Someday, somewhere, somehow, every retailer will deliver a bad customer experience. Products disappoint, a customer service representative has a bad day, ordering snafus occur; it happens. But in today’s socially-connected world, one customer’s small disappointment can turn into a negative firestorm overnight.
Much of the writing on “social media meltdowns” of this sort has focused on crisis management after the fact. How should companies react when a negative complaint goes social?
Nobody is questioning the value of reacting quickly. A social media meltdown can result in hundreds of thousands of negative brand impressions online in a matter of hours. The negative publicity builds on itself, making its way into mainstream media. The results are both immediate and long-lasting: reduced sales, a huge drop in customer trust, a negative image for your brand, and defection of once-loyal customers.
But waiting until a meltdown occurs is a mistake. Instead, listening and responding to customers when they first become frustrated prevents social media crises before they occur. With the robust voice-of-customer platforms available today, it’s easy to gather, analyze and respond to customer feedback – yet few retailers make VOC a cornerstone of their social programs.
The good news is that customers will almost always give you one chance to make things right. According to Opinion Lab research of more than 500 US online shoppers conducted in February 2013, 70% of disgruntled shoppers first attempt to tell the brand about their negative experience, with only 23% posting their complaints directly to the social realm. The other 7% stay silent.
For larger-ticket items, customers are even more eager to connect directly with the brand before going social with their complaints. For purchases costing more than $250, 84% of consumers will attempt to bring their complaint directly to the company, with only 12% opting to post their complaints first on social networks.
In other words, most people will give a retailer a chance to solve their problem before venting on social networks. But they will only give your brand one chance to make things right. Our research shows that 67% of disgruntled consumers will go social if their original complaint is not acted upon quickly.
So, how can retailers leverage customer feedback to stop social meltdowns before they start? Here are three critical steps.
Invite feedback at every opportunity
Some 96% of consumers who want to make a complaint will use a feedback form if it’s available, according to our research. So make sure to provide ample opportunities for shoppers to leave feedback online, in-store, and via mobile. Make sure consumers know about your feedback system; use paid media, social media, and in-store signage to invite customers to share all questions, comments, or concerns.
Also, don’t forget to monitor ratings and reviews about your products, as many customers leave negative feedback using these tools. In-store, offer customers the chance to give feedback at kiosks, on tablets, and via old-fashioned printed cards.
Respond quickly and effectively
Of course, once you gather feedback, you have to act on it. Technology has advanced so retailers can automatically analyze natural language comments to find patterns in the unstructured data – alerting your customer service teams to negative comments as they arise.
When feedback is negative, reach out immediately to the customer to solve their problem. Thank them for their honest feedback and offer a free return, a replacement product, customer support, or whatever else they need to remedy their problem. This step is the most critical to avoiding social media meltdowns before they occur.
Turn negatives into positives
Each time a customer complains about a product or service, see it as a chance to build your brand. Negative feedback is a window into what’s not working, and what you can do better. Analyze both structured and unstructured feedback to find patterns, then act on findings to improve marketing, merchandising, and even manufacturing. Customer feedback is invaluable data for retailers in today’s highly competitive market, where brands live or die based on customer loyalty.
When customers are upset or disgruntled, they want to tell you. Provide ample ways for them to give feedback, and then fix their problems right away. Not only will your brand avoid social media meltdowns, you’ll turn disgruntled customers into satisfied ones. They will in turn use social media to positively praise your brand – instead of disparaging it.
Jonathan Levitt is CMO of OpinionLab.
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