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How deeply do you respond to customers in public?

Recently, I wrote a post that recommended, “Don’t be afraid of fake reviews,” to help business owners know how to respond to an angry post in social media. To make a long post short, my advice was to always treat angry reviews as legitimate (not assuming it is faked by a competitor, for example), because responding that way is best whether the review is fake or not.  That advice was questioned by one correspondent, who asked, “How deeply do you respond in public?” What he wants to know is how to practically manage a conversation in social media, which is a very good question.

My original advice was addressed to those who take the extreme approach of ignoring the social media review because they suspect it is fake. My questioner wanted to understand the nuances better. Clearly, a breezy “We’re working with this customer offline” might not be all that’s needed, but having the complete unique customer discussion online might not be right either. What is right?

It’s a question without a cookie-cutter answer.

While each customer situation might be different, there are a few things that you want to keep in mind for your goals. You want to leave the best possible impression with that customer, but more important, with all of the onlookers in that very public social media venue. To do so, it’s usually best to move that customer situation offline if you need details about the situation that would be uncomfortable to discuss online, for you or for the client.

So, the answer to how much goes on online depends on the industry. If you are providing medical care, personal care, or financial services, you don’t want any client-specific situation anywhere in public. Not only is it a disservice to your client, sometimes it is against the law.

But if your industry isn’t so regulated and doesn’t cross any privacy boundaries, what you do in public is a judgment call. If you can’t provide a detailed but reasonable answer in a single response, you can invite the aggrieved party to make contact offline.  If they accept, you look good in public and you can wrestle the customer’s problem to the ground in private. Of course, if you can solve the problem in public, that’s even better, but it’s riskier.

If you can’t solve the customer’s problem in public and you can’t get them to take it offline, then you need to go back to the original post about fake reviews. Your goal at this point is to look the best you can in public while praying that the rest of the folks in the venue will take you off the hook. Just be as reasonable as you can be, and if the customer remains unreasonable, you’re at least doing the best that you can.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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