4 Steps to Fielding Negative Customer Feedback via Social Media
Dr. Gary Edwards

There is no question that social media has become the channel of choice for consumers when it comes to communicating with each other. Increasingly, social media has also become many consumers’ first choice when it comes to communicating with brands as well. While consumers find social media engaging and entertaining, that is not always the case for brands. From a negative Facebook post to an in-person complaint, there is a proliferation of means for consumers to complain to brands that can be somewhat overwhelming.

There are two fundamental challenges large companies face: 1) complaints cannot be controlled, only managed; and 2) negative feedback can add significant costs to effectively monitor, report and manage. However, that is not to say that social media is inherently damaging for brands. A positive tweet or Facebook post mentioning a brand can be a marketing boom for companies, while also providing everyday consumers with near real-time feedback.

When feedback is positive, the impact can be tremendous. According to the Empathica Consumer Insights Panel survey of U.S. consumers, nearly half have tried a new brand based on recommendations seen through social media.

However, if the feedback is negative, social media channels provide a near instant amplification for unhappy customers who can quickly become brand destroyers.

So the question is what can be done?

  1. Fully Understand the Problem Set. Consumers who fail to express a concern or issue to an on duty manager can easily turn to social media and express their experience to hundreds of their friends or followers. When complaints and accusations are made through social media, the first order of business is resolving the issue outside of the public space and de-escalating. With the discussion offline, direct but diplomatic questions on whether the customer brought it to someone’s attention in the store, restaurant or branch can be helpful to the resolution. While problems shouldn’t occur, it’s how the brand handles them that matters. Listening to consumers’ frustration and having them be heard can be a big step toward resolution.
  2. Resolve Concerns in a Timely Fashion. Consumers today expect acknowledgement and response in a timely fashion. Although some brands are still experimenting with social media channels, it’s important to recognize that instances of feedback in social media are very real expressions of how a customer is feeling about an experience with a product or service. In spirit, it is still very similar to feedback from more traditional channels such as customer surveys. As with negative feedback uncovered through surveys, the key is to be able to route the feedback and alert the correct stakeholder in a timely fashion. Being acknowledged and having an issue resolved in a timely fashion can be a powerful tool in brands’ ongoing efforts to develop deeper relationships with their customers.
  3. Implement CRM Tools. Customer rescue and alerting tools that have been in play for years can be adapted to handle complaints from these new social channels to ensure all aspects of feedback are taken into account. Bringing all communication channels together into one Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform for a holistic view of customer issues is needed. With this technology in place, customer feedback through these various channels has and always will be one of the oldest and best ways to not only resolve an issue, but to build customer loyalty. New CRM tools take into account these new mediums for feedback and make these interactions easier to manage at a large scale.
  4. Aggregate Positive and Negative Feedback. While it’s tempting to focus exclusively on reactive responses to negative feedback, there are also deeper insights to be had from these same comments. Again, much like what we’ve learned from years of customer experience surveys, it’s important to look at customer feedback gathered through social media—both negative and positive—in aggregate, not just at the individual comment level. By collecting a larger pool of feedback data (and also combining and comparing it with other sources of feedback) brands can be proactive in mining insights from social media channels. In doing so, customer feedback provides an opportunity to uncover unexpected trends, both negative and positive. By leveraging tools that can provide context and sentiment analysis (text analytics) alongside action planning and enablement tools, a well-designed customer experience management program can not only help brands keep their fingers on the pulse of what their customers are saying, but more importantly provide guidance on customers’ unmet needs. Beneath negative sentiment, one can behold the “gold” of what consumers really desire.

As with many aspects of business, it’s often the case of “what’s old is new again.” This adage holds especially true when it comes to customer feedback. While social media is today’s shiny new channel, it’s important for brands to recognize that they have been using customer feedback to drive decisions for years. When combined with structured customer surveys on how a brand is performing, social conversations can provide a powerful means to stay current, relevant, and in the good books of your customers. While negative feedback is disappointing to a brand, it can often be a catalyst to drive even greater loyalty from a customer.

Dr. Gary Edwards, Chief Customer Officer at Empathica, is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. Gary is involved in solving business challenges with research and technology solutions. He has served a key leadership role during program development, implementation, and follow-up with clients for the past eight years at Empathica. For over 15 years prior, Gary led worldwide and domestic research projects in customer and employee research. Catch up on Twitter: @DoctorGE.