Responding to Customer Complaints on Social Media

By Karen Carrera, TrizCom PR

This post originally appeared on

 Everyone loves a social media train wreck. Take Amy’s Baking Company. Their self-induced social media nightmare began after super chef Gordon Ramsey refused to finish filming a “Kitchen Nightmares” episode with the owners. Amy’s actually had a track record of raging against the dissatisfied, but they blew it out of the water after the Ramsey incident went public, attacking, on Facebook, “reddits and yelpers” [sic] as trash, pathetic and weak. The page is still there if you want a real lesson on how NOT to engage with customers!

Earlier this year, Comcast once again made headlines after sending cable bills addressed to “A_ _ hole Brown” and “Super B____ Bauer” less than a month apart. People came forward with similar derogatory name changes from the mega cable company (Ars Technica Consortium), and the incidents created a media and social media firestorm.

The company apologized, but after their own bad experiences with Comcast, customers were cheering the public scolding from the sidelines. To be fair, Comcast has been Tweeting @comcastcares for years now, but it’s really hard to protect a reputation when customer service reps lob huge grenades.

No matter how good a company is, at some point they are going to have a customer relations crisis. So when a customer gets angry on social media, how do you make lemonade?


Social media has redefined customer service. And while plenty of companies want to put their head in the sand to either ignore – or worse, abuse – unhappy customers, progressive companies are taking the opportunity to engage those customers and recover their business.

Believe it or not, complainers are actually doing you a favor! Stats show that for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. (HelpScout) So it’s more than worth it to win back every vocal dissatisfied customer!

Forrester research shows that major brands aren’t just adopting social customer service, they’re making it a major priority: 67 percent of companies believe that social customer service is the most pressing short-term priority for the contact center.

But if your business defines a social media strategy as a one-dimensional calendar of content to post, Tweet or share, you’re missing the boat. Like anything, it’s about engaging your customers with a proactive plan for how to deal with unhappy people.

Some companies get this and some don’t. Companies that don’t understand the role marketing and PR play in an organization probably won’t understand the nuance of engaging over social. Companies that don’t understand why the voice of a company – visually and verbally – should be consistent across all bands of customer communication, including employee interactions, probably won’t understand social.

Here are some interesting stats cited on Business 2 Community that give us a peek into the social stumbles that businesses take:

90 percent of enterprises say they use social media to respond to customer service inquiries – yet 58 percent of consumers who have Tweeted about a bad experience never received a response from the offending company.

93 percent of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media – because 90 percent trust peer recommendations. But only 14 percent trust advertisements.

Only 20 percent of CMOs use social networks to engage and collaborate with customers.


Lululemon does a nice job handling complaints on its website. Whenever an unhappy reviewer gives a thumbs down to a product, the sportswear store keeps its response consistent, sincere and simple:

When a colleague got caught sitting on the runway for two hours on a Southwest airplane, she took to Facebook. Because Southwest understands customer engagement, they do a great job monitoring comments on their social channels. Immediately, my colleague heard back:



There’s a formula to social media response:

Make it fast. Listen to what’s being said on social media and respond quickly. According to Edison research, nearly half of customers complaining on social channels expect a 60-minute response time. People constantly monitor their social media accounts and expect the rest of the world to do the same. Gartner found that failure to respond via social channels can lead to a 15 percent increase in the churn rate for existing customers.


Make it appropriate. Make sure your tone is appropriate, and don’t try to defend. Just say you’re sorry to hear it and that your company strives for [insert company promise].

Ask. For a second chance, that is. Once you’ve said you’re sorry for the experience, ask for the chance to solve the problem, and suggest how you will avoid future problems if necessary.

Go offline. If the customer is really angry or especially derogatory, ask to take the conversation offline. That way you can help them much less publicly.

And the final social media rule: Unless there is profanity or a threat, don’t delete a negative comment just because you don’t like it. It takes the authenticity – which drives your credibility – away from your page and makes you look like you’re hiding something. If you delete, your social community will call you out. Let others see your positivity, a consistent voice, and the proactive way you are willing to try to fix things.