Responding to Social Customer Outrage

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Thanks to the growing functionality of hand-held computers (smartphones, tablets) and the broad, communal reach of social media, customers have become emboldened about sharing their complaints and frustrations about poor experiences they've had with companies. Because customer issues can now go viral within a matter of hours (e.g. Verizon Wireless being forced to ditch a $2 "convenience fee" in late 2011 following negative customer sentiment), business leaders need to have a social media crisis plan in place should problems arise, especially since social customer uprisings are often unpredictable and unforeseeable.

Thanks to the growing functionality of hand-held computers (smartphones, tablets) and the broad, communal reach of social media, customers have become emboldened about sharing their complaints and frustrations about poor experiences they've had with companies. Because customer issues can now go viral within a matter of hours (e.g. Verizon Wireless being forced to ditch a $2 "convenience fee" in late 2011 following negative customer sentiment), business leaders need to have a social media crisis plan in place should problems arise, especially since social customer uprisings are often unpredictable and unforeseeable.There have been numerous examples of social customer outrage that have been publicized in recent years. These include widespread public backlash to Chick-fil-A's support of anti-gay Christian charities last year and reaction to Kenneth Cole's decision in early 2011 to use the uprising in Cairo to promote its spring collection via Twitter.

When I discovered late last year that my former colleague Paul Gillin had co-authored a book on the topic with RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte entitled Attack of the Customers: Why Critics Assault Brands Online and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim, I was immediately intrigued. The book not only contributes to the familiar discussion on the rise of customer empowerment, it offers actionable advice on how to build an attack-resilient organization.

For instance, as Gillin and Gianforte point out, many new media journalists and bloggers approach fact-checking much differently than traditional journalists historically have. New media journalists and bloggers often "validate by triangulation" using multiple online sources rather than through traditional fact-checking by phone. If a blogger posts incorrect or false information about your company and its products, say the authors, be transparent with the media and customers and disclose everything the company knows about a situation. The sooner it does, the faster a crisis will subside.

When it comes to monitoring signals for a potential customer attacks, Gillin and Gianforte offer other useful advice, such as looking for trending Twitter hashtags that mention your company's name and keywords that indicate high levels of emotion. Meanwhile, listening to what customers have to say through social media mentions, contact center interactions, and online surveys is vital since effective listening, particularly on a company-wide scale, can thwart or restrict a social media attack from escalating.

Listening to what customers have to say and responding openly, honestly, and respectfully is a great way to build customer trust. What are other recommended steps for nipping a social media crisis in the bud?

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION