angry-customerSocial media is all about building long-term relationships with individual customers so they become regular, active users of your site, service or product.

Building a relationship to the point where a customer trusts and values your opinion is hard. After all, deep down they know you want to sell them something. Destroying that bond on the other hand is child’s play.

Let’s look at the most common ways companies break the bonds of trust and turn customers off, and see if we can work out how to fix the mistakes....

Rules aren’t made to be broken

One sure fire way to fail at social media is to start depersonalising customers or herding them into funnels.

If you want to sell, then treat customers as individuals, and make sure you set policies that have a certain amount of give in them so that staff can really help customers.

Just as importantly, be seen to be doing so.

If you have a fantastic, high-yield return customer who purchases in bulk, then the chances are you’re already willing to offer them a few extra perks or payment options. If at all possible, extend these across the board.

Let people know that every transaction is valuable to you and that you appreciate their custom.

Don’t make promises your business can’t keep

There are lots of ads for services promising results such as '80% improvement in conversions' these figures may be true, but if they don’t hold true 100% of the time, you shouldn’t be using them in promotional material.

Never promise more than you can deliver and your customer will never (well...hardly ever...) be disappointed. 

Occasionally you will find that you simply cannot meet a deadline or fulfil a promise. If this is the case, then contact the customer in person as soon as you can, and give a full explanation. Don’t be tempted to sweep a problem under the carpet. if it’s online, it won’t go away.

In addition, you should offer tracking for anything you dispatch so the customer can see where and when there was a problem, and you can work to avoid it in the future.

Know your stuff

We’ve all been there. You wander into your local electronics store to grab a new TV or camera, or maybe a netbook. “So, what’s the benefit of 1080DPi?” you ask the 15 year old oik with the ‘Regional Manager’ badge glued to his polyester shirt. “Erm... well... it’s, like.. erm.. better for movies and that...” comes the hesitant answer. Instant no sale.

Whatever your business and however large your sales team it’s your responsibility to give them training and access to information.

Don’t be tempted to hide behind the "I can’t give all my staff access to all the information" excuse either.

If it’s directly relevant to sales, then yes you can.

If you don’t trust your staff with this, then you shouldn’t have hired them to begin with. These people are the direct face of your company, so make sure they are able and willing to represent you properly, offering genuine knowledge and solutions.

Keep customers close

A large number of companies worry about time wasters and spammers, but it’s usually easy to spot a spammer, so don’t be shy about giving out detailed contact information.

If a customer has a big problem or an emergency then they don’t want to be hunting around your site for an hour looking for a phone number.

Display contact details prominently and welcome feedback and requests for help through multiple channels.

Just putting you through

Speaking of which, let’s have a look at possibly the biggest customer turn-off of them all: Transferring their call. Despite it regularly featuring as the one thing guaranteed to drive a customer insane, a lot of businesses still pass calls around.

If you transfer a call at all, it should be to a senior member of staff who can deal directly with the problem. Any more than this and you’re showing that you are unwilling to take responsibility for a problem.

Make sure you have clear departmental points of contact that are adequately informed. If there is a particularly complicated question, then make sure you have a member of staff stay with the customer at all times.

This goes double for online engagement. If a customer emails a particular member of staff, then they should respond. Don’t send multiple replies from various addresses.

Keep the lines of communication simple for your customers, it adds a personal touch and helps build trust.

We take your complaint very seriously

In the old days of broadcast media, you could probably get away with ignoring some complaints. I’m not saying you should have, I’m just saying it was possible to ignore a customer. These days that's thankfully off the cards for any business.

Failure to acknowledge a problem is dangerous and can be extremely damaging.

If there is a recurring problem with any part of your business, then you should be grateful to the customer for pointing it out and dedicated to eradicating it. If you have an unhappy customer or even a habitual complainer, you should still express your concern and let them know what steps are being taken to remedy things.

Even if a full resolution isn’t possible, let them know that you are aware and working to help make sure there aren’t any repeat incidents.

Be prepared to back down

With the best will in the world, occasionally you’re going to get complaints that you feel are unfounded.It’s perfectly natural to want to defend your company, your product or your actions.

Unfortunately this is also a quick fire way to completely destroy customer loyalty. “Well so what? We’re BigCo, it’s only one customer!”.

No it isn’t.

It’s one customer, plus all their Facebook friends, plus their friends, plus... well, you get the idea. And if that isn’t enough, wading into an argument represents a fundamental flaw in your business thinking.

No one and nothing is perfect, so if you fail to deliver, admit it and apologise.

Take the high road and the likelihood is that a customer will forgive you, and your apology could even strengthen their trust in you. Even if something isn’t your fault, don’t brush them off or defer blame. Take it on the chin.

Dear Sir or Madam

Data is the most valuable online asset, it’s what’s propelling the multi-billion fortunes of the Facebooks and Googles of the world but if you don’t utilise it correctly, it’s worthless and can even be actively harmful.

I still receive emails and letters addressed to Mr N.Owenn from one major retailer which shows me that the company involved don’t consider me as an individual.

If you send a letter, email, tweet or any other communication make sure you have the customer’s title and name correct. Customers today expect contact to be personal. If you can’t get someone’s name right, then they won’t trust you to get anything else right either.

It’s a small point, but in this case first impressions really do count.

The resolution must be televised

All half-decent businesses listen to their customers, but great businesses make sure the customer knows it.

If you receive a complaint, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to appear blasé about it. 

However seriously you take a problem, if you don’t pass this attitude on then it’s worthless. Show that you care and include the customer in the resolution process.

This will help build a huge amount of trust. Many customers will forgive the initial mistake if they feel you’ve taken their complaint to heart and acted appropriately.

It isn’t enough to simply fix something. You need to communicate the resolution.

Manners cost nothing

Finally, remember to say Please. Say thank you. Most importantly: say sorry.

It’s a fairly basic human interaction but one that businesses still seem to forget.

If my train is delayed because of an ‘incident’, then I’m annoyed. If it’s delayed and the driver tells me ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know why but we’re being held at a red signal –I’ll let you know as soon as I hear anything”, then I’m still late, but I empathise with the driver and won’t be lodging a formal complaint.

If you have a problem, can’t fulfil an order, or can’t honour an offer, have the decency to acknowledge this and apologise. It happens, and the customer will get over it.

A simple, sincere apology will beat any amount of business jargon hands down every time.

All of these are simple, common sense practices, but in many businesses still behave as though communicating on a straightforward, personal level with a customer is somehow unprofessional. It's not beneath you to forge a lasting relationship with a customer, so make sure you remember to ditch the jargon and pay attention when dealing with problems and complaints both online and off.

Matt Owen

Published 3 September, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (2)


Elizabeth Sealey

Your article rings true with some research in the latest Harvard Business Review. It seems that majority of people just want to have their issue/request resolved efficiently rather than with bells and whistles. Some of the main issues were: 1. Having to repeat the problem 2. Being passed between departments 3. Having to transfer from a website to the phone 4. Having to contact the service desk multiple times Just some further food for thought. Elizabeth Sealey

almost 8 years ago



I agree with all of the points here. I've been in customer service for 8 months now, and I learnt most of what I know by listening to customers and replying to their requests or solving their issues (if any). And when I am off my job times, and become a customer myself (going to the supermarket or complaining to the telephone company that wouldnt solve my problems) I still see how people mistreat customers (that would be me at that moment) and dont understand how could they do it.

This job could sometimes be a little annoying. Sometimes I have to deal with problems of which I dont really know how/why they happened. However, as this article points out, we are the face of the company, and we are the ones to solve them!

So, let's all of us, who are in customer service, be a little more patience and understanding with the clients, and on top of all, remember we are customer ourselves! Let's answer efficently, let's give them help, let's solve problems (or at least try), let's give them information, let's not leave them hanging, and on top of all, always smile, say thank you and sorry... you couldnt have written a more accurate end for this article.


almost 8 years ago

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