How NOT to handle a Social Media Complaint

Some life lessons, no matter how painful, are too valuable not to recount. A rather amazing exchange between a disgruntled customer and a restaurant owner erupted in a volcanic swap of ignominious Facebook posts. The tenor of the social media thread was not only angry, but the choice of diction was too explicit for me to re-post. By Richard Earls.

Whenever I really messed up as a kid, my well-practised father would first chastise me. Then, after the matter had cooled for a while, he would ask me “So what have you learned?” Dad was an advocate of learning from mistakes and therefore, as a result of my own proclivity for error, I am a relatively well-educated individual.

So I want to ask you, what can we learn from this great example of a bad example?

Be prepared

Firstly, if you are in business long enough you will get a complaint. It’s inevitable, so be prepared. Have a game plan. Don’t be startled into making a rash comment in response, which is sure to live in infamy. You may be at fault, you may not. The fault is a secondary consideration. The first consideration is the unhappy person before you who may or may not be skilled in the art of the complaint. Practice well beforehand how to respond to a complaint.

Don’t lose your temper

Secondly, and this too is a lesson from my father, if you lose your temper, you lose the argument. Emotion is too high-octane a fuel for monitoring your suggestion box. When someone complains in person, listen and repress your emotions. If the complaint is on social media, remember your response is as public as the complaint. You will be judged, as will the complainer. Let logic play traffic cop this time.

When someone complains online, take the complaint off-line as quickly as possible. A single mention on Facebook may or may not ever float to the top of a Google search.

A long stream of back and forth retort and counters that goes viral will almost certainly be a top result every time someone searches your company name. Anyone who needs proof just needs to google sites that have had complaints!

When you make a mistake and feel emotional, hand someone else the shovel and quit digging!

Don’t burn bridges

There are some clients with whom you cannot reason. But if you are going to burn a bridge, don’t do it by pouring gas over your own head. In some instances, loyal customers will come to your defence. You can actually count on people to do that for you, so use the greatest of caution in the manner of your defence.

Often the demeanour of the person complaining can be so over the top as to lack a degree of credibility. Foul language often betrays the complainants’ own lack of courtesy and discretion. Give this type of person all the rope they need. Apologize for the fact the customer is unhappy, promise to investigate and take it offline. Handle it well and readers will approve.

Then follow up like a professional. Be careful out there before you have an online complaint arise and find your reputation at risk.

TIP: You can’t just create social media sites and let them manage themselves. If you are going to create them, you have to actively monitor them. Here’s a couple of ideas on how to do this:

  1. “Google” your company name. From Google, you will find the blogs, message boards, product review sites, chat rooms. Google your company name with the word “sucks” behind it – and brace yourself because it may not be pretty.
  2. Perform a Tweetscan to find out what conversations are going on right now on Twitter about your brand.
  3. If you don’t have the time to do the above yourself, there are several ‘reputation monitoring’ services available, such as Naymz (, designed to specifically monitor your reputation and influence across the social web.

About the author. As the publisher of Travel Research Online Richard Earls helps agents learn how to stand out from the crowd and to develop an authentic brand for any travel practice. Richard Earls has spent the last 21 years in the travel industry as an agency owner, a technologist, a publisher and a writer. A serial entrepreneur, Richard has sold two of his start-up companies prior to his current project, Travel Research Online Richard believes a new breed of travel agent is ready to emerge from the masses. The days of the casual travel agent are gone and only those who take the art and science of marketing and sales to heart will truly be in demand and succeed.

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