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Customer power: How to deal with online complaints

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“No news is good news” is a comment often bantered about. But when it comes to customer satisfaction, this statement is far from the truth.

complaints online

For years, long before the Internet entered the picture, we’ve known that a dissatisfied customer will tell approximately seven people about his or her experience.

A satisfied customer, on the other hand, will likely tell only one or two.

Enter the Internet, and those statistics increase exponentially.

There’s no getting away from the fact that no matter how strong your product is, at some point, you’re going to have dissatisfied customers – hopefully not too many, but likely a few.

In the old days, there wasn’t really a way to monitor what those customers were saying about you to their friends and neighbors. Today, you do, and you should be paying close attention.

Customer review sites are abundant: Yelp, CitySearch, Merchant Circle, Superpages, Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor are some of the most common.

Social media users are active on these sites in large numbers, and the number of users is rising every day.

Facebook claims to have over 1.2 billion active users, and YouTube says it has over 1 billion. These are two of the largest platforms – and some of these users are very likely your customers.

Online reviews are more prominent in business-to-consumer interactions, but business-to-business reviews can also be found. Whether you sell your products and services to individuals or businesses, you have to pay attention to online feedback.

But, let’s back up a minute. The feedback isn’t the key – the customer experience is.

Think about your own business. What do customers have to go through to buy from you? Is your buying experience convenient, informative and user-friendly? Do customers have to jump through hoops that make your life easier, but do nothing to add to the quality of their experience?

Customer service matters. A 2013 study by Accenture found 62 percent of global consumers switched service providers due to poor customer service experiences, up 4 percent from the previous year.

The study also found that customers are increasingly frustrated with the level of services they experience:

  • 91 percent because they have to contact a company multiple times for the same reason
  • 90 percent by being put on hold for a long time
  • 89 percent by having to repeat their issue to multiple representatives

On the positive side, a study by LivePerson found that 82 percent of consumers say the No. 1 factor that leads to a great customer service experience is having their issues resolved quickly. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to respond and resolve their issues.

While resolving problems quickly has always been critical, the speed at which customers can spread the word about their bad experience today makes it super-critical. You need to monitor what customers are saying about you so that you can respond quickly when an issue arises.

Tools are available to help you monitor the online buzz about your company, products and services. Some are free, others require a subscription.

Names such as “Mention,” “MediaVantage,” “Google Alerts” and hundreds of others come up when you search “social media monitoring.” A tweet deck will also keep you up on online mentions. It’s important to find a service that looks in the places your customers are most likely to engage.

So, what happens when you see the negative comment in cyber-space? How should you react?

First, take a deep breath. Consider it an opportunity to correct a problem. Look at the comment in context. Is it a common complaint? Is it one negative comment among dozens of positive ones?

One-off comments may warrant a response to that customer, but they may not mean you need to embark on an all-out media campaign to address or rebut the issue.

Many of the feedback sites require you to claim your business page or register in some way before you are allowed to post responses. Doing so may also give you access to statistics and other helpful information.

Never argue with a customer online. You might invite the customer to contact you directly so that you can discuss the issue more fully instead.

If the issue has appeared frequently in the online comments, take a hard look at what is causing the dissatisfaction, and let the audience know you’re addressing it or offer information that can help them with their issue. Be careful not to sound condescending or impatient. These are your paying customers, after all.

Some sites, such as your Facebook company page, allow you to screen comments before they are posted. Resist the urge to purge. Research has shown that customers don’t trust a site with no negative comments. Rather, they’d like to see how you responded to the concern.

Information is power, and potential customers have the power of reviews and comments that indicate how your business performs. Pay attention to the social media buzz about your company, and you will have the power as well.