Social media has changed the face of the customer service industry, waving away the days of one-way communication controlled by brands. So how can brands navigate the often choppy waters of negative publicity on social? Samantha Waterworth explores…
As digital disruption in the marketing industry has radically altered the customer journey, so too has the proliferation of social media platforms accelerated the trend of very easy and very public customer feedback.
According to research from The Institute of Customer Service, customer complaints made on social have increased 800% since January 2014, with one in four social media users found to have complained on a social platform within the last three months.
While these figures may instil fear into the hearts and minds of brand managers everywhere, attitude and preparation can assist in alleviating the damage.
As the path to purchase is increasingly affected by digital touch points, customers are now demanding a new breed of customer service – one that is immediate, convenient and above all, authentic.
According to research from Accenture, “Today’s customer journey is dynamic, accessible and continuous because the digital touch points customers are exposed to are always on, and customers can constantly re-evaluate their purchase options.”
The same report found 60 per cent of consumers are more likely to switch from one provider to another compared to ten years ago, leading to the rise of ‘the switching economy’ that accounts for roughly $6.2 trillion in revenue opportunity for brands across 17 markets. This figure has increased by 26 per cent since 2010.
It would appear customer loyalty is almost certainly on the wane.
Customer service is the answer
While social media platforms have certainly contributed to the dramatic change in the way that businesses and customers interact, they are also almost certainly part of the solution.
As Jay Baer, president of Convince and Convert and author of Hug Your Haters, said at Content Marketing World 2015, “customer service is the new forefront of differentiation [for brands].”
Research shows 80 per cent of businesses believe they are delivering a superior customer experience. However, when the question was posed to customers the difference was stark, with only eight per cent of businesses acknowledged to be delivering on this.
The opportunity is clear. If you can rise above the rest and enter that eight per cent you will reap the rewards.
According to research by Bain & Company, along with Earl Sasser of the Harvard Business School, a five per cent increase in customer retention has the potential to create a 25-95 per cent increase in profits.
So how can brands utilise social to improve customer experience, harness customer satisfaction, and ultimately bolster their bottom line?
The answer largely lies in how they handle negative publicity.
Indifference is the real enemy
Ever heard the saying, ‘all publicity is good publicity’? Well, whoever said it kind of had a point.
When a brand inspires love or hate, it’s usually because they’ve taken a stand for something. It shouldn’t be difficult to think of a couple of brands that you like and dislike. Generally speaking, they stand out.
And that essentially is why bad news isn’t always bad for business – because it remarkably improves a brand’s salience.
You won’t find many marketers that list dealing with negative publicity as the most enjoyable part of their job, but while challenging and sometimes stressful, it’s how you view it in the grand scheme of things that matters.
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“What we have to remember is that love and hate aren’t necessarily at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum,” said Tom Denari, president of the advertising agency Young & Laramore, in a recent blog post.
“For a brand, a lot of indifference is more damaging than a little hatred – which means that you should actually find comfort that those newfound haters are simply validating your brand.”
From negative to positive
When Jay Baer set out to write his first book on modern customer service, Hug Your Haters, he worked with Edison Research to assess the results of responding to customer complaints.
What they discovered was that answering customer complaints on any platform––be it a review site, social media, or an online forum––will always increase customer advocacy. On the other side of the coin, ignoring customer complaints on any platform will always decrease customer advocacy.
From this research, Jay came to a simple conclusion: hug your haters. Answer every complaint, on every channel, every time.
Digital content manager and social media expert, Sarah Fairley, takes pride in this exact approach.
“Often the most successful or satisfying results can come out of a negative experience,” Sarah says.
“If you can acknowledge your customer’s complaints, hear them, sympathise with them, and offer a supportive solution, you’ll often find the negative can quickly turn into a positive.”
Here are Sarah’s top tips for navigating negative publicity on social:
1. It’s not personal
Always approach the situation from the customer’s perspective rather than your own. If you can take a beat and put yourself in that person’s shoes you’ll usually find your response comes from the right place.
2. Maintain your voice
It may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s crucial that you never forget you are representing a brand or company.
It is imperative that a business with a presence on social media should have a social media strategy and social media guidelines in place, preferably before they go live. These documents should iterate not only the tone, language and style that will make up the brand’s ongoing voice, but also an action plan for the team in the event of a crisis – big or small.
3. You’ll never please everybody
Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that there will always be some customers that come to social looking for an audience rather than an answer.
If you’ve heard and acknowledged and responded to a customer complaint––providing solutions––and they’re still not happy, there’s not much more you can do.
While you may not be able to please this particular customer, the many onlookers witnessing the conversation will almost certainly appreciate your efforts.
4. Always listen
Many brands won’t have the budget or resources to be monitoring every corner of the Internet, but ideally you don’t want a customer complaint to slip under the radar.
By creating a presence online you will generally find that customers will come to you to have their say. For those that don’t it’s vital that your social media monitoring net is stretched as far as possible.
Social listening tools such as Socialmention.com can assist in capturing conversations across various platforms, including those that you aren’t actively on.
5. Customers are a content gold mine
You should have content that speaks to every touch point of the customer’s purchasing journey, including the often forgotten post-purchase stage..
Creating practical and informative content that provides value for your customers after the purchase has been made can certainly help reduce the likelihood of customer complaints – because you’ve beaten them to the punch.
Start with the most frequently asked questions your brand receives and go from there. The more creative you can be in this process, the more rewards you will reap down the track.
This type of content can also help to increase brand advocacy, as the customer will feel that the brand cares about them, well after the payment has been cleared and the box thrown away.