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Handling Social Media Complainers

Customer Service Nightmares


They’re unavoidable on social media and most of us quake in fear at the thought of handling them wrong.

The topic is top-of-mind this week due to our recent #PRprochat (get the transcript here). I came across this absolutely wonderful infographic yesterday that explains different types of complainers and how best to handle them. It’s worth a quick bookmark.

Social Media Complainers infographic
(used with permission)


Which type are you? I think I’m a cross between the “meek complainer” and the “aggressive complainer” categories. I have a big mouth and am not afraid to use it, but try to only complain when truly frustrated. Being heard makes me shut up quickly.

Understanding these different types of complainers, where you fall personally in the spectrum and how it impacts your own perception, and how others respond to different solutions can be very helpful! It also supports why a one-size-fits-all approach to customer service is rarely a good idea. 


Customer service is a HUGE component of social media, but does it apply to public relations?

Complainers jump on social media, because it brings audience to their voice. There is a direct line between social media and corporate reputation. It’s part of our relationship with the public and where the majority of crisis management takes place.

You don’t directly handle social media for a client or employer? Social media and customer relations can still easily fall within our purview to advise and guide our clients in these areas, especially from a “big picture” strategic perspective. If they have customer issues or negative reviews being neglected, for example, it’s absolutely appropriate for us to step in, point out the problem and work with them on finding an appropriate solution.

Not only can we help our clients understand and manage complainers, perhaps we can even help them turn the most vocal ones into powerful resources.

Customer perspective and pain points also have the potential to transform a nice product or service into something spectacular that really resonates with its target market.


How can we use OUR OWN customer service experiences to help clients?

Don’t undervalue your own experience. If you are a social media user, what you learn as a consumer can directly apply to client work.

Apply what you know

When you think about it, we are our own mini usability lab. We have experiences–good and bad–that can add value to the customer service we provide to others, or the advice we share with clients. We can directly apply our own lessons learned. Here are a two quick things I’ve learned… and how I try to apply them.  

Lesson One: Speed of response matters

As a consumer, I’ve come to realize that I expect an almost-instant response on social media. If I ask a question and don’t get an answer in a satisfactory period of time (which shortens substantially if I am upset or frustrated), then I think less of the company I’m dealing with. Their nonresponse impacts my level of trust and certainly impacts their reputation if I express my displeasure. If I’m highly frustrated, that nonresponse fuels A BIGGER FUSS on social media. If I’m that way, wouldn’t other people be the same?  Slow responses can throw fuel on the fire.

 Social media is real-time. It feeds our need for instant gratification and trains us to expect it in return. If a company has a Facebook page, for example, consumers expect someone to be watching that page. Likewise for Twitter. At least during business hours, customer’s expect a response within the hour, some even within TWENTY MINUTES.  Do your client’s realize this? If not, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. They’ll benefit from understanding why speed of response matters.

I find it beneficial to evaluate clients’ social media activity with a quick audit. If they have a history of being unresponsive to complainers, I’ll try to help them understand the need for being attentive to customer service on social media. I’ll work with them to ensure at least one person is accountable for customer service, and that he/she has the necessary training and resources to manage it successfully.

When a new community manager is added to the team, I might evaluate their skill levels to see if training is needed, then make sure they are brought up to speed with corporate protocols and processes. They can’t respond quickly to customer complaints if they don’t know in advance how to handle it, or find the right resources.


Lesson Two: Focus where customers are most likely to complain

Every time I have a personal customer service need, I turn to either Facebook or Twitter long before I’ll pick up the phone or send an email. If it’s a quick question, I’ll post it on Facebook. If it’s a conversation or technical support that needs a bit more of a back-and-forth conversation, I generally have much better luck with Twitter.  It’s more like a chat experience, and usually elicits a faster response than Facebook. Are you that way, too? Most people are. It’s something that can certainly be applied to clients. Most clients don’t have massive resources to handle ALL social media platforms and they don’t have a full-time community manager who is always on, poised to answer every single customer complaint. Like most, they are balancing resources and budget, trying to do the best possible job with what they have. Knowing which platforms to focus their customer service efforts on makes it more manageable.

Being fabulous on even one platform is far better than substandard service on all of them.


Customer service expectations seem to impact Facebook and Twitter the most, so I focus on those two platforms for my clients.


Lesson Three: Help your client put systems in place

I try to apply my own experience plus what I know about customer expectations to client strategy. I’ll start by making sure they understand the importance of customer service on Facebook and Twitter. If it hasn’t already been done, I’ll ensure they have a single person accountable for monitoring social platforms, with an appropriate system in place for notifications. Whomever is accountable for handling social media should be set-up to receive instant alerts on their smartphone, and should have a clear understanding of what is expected.

  It also doesn’t hurt to turn that planning into a written document. Isn’t it a fabulous value-add if you can actually hand over a detailed social media crisis management plan? It’s the perfect marriage of PR skills and social media savvy… If you are already doing some of the things I’ve mentioned above, the foundation is probably already in place; it just needs to be documented.

Do you have a lesson learned? Share below!!


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