The customer is always right, so we have been told, and I can’t help but think that this is a turn of phrase that has been amplified thanks to social media.

With Facebook and Twitter being as prevalent as they are, it’s now that bit more important for businesses to get it right.

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As consumers we demand good customer service, and quite rightly so, especially nowadays with most of us feeling the pinch. We have somehow come to expect service providers to go that extra mile for us when we decide to part with our hard earned cash.

A smile, polite manners, and even empathy when required, can go a long way. It cements what becomes the customer experience and determines what comments we pass onto others.

Unlike before, feedback is no longer received via an anonymous suggestions box, and word of mouth is no longer about telling just a few friends and family members.

If we don’t like something, or feel hard done by in some way, we aren’t afraid to share it with our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and even complete strangers on a public forum.

I do it myself. I’m a great believer in giving credit where credit is due, and, by the same token, I’m not afraid to voice a complaint either. And it turns out I’m not alone.

If you are among one of Mark Zuckerberg’s one billion plus Facebook users, I’m sure you have come across the increasing numbers of consumers that are using the platform to publicly vent their frustration and post a complaint directly onto company’s Facebook Pages.

These can be personal woes, strong opinions or just blatant vile rants which, in some cases, are racking up hundreds of thousands of ‘Likes’ for us all to see, which is a cause of concern for businesses.

Every ‘Like’, comment or share on the negative post proliferates the ‘opportunity to see’ among Facebook users, thus making the complaint spread like wild fire – one of which the company has to attempt to fight.

Energy companies, the police, and a morning television programme are just some of the few that I have witnessed in recent weeks and I’m amazed at the sheer volume of interaction from Facebook users, but I’m even more astonished with the lack of involvement from the company under threat. 

Brands have to acknowledge it and respond – fast. The public nature of the complaint means that it must be firmly nipped in the bud to avoid any repercussions and reputational damage.

This can be managed however, and managed well. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Be human

Unless you have recruited robots to manage your social media channels, there’s no point pretending that you have. I’m stating the obvious here but we’re all human after all, and it doesn’t hurt to add a personal touch, empathise with the customer, and respond to their query in a way that suits them.

The Sainsbury’s tiger bread story echoes this point perfectly; to the extent of renaming it to giraffe bread at the request of a 3 and a half year old girl after images of her letter went viral earlier this year.

I particularly liked the fact that the manager signed the letter with his name and age (27 and a third). A nice touch which is a refreshing change!

Mirror language

When customer queries come in on Facebook and Twitter, remember that you have access to their profile information. Review their profile picture and bio to gain a sense of their age, their interests and their lifestyle before drafting your response.

It's not a 'one response fits all' and it should be tailored to mirror their tone of voice, something that O2 are executing brilliantly. Even during their widespread network problems when customers were starved of their vital 02 supply and began inundating them with complaints, they remained professional but customised each tweet to show they are truly listening.

A personal favourite of mine has to be:

Customer (@MrJeb): “Oi! O2! Because of you I missed a call from my dear old mum. For that I think I owe you a pint. Ta! :)”
O2 response: “Um... you're welcome, we think. But if your mum asks, we'll totally deny this tweet”

Add some humour

Given certain circumstances, don’t be afraid to drop the corporate language and inject some humour into your posts. It’s one way to help get noticed in a noisy Twitter feed and it’s something that followers will re-tweet and share. 

Take the recent Bodyform viral video, for example, in response to a ‘complaint’ on Facebook from a disgruntled boyfriend blaming Bodyform for false advertising. The spoof apology was a brave move, but one that has paid off, as the hilarious clip has been viewed over 3 million times, making it a classic service recovery paradox. 

Solve the problem

When a customer complains on social media, it must be treated like any other query, and it must be resolved. It may require an investigation, it may have to be escalated to the appropriate team, or it may have to be taken offline, but either way, it must be resolved.

This was the case for me when I turned to Twitter to tweet the Royal Mail and enquire about a missing parcel after exhausting more traditional routes of phone and email which came to no avail.

To my delight, I had a Twitter response within five minutes asking to send them a private direct message with tracking numbers. It was then taken onto email (140 characters can be restricting) and I was assigned a customer service assistant, Jenny, who scheduled a redelivery which I received the following morning.

It’d be great to hear from you and any similar case studies you have experienced on social media. Feel free to drop them in the comments section below.