The digital age is seeing a shift from lodging customer-related complaints in person to using a brand’s social media platforms. Companies are beginning to see the value of what an online presence — and interaction with their audience — brings to the customer service table.

Dealing with an unhappy customer is one of the most difficult tasks anyone working in customer care will ever have to deal with. You need to conduct yourself in a friendly and helpful manner until you have resolved the complaint and the customer leaves satisfied — something that also holds true on social media.

media update’s Nicole van Wyk walks you through the steps of dealing with customer care on social media.

Here’s the low-down on how to stay on top of the online customer care game:

1. Hire a clued-up social media manager

Your social media manager should be able to navigate the virtual world with ease. You need someone who is able to keep the company’s ‘cool’ banner flying high while dealing with online customer complaints.

A social media manager who is constantly engaging and interacting with customers online, even in the absence of complaints, is bound to form stronger customer-business loyalty bonds because they are accessible and customers can rest assured that their queries will be dealt with in due course.

Remember, how people view your brand will be dependant on how your social media manager interacts and engages with your customers online.

It is therefore important that you hire a social media manager with relevant experience and a good understanding of your brand. Because the role of this person essentially requires them to act as a brand ambassador and mediator between you and your clients, you’ll need someone who will be able to apply basic social media etiquette, such as personalising customer care responses with a name followed by a greeting.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what works for one brand may not work for another, so don’t assume that just because a particular social media manager handles another account and is #winning the same will apply to your brand.

For example, Nando’s is well known for employing humour to provide political commentary — and it works. But could you imagine having Tiger Wheel & Tyre tweeting about the political landscape of South Africa? Um … a bit off-brand, to say the least.

2. Believe in your brand identity and voice

Your social media manager will give your brand a voice and this will help to determine your brand’s ‘online personality’ and tone. An online personality is characterised by the quirks that make you unique in the virtual world. Are you sarcasticSeriousPlayful? Your customers should be able to identify this and engage with you on this level.

Keep your finger on the trending pulse and know where and how your brand fits into the broader social media community. This information will give you the confidence you need to speak to your customers — and being sure of yourself is a definite way to win people over.

3. Hold yourself accountable

When a customer lodges a complaint in the public domain, like on a social media platform, you need to remain visible in that space until you have dealt with the complaint. Instead of shying away from your mistakes, embrace them and do better.

Deleting posts that contain customer complaints will not only make customers doubt your willingness to rectify your mistakes, but it will also make them doubt the quality of your product and your commitment to the service you are offering them.

Don’t become defensive when a customer points out something they don’t like or if they are dissatisfied. Remember that this is not about you — it is about the standard of the product or service you are providing.

Empathise, apologise and rise to the occasion.

4. Respond quickly and appropriately to negative comments

Respond swiftly so that your customers are reminded of your commitment to providing and producing the best version of your products and services. In doing so, always be mindful and strive for calm and appropriate engagement with your online community.

Your social media approach and how you respond to negative comments can make or break your brand. This is not an exaggeration, and here’s why: as technology advances, customers are expecting companies to make provision for more efficient and convenient customer service. This means that you always need to be on top of your game and need to have solutions and answers at hand.

According to the 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report, 54% of customers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to three years ago (that number jumps to 66% for consumers 18–34 years old). Understanding and responding to complaints will give customers the impression that they are valued, which can easily boost your customer loyalty.

5. Know when to take the conversation offline

We’ve discussed the importance of online presence and mindful customer engagement, but it’s also important to know when to escalate a complaint. You can resolve most issues online and it can be a swift and easy process — if both parties are willing to meet halfway.

However, some engagements can become unruly and, although you should always strive for transparency, it may be a good idea to know when the online exchange is causing more harm to the brand than it is proving the company’s willingness to listen and empathise with an unhappy customer.

6. Monitor conversations about your brand online

Use a brand tracking service to scan your social media pages and pay extra attention to conversations you have not been tagged in but that mention your brand. For example, you could monitor these types of conversations by using Twitter’s search bar to type in your brand or company’s name. Even if you have been tagged directly, you’ll still be able to view tweets pertaining to your brand. More often than not, this will give you an indication of what customers really think of your brand.

If you notice a trend involving one or two people who engage with you online content often but aren’t followers, then you should consider tagging them directly. This is called ‘wooing’ a potential customer, so to speak.

Always be on the lookout for a gap in the market. If you can swoop in and offer a service or product to a customer who needs it, but who has no idea your company exists, make it known. You’ll be making a lasting impression, like Netflorist turning Vanessa Snyders’ frown upside down.

7. Respond with humour

Sometimes, the complaint is really not that deep. A customer may be having a laugh at your expense and the same may very well apply to them too. If you’ve covered all bases, and there’s still an inkling of tension, why not try to squeeze in a ‘haha’ here or a ‘lol’ there?

Responding with humour can sometimes help customers feel more comfortable and less hesitant to tap that @ button when they need to lodge a complaint. If you both find the humour in the situation, it will be easier to resolve the issue because your customer is already in a better mood and willing to cooperate.