Marketing Bootcamp

How to Fire Back at an Angry Customer on Social Media

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Social media is a wonderful and remarkably useful tool for promoting your business and building your brand. When it comes to angry complaints, however, it can turn into a vile, unrelenting beast that tears your company down. Fortunately, understanding how to deal with angry customers on social media is actually quite easy.

First, in case you need convincing that social-media complaints need to be addressed, consider a marketing study by Dimensional Research in 2013, which showed that "an overwhelming 86 percent of respondents indicated that their buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews."

Clearly, dealing with customer complaints on social media is important, but more important is how you respond. For many entrepreneurs, a complaint is often taken personally, so the inclination might be to fire back an equally angry or passive-aggressive retort, or to delete the unwelcome message altogether.

Related: The 3 Things You Need to Do When You've Upset Your Customer

This will only make angry customers angrier and more likely to take the “fight” to other platforms.

Before you delete or send off a response, here are a few things to consider first:

Seek to understand. First, determine whether the complaint is valid. If it comes from a customer or client, then it is important that you respond. Intentionally hurtful or vile attacks, however, require a completely different strategy (see tips for staving off an attack from a special-interest group).

Act fast, but not too fast. It is incredibly important, especially with the lightning-fast speed at which messages can propagate through social media, to respond promptly. If responding quickly means not taking your time to fully understand the situation, however, your response may reflect the unpreparedness.

Take it offline. When possible, take the problem out of the public view of social media. If the complaint is a legitimate customer or client, and you have contact information, pick up the phone and deal with it directly. Nobody needs to see your “dirty laundry” spread all over social media.

If the problem or complaint on your social-media channel cannot be taken offline, the inclination might be to delete it. This, like a poor response, can just add fuel to the complaint. Instead, leverage the complaint on social media to demonstrate your business's ability to calmly and collectively handle the issue.

Before you draft the response, consider these tips:

1. Validate their concern. Empathize with the complaint, even if you are not in the wrong. Most people will fire off a complaint in the heat of the moment, when all they want to do is be heard and understood.

“Thank you for your comments. We are very sorry to hear that you had a poor experience and would like to do what is necessary to help you make it a better one.”

2. Take accountability. We all admire companies that take responsibility, even if the problem is not fully or even partly its fault. Address and take responsibility for the concern.

“We take the feedback from our customers very seriously. We will look into your concern and, if necessary, do what needs to be done to remedy it.”

Related: The 7 Musts of Customer Service on Social Media

3. Give a directive. Others will be reading the complaint on social media, so provide directions in response to the complaint that others can use to find more information. 

“In the meantime, please phone our office at 555-555-5555 and speak to a representative who can provide you more information or find the solution you need. We have additional information online at www.website.com/FAQ.”

4. Communicate the resolution. If you are able to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the customer, ask them to submit a follow-up post. If the issue is still sensitive, and you are not comfortable asking the customer to follow up, leave the message alone. The trail of dialogue showing you addressed the issue and provided instructions to resolve it will suffice.

Lastly, if you absolutely feel you must respond publicly to an angry comment, consider this:

Vent your frustration, but post a response. Getting into online arguments never ends well.

Find a high (or higher) road. If the complaint is vile, do not lower yourself to the same level and use name calling and a derisive tone. If necessary, just agree to disagree.

Draft your response, but do not send. Sometimes it is best to type your message, but put it in “DRAFTS” while you cool off. Have a trusted colleague read it as well, as they will have a more objective view.

And if you need more convincing of the importance and impact of a response, consider the epic social media meltdown of Amy’s Baking Company, which occurred after the equally epic meltdown on the season finale of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare in 2013. After taking to social media to deride those that were posting complaints, the company started receiving death threats and eventually lost more than 50,000 Facebook likes.

On the other end of the spectrum, consider the much more profound response by Liberty Bottleworks' COO to a raging client who posted an angry rant on its Facebook account. The response went viral, presenting the company in a very positive light and leading to thousands of new supporters and, more importantly, sales.

Responding to social-media complaints is absolutely critical for a business. Just make sure you put much more effort into your response than the individual who posted the complaint.

Do you have an experience dealing with social-media complaints, good or bad? Please share with others below.

Related: The Art of the Response on Social Media