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Facing Customer Service Issues in Public

April 20, 2012

Does your company use social media as an opportunity to handle customer complaints, or does it try to sweep negative comments under the rug? Like it or not, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets have become a place for people to publicly air their grievances. Those companies that embrace public customer service are going to be much better off in the long run than those that resist or try to ignore these powerful communication vehicles.
In the past, customers might criticize a product or tell about a negative experience to a handful friends. Now, the whole world can know at once when something has gone wrong. (Think Alec Baldwin tweeting about his own bad behavior on an airplane – and badmouthing the airline).  There are plenty of examples of companies falling prey to one customer airing their dissatisfaction to thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook friends, but there are also great case studies about the right way to handle these oh-so-public customer complaints.
Dell was one of the first companies to use Twitter as a customer service channel, and it really improved their reputation. They have a Twitter profile @DellCares that is dedicated to customer service as evidenced by the bio: Dell’s Social Media Outreach Team. 24×7 Global Support. We are here to listen, help and provide proactive info to our Customers.
Facebook recently launched private messages for Pages. Although not a completely public channel, administrators have to be ready to handle these messages, or it could turn into an ugly public conversation. Review sites like Yelp are ripe with both positive and negative customer experiences, so it’s important for companies to be aware of what their customers are saying about them online. Having a strong reputation management strategy can combat some of the negativity that is bound to plague a company at one time or another. However, providing great customer service up front goes a long way towards preventing some of that negativity.
The bottom line: public customer service is not something your company can decide it wants to do – it’s going to be out there no matter what. Embracing social media as a legitimate forum for customer service and putting systems in place to handle customer service in public is your best bet.
How does your company handle complaints that are made via social media? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments section.