation in a mannerly fashion can take the sting out of negative feedback and lead to improved client relationships. It makes professional sense to consider your response carefully before firing off a retort you might later regret.

Here are seven social media etiquette tips for navigating negative comments online:

  1. Make it a priority to manage your company's online presence. Having a social media strategy and effectively engaging your online community takes time to monitor and update. Be aware of what others are posting about your business, especially since social media is often the first place consumers will go to ask a question or make a comment. In addition to frequent check-ins, create alerts so you know when someone has posted to your page, tweeted you, or left a comment on your blog. Watch the comments not only on the pages your company owns -- blogs, Facebook pages, Instagram, Twitter, etc. -- but on other sites that offer crowd-sourced reviews, such as Yelp or Trip Advisor.

  • Deal with negative comments quickly and professionally. Not only does this show that you are closely monitoring your page, doing so will also help minimize the damage from an online remark. When people are complaining, their first objective is simply to be heard. Let them know you are aware of their dissatisfaction, care about their feedback and will be taking the necessary steps to fix the problem.
  • Stay positive. It's hard to remain calm when you are on the receiving end of an angry or unfair remark. Make every effort to stay composed and avoid responding in a similarly negative way. If you need a few minutes, step away from the screen and let a cooler head prevail.
  • Take the discussion out of the public forum. If someone has a complaint, ask them to direct message you so you can learn more about their concern(s) and respond appropriately.
  • Explain how you are handling the situation. If a customer has a legitimate issue with an aspect of your service, there's a basic formula for responding: thank them for taking the time to contact you, apologize, let them know why it occurred, and what you are doing to ensure it won't happen again. If further action is needed, you can offer a refund or a discount on their next service or ask how they would like to see things resolved.
  • Look for the lesson. No one enjoys hearing negative feedback, but criticism can often lead to improvements in our business. Take the time to properly assess the information a customer related, and look for ways your company can make positive changes.
  • Block obnoxious complainers. Some people are never happy, no matter what you do. An online presence provides anonymous users with a platform to leave harassing or belittling remarks, while assuming there will be no recourse. Block and report the behavior of anyone posting insults or profanity. There is no need, however, to block someone who is expressing a viewpoint in a respectful manner -- whether or not you agree with their opinion.
  • For most companies, the occasional negative comment is a small price to pay for the many benefits of connecting with customers online. When handled properly, it can turn into an opportunity to strengthen a damaged customer relationship and may even win you a fan for life.

    For more of Diane's etiquette tips, visit her blog, connect with her here on The Huffington Post, follow her on Pinterest and Instagram and "like" The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook.