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How to treat bad comments on social media sites

Social media customer service is the quickest way for organizations to handle customer complaints, but it’s for all the world to see and can definitely have some negative effects on a company’s reputation. Facebook, Twitter, and company blogs are the most popular social media sites, and a proactive campaign to handle negative press can save an organization’s brand.

Last year the Greek firm Systemgraph, a support partner of Apple in Greece sued a customer who complained online about a bad customer service experience. Dimitris Papadimitriadis’ computer was giving him trouble, and the company never did fix it to his satisfaction nor did they ever gave him a replacement as Papadimitriadis contended his warranty stated. It was then the disgruntled customer wrote an online complaint about his unpleasant experience. Surprisingly, Systemgraph turned around and sued their customer for defamation seeking $267,000 in damages.

Bringing in lawyers, insulting the customer, or removing an unflattering post can all bring negative publicity and likely not be the drama any company would like to have circulating in the wide venues of the Internet. The days of “any publicity is good publicity” is far past acceptable fare. In fact negative online publicity from credible sources can result in a profound decrease in business.

Need some suggestions on how to address that bad press that can suddenly appear? Try some of these tips:

  • Respond to negative criticism immediately whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or the company blog. Let your customer know that you are aware of a problem – either stand up for a decision or admit that something went awry.
  • If the organization has a blog, respond to it there where a detailed explanation can be supplied.
  • Ensure that an organization is transparent and gives honest feedback.
  • Insist on people identifying themselves so there is a line of credibility. Most organizations now realize the anonymity of the Internet can bring out unsolicited and unwanted comments posted deliberately by people who want to be amused or just cause havoc to an organization.
  • Stay calm. If the client is angry, do not engage the person in an argument. All you will be doing is escalating the problem. The goal is to calm the unhappy person and bring the situation to an amicable agreement.
  • Use specially trained customer service representatives for social media responses. This is not the job for IT personnel.
  • Go offline with the unhappy customer if the problem escalates too quickly or becomes unmanageable. Wait until the customer calms down and address the issues again using the appropriate procedures.

Making sure you receive great customer service

Last evening a group of us went out to dinner at a popular Italian restaurant. One has to realize that South Florida – namely Palm Beach County is rich with tourists, snowbirds, and an occasional rude diner which gives us the opportunity to learn by someone’s mistakes. Our party was only seated for a few minutes when a rather rude uproar began at the next table. Apparently the dinner order wasn’t to the satisfaction of one very nasty gentleman, and as he raised his voice and insulted the young server, everyone in the restaurant and bar area turned around almost snarling with disdain aimed toward the rude customer.

So does getting angry and raising your voice get one better customer service? Of course, the obvious answer is no, but it lends some thought to getting better customer service when everything else seems to go awry. Some customers seem to always get better customer service than others, and let’s face it, we still get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

Did the clerk at the store sell you the wrong sized drill? Did the expensive sweater you ordered online shrink after the first washing? Did the waiter serve your fish poached instead of grilled? It’s not too much to ask that whatever we purchase or wherever we go that as consumers we are entitled to fine service and good products. When service isn’t what we expected however, let’s spend a few moments first and think. Of prime importance is to keep one’s cool and if necessary, wait until you’re not angry or explosive anymore. Face it – no one wants to deal with a raving lunatic.

Once you have calmed down, take a few minutes and put your story together concisely. Leave out the insults. Explain to the customer service representative that you are angry at the product or the company and not at the individual who is trying to help you. In this particular restaurant debacle, the kitchen didn’t prepare two meals as ordered. Instead of addressing the server by her name, the customer raised his voice and accused the server of not paying attention to his order. The need to connect to the person trying to help you is very important, and civility and politeness goes a long way in any customer complaint.

Assuming that you are documenting everything and to everyone whom you are speaking to about your problem, ask when the problem will be addressed. Never be satisfied with a customer service representative telling you that someone will be calling you or that your complaint will be filed accordingly. Insist on a specific time period when someone will get back to you.

What if no one answers your complaint as promised? By this time you have everything documented with times and names, so feel obliged to climb the ladder to the next higher department. Inform the company that you are already considering contacting their competition for your future business, but remember when the problem is finally resolved, and hopefully that happens a great majority of the time, be positive and thank the representative for taking the time and addressing your issue. Positive feedback is appreciated by everyone – make someone’s day just a little brighter and say thank you.

Sending flowers and customer service

Mother’s Day is coming, and with that comes the busiest day of the year for florists. Many of us order our flowers over the phone or the Internet, and since holidays are a one shot deal when it comes to flowers being at their required destination on time, we as consumers hold florists to a high level of “flower” responsibility.

This past Valentine’s Day, Washington Post’s Melissa Bell stated, “Love hath no fury like a flower customer scoffed.” It seems a popular wire service 1-800-Flowers failed to deliver bouquets for many customers creating a plethora of Twitter and Facebook complaints with the fervor of an inevitable doom. Boyfriends, husbands, and significant others complained about flowers not arriving, damaged products, hundreds of botched deliveries, and an acute shortage of customer service personnel. Only a few dissatisfied customers ever received an answer on that ominous February 14th.

The Bradenton Patch’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Customer Service awarded Ms. Scarlett’s Flowers and Gifts thumbs up for customer service in a very consumer oriented industry. In an interview, the owner Ryan Bringman reminds us of many of the basic essentials of fine customer service – primarily to always match or exceed customers’ expectations.

So what are the most important issues when dealing with flowers and customers? Consumers want their arrangement to look like the picture, they want a competitive price, they want a quality product, and they want their orders to be delivered on time. During Valentine’s Day, 1-800 -Flowers, headquartered in Westbury, New York with franchises, owners, as well as  “order takers” were unprepared for the volume of orders and left sweethearts demanding apology notes and refunds.

Bringman says that customer service is what really sets his store apart from everyone else. He is careful about quality control, meaning he uses the best flowers to make his floral arrangements and has adopted the philosophy that the less time spent on talking to the customer about issues, the better the service will be. He claims to be committed to his clients which might mean some bizarre orders like dead flowers, black roses, or baskets for cats or dogs, but if his clients are happy, then Bringman is happy.

Middlemen like 1-800-Flowers may seem convenient, but Bringman says in terms of customer satisfaction it is better to order direct because not only will you get a better product, but the prices are often less costly. He suggests looking up a florist in the city or town you want the flowers sent, and either email or call the shop directly.

The last flower delivery I received from 1-800-Flowers spelled my first name incorrectly and wished me a Happy Birthday when the occasion was to congratulate me on a very difficult real estate transaction which finally changed title. While the flowers weren’t meant to be a “love connection,” I just can’t help imagining the damage a wrong name or occasion on the card could have caused.

Social marketing 101; respond to your customers about social issues too

Does your organization have a Facebook page where a customer can either “Like” or become “Friends”? Nowadays businesses are either riding the social media train or stranded at the depot. Clients and customers love the personal touch and having the ability to comment on an issue; the problem arises however, when no one from the company responds back or follows up on a complaint, lack of service, or even a social issue.

Statistically the majority of Facebook posts and Tweets remain unanswered. Of course, if the news media grabs onto something particularly egregious, the firestorm rages on, but in general customers just fade away because no one ever responds. As we live in a technologically advancing world where even seven-year-old children carry  smart phones, social consciousness becomes a major factor when building brand loyalty and increasing the number of new customers referred by existing customers.

Recently the Northface clothing company, a high end organization of outerwear was singled out by one of the humane organizations for purchasing and using duck down for their coats and vests that had been purchased from a company who participated in the especially cruel practice of raising ducks for foie gras. If you’re not familiar with the ongoing contentious issue, geese or ducks are fattened artificially by inserting metal tubes down their throats and fed enormous helpings of maize to fatten up their livers. Foie gras is considered a delicacy and commonly sells in excess of $30.00 an ounce. At first Northface ignored the comments on their Facebook page, but as irrefutable evidence of Allied Feather and Down being one of their suppliers who support the foie gras industry, Northface needed to address the issue. Finally on February 20, the organization posted an update stating they did not condone the practice of force-feeding geese, apologized and regretted not having “greater insight into the origins of down” and were working to find long-term solutions to avoid sourcing down. The company now claims to have organized a Down Task Force establishing a traceability system of new procedures.

In another example of a growing social consciousness, Lancome (L’Oreal) still tests finished products on animals; another especially cruel practice when photos of suffering dogs, cats, rabbits and even mice are posted all over Facebook and other related media outlets. It is interesting to note that by 2013 all animal testing for cosmetics will be banned across the European Union. A few weeks ago I posted on the Lancome Facebook page and asked why they were still using live animals. My first post was deleted, but the second time I received a reply denying that animals were still being used, but also directing me to a press release link explaining that the company was working on alternative skin testing methods.

There’s no doubt that companies need to continue working on their social media listening skills because the Internet is not going away. Customer service representatives need to establish reasonable policies aligned with their brand in a social conscious world where information is no farther away than typing in the word “Google”. We live in an ever emerging mindset of sustainable products and new moralities. While we all strive to make a living and produce the best products at the best prices, the world has changed and more customers demand more answers.

What customers need to do in order to get companies to listen to their complaints

Problems?Even nice customers get angry. It can happen to any organization, and figuring out the best ways to respond and satisfy your customers can mean loyalty and continued business. One of the common problems however, is getting a complaint satisfactorily resolved with the least amount of frustration, anger, and time.

Traditionally large companies do not pay their first line of customer service representatives high salaries. Many new employees read from scripts and seldom deviate from the question and answer page. Where the run-of-the-mill problems might be easy to solve according to the prepared customer service “cliff notes,” what happens when a customer’s problem or service complaint isn’t in the “one-size-fits-all” category?

Let’s begin with having all of the pertinent information on hand before making any inquiries to the company. Be prepared with receipts, names of service representatives called, a narrative of what was discussed, and a reliable time line showing when emails were exchanged, phone calls were made and any other points of contact. For those of us who have figured out the 1-800 number rarely gets us where we want to go when our complaint hasn’t been addressed properly, it might be time to escalate our sphere of influence and climb higher onto the help needed elevator.

Once you have passed from the floor person to a supervisor, head in a positive tone. It’s more than likely the supervisor has no idea why you are angry and frustrated, so why not put a positive spin on your conversation and build a rapport based on a person now with more authority to be able to step out of the box and make amends? Also, try to make a point not to insult the original customer service representatives. Often their behaviors and responses are required and thus considered appropriate answers to customer inquiries and concerns.

It’s my experience the earlier in the day you call with a complaint, the more likely you will get an answer and a resolution. Have a positive solution in mind. For instance, do you want a replacement of the product, a different product with a better track record, a refund, or free products or perks to make up for all the trouble and time you have had to endure? Again try to be positive and pleasant; human nature always responds better to a smile and a few kind words over snarls and insults. Don’t expect however, a supervisor to give away the store; make your requests reasonable.

If by this time you have not progressed to a satisfactory solution, you still have a few viable options. Facebook and Twitter bring a lot of attention – both good and bad. Many times social media representatives are quicker to act than working one’s way through the maze of automated telephone responses and customer service representatives. Then there is always the option of calling a company’s sales department. You might not get your refund yet, but often the sales representatives can point you to someone in the know.

Still can’t get anywhere? Google the CEO of the company and send them a respectful letter or call. Chances are you will attract someone’s attention and may very well find yourself working your way  up to an executive who is interested in why you were not satisfied with customer service. By the time you make your way to corporate, chances are these are the people who want to keep you as a customer and will make sure your needs are properly met.

photo credit: mStreetPhoto

Received lousy customer service? Complain about it on Gripevine

Beyond the long arms of social media where we frequently address our complaints to organizations that have “done us wrong,” enters another new kid in town who stretches beyond the 140 character Twitter or the full time media Facebook guru, and claims it can connect you directly to the top decision makers. In the media age when companies know too well the firestorms that can be created from negative events and a failure to respond in a reasonable amount of time, perhaps Gripevine.com promises some good results.

Just a month out into the public venue, the site Gripevine emerged offering dissatisfied customers the ability to “amplify their online voice.” Started by singer David Carroll of Nova Scotia, Carroll’s own negative experience with United Airlines made headlines when baggage handlers threw the singer’s band equipment and his own $3500 guitar haphazardly into the baggage compartment on the plane as Carroll watched helplessly from his airplane window. Despite all of his efforts to thwart the carelessness of the actions, nothing worked. When Carroll wrote a song entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars,’ it became a sensation. Obviously the negative publicity didn’t fare well for the airlines.

Most organizations know not to argue on Facebook with customers. No matter what the problem, other sympathizers are sure to join into the conversation and before long the complaint turns into a fray. Nothing gets resolved, but chances are the organization already lost customers. Twitter complaints can also present a problem because an organization does not always know who the unhappy customer is; it is always better to directly contact the person and have a private conversation to solve problems rather than to let it grow via social media. Sometimes other people will arbitrarily join into the conversation – not always what a business needs to hear.

Gripevine offers companies the opportunity to be automatically notified whenever someone has a complaint. Right now the most popular complaints center around phone companies and airlines, but Bank America and several debt resolution organizations have been solicited by consumers with unresolved issues.

Gripevine is free for the consumer and extremely user friendly. The customer begins by writing about their gripe, but first it is suggested by Gripevine to begin one’s gripe with a catchy title. It does ask that one clearly describe the problem and use professional decorum while writing. Complaints are then categorized into sections like billing complaints, contracts, misrepresentations, and poor service. Next the consumer is asked what they are looking for – perhaps an apology, compensation, refund, etc? Finally the unhappy customer has the ability to post photographs, receipts documents or any other information which will help lead to a satisfactory resolution. When all is done, the link says, “Plant it!”

Gripevine.com encourages those who participate to rate a company on their customer service once a company responds, and that will be added to their own customer satisfaction index. A person wrote into Tampa General Hospital with a complaint about customer billing, and the hospital did respond asking the writer to contact them personally about the problem. Ironically United Airlines, despite several written gripes has not responded.

Americans changing banks because of fees and poor customer service

Onlookers at a protest against US Bank at OccupyMN - Day 20Market Watch issued a press release earlier today about studies done by Intellishop and Rate Watch citing credit unions and small community banks missing their market share of banking business due to sales efforts. The mystery audit services sent 120 anonymous auditors out who posed as new checking account prospects, and even though small banks were seen as pleasant, the criticism of having a too “laid back” approach regarding selling the benefits of their bank were losing these organizations business. It seems larger banks are more proactive.

Mystery shopper results documented large banks to be four times more apt to find out about other types of banking relationships, two times more likely to ask a new customer to sign up today, two times more likely to collect a prospect’s contact information, and two times more likely than the smaller competition to strike up small talk conversations as someone enters the bank to engage a new customer at a personal level.

Now this is where surveys commonly get confusing. J.D. Power and Associates just released their survey which may or may not parallel big banks versus smaller institutions signing up new business practices, but a 5,000 customer survey results found a deflection rate of one in ten customers leaving large institutions last year because of high fees and lousy customer service. Surprisingly small banks and credit unions only lost 0.9 percent of customers compared to 8.8 percent of customers lost in 2010.

So if we are to assume more customers are attracted to bigger banks because personnel is better trained to concentrate on the positive attributes of larger banks and use more initiatives to attract customers, then we might also assume those very customers are leaving big banks at an even higher rate? Of course, there is  always more to consider.

I doubt many customers have forgotten the Bank of America announcement of charging a monthly fee for debit card users last year. The firestorm took off in the media full force ahead, and the “Bank Transfer Day” when customers emailed, tweeted, and blogged everyone to leave big banks and switch to smaller banks and credit unions left quite an impression. Already adding to the malcontent of big bank customers, newer and higher banking fees from checking account charges to higher credit card interest rates  compared to piddly rates on Certificates of Deposit and savings accounts, customers didn’t look back when the hightailed it for the smaller institutions. Of the 50 percent of customers surveyed who changed banks, they also claimed poor customer service then became the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Not surprisingly Bank America scored the lowest followed closely by Wells Fargo, Citibank, Sovereign Bank and Chase.

People haven’t forgotten the debacle of the large banking institutions and their significant roles in the state of the economy. Big banks still make loans and mortgages more difficult than many of the small banks. When I walked into Chase Bank the other day to deliver a document for a real estate closing I was attending, the pleasant woman at the door greeting customers told me she loved my shoes! No one has ever said that at the smaller institution I use, but I doubt that will be the reason I will choose to change banks.

photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

U.S. airlines improving customer service?

N753EVThe trade industry organization Airlines for America has reported customer service for airlines  improving in three different areas. Travelers are always interested in improved customer service, so therefore any news in the airline industry is always considered good news, but alas have there really been improvements or is it just better defined as happenstance?

CNN states mishandled baggage was at an all time low for 2011 – 3.39 bags misplaced per 1,000 which registered a 3.51 drop from 2010. Airlines chalk it up to improved baggage handling, however let’s face the reality of travelers checking less luggage because of the outrageous baggage fees. We now pack much more efficiently, and just travel with less “stuff.”

The Department of Transportation reports the number of passengers bumped from flights decreased to 0.81 per 10,000 passengers – a decline of 1.09. The airlines contend better planning, but the Wall Street Journal attributed the decrease to DOT doubling airline penalties to passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding.

And finally the report states that U.S. airlines have had the best on time arrival rates – up by 85.07 percent. One has to question whether the airlines have changed and improved employee policies, improved maintenance on planes thus avoiding long delays, or has the lack of inclement weather this winter just been a greater part of that improvement? Never mind that there is less sky traffic, oil prices are way up and less people are traveling by air because of the weak economy.

We do know that traveler complaints continue to apply pressure to the airline industry forcing them to make improvements, however consumer complaints on both domestic and foreign airlines have risen in the past year. The Department of Transportation received 11,545 complaints – up 5 percent from 10,988 in 2010. Many of the complaints arose from foreign carriers, and an especially high amount of complaints concerned the apparent lack of  customer service for passengers with physical disabilities.

We of little faith periodically wonder if airlines will ever succeed in doing it better. With so many variables to consider for every flight, mistakes are bound to be a reoccurring pattern, however more personal considerations need to be addressed at the ticket counter, check-in, on the aircraft and at the terminals. It is how the human factor handles many of these problems that make the frustration and ultimate anger resulting in the constant multitude of complaints.

Do you want to know the best airline considered the number one on-time carrier for the eighth straight year? According to the Department of Transportation, Hawaiian Airlines scored 92.8 percent on-time performance. When asked how the airlines achieved such a remarkable achievement, the company heartily thanked the dedicated Hawaiian employee performance. Let’s hope the other airlines follow suit.

photo credit: redlegsfan21

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