How To Turn Angry Customers Into Lifelong Buyers

by David · 2 comments

Social media provides a megaphone for angry customers to voice their grievances. In this post, I explain how to deal with their rants (and no, the answer isn’t blocking your ears).

Before we look at how to tackle this problem, let’s look at why it has become a problem.

Over the past few decades (even over the past century), business transformed itself from local stores and boutiques to international mega-corporations.

Grocers, butchers and bakers on main street were replaced by out of town malls and mega-marts.

Family run restaurants were ousted by McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Nandos.

Local banks got bought out by megabanks.

Businesses went national and global.

Here’s the rub for customers. When business was local, reputation was everything. If your butcher sold you rotten meat, you’d tell a few friends, and the news would pass around the town. If he continued selling rotten meat, he’d go out of business.

As business went global, reputation continued to matter (if Pizza Hut pizzas were tasteless, they’d have no customers), but local rumors and reputation made little difference. Mega-corporations were big enough to ignore the voices of a few disgruntled customers. Customers lost their voice – and if they received poor product or poor customer service, they might spend their dollars elsewhere, but their complaints would hit deaf ears.

Social media has simply leveled the balance again. Customers now have a voice.

It’s the customers turn to fight back.

Badly treated customers can find other customers with an ax to grind. And when we find out that other people have a similar outlook to our own, we’re more likely to share and act on our opinions.

As Anthony Leaper explains:

“Irritated Customers have supportive Friends. They may have a few; they may have thousands. The dangerous fact, though, is this: it almost does not matter how many friends they really have. A single Facebook post that describes a jaw-dropping failure on the part of your company may, if stupefying enough or if told in a funny or snarky manner, be repeated, retweeted, “liked,” and “shared” innumerable times. Then, before you can say Jennifer Anniston Sex Video, the Irritated Customer’s snarky comments about your service have gone viral and everyone—even people several degrees of separation from the Irritated Customer’s set of Friends—is talking about it. Everyone is aware of it. And everyone has been influenced by it.”

How to Destroy Your Reputation in Simple Steps

How can you – as a social media marketer – manage your brand reputation when the conversation online is completely out of your control?

  1. Ignore the complaints. Customers get angry because they had a bad experience of your company, and no one seemed to care. Ignoring their complaints only exacerbates the problem, pour kerosene on the flames of their fury.
  2. Fobbing off complaints. Complaints aren’t your domain, they’re for customer services to deal with, so the easiest thing to do is give moaning patrons the contact details of your customer services department, right? Wrong. First, always apologize for their bad experience, even if you must pass them to customer services. And second, deal with their complaint through social media if you can. That way, they’ll be happy their complaint was dealt with quickly, and everyone gets to see the quality of your customer services.
  3. Give your customers a piece of your mind. This is especially tempting for small business owners. Who do customers think they are, moaning about some tiny mistake you made, when you’ve poured years of your life into your business, and you know you have thousands of satisfied customers? Tempting as it is to tell your customers where to get off, you’re best to let off steam with friend (or a punchbag) and treat your customers politely and professionally.
  4. Keep the feedback to yourself. Sweeping bad feedback under the carpet, rather than confronting management with it might be a way of keeping them happy in the short term. But long term honesty is the best policy, so they can tackle any underlying issues and improve the experience of your company for all customers.

The right way:

  • Engage in the conversation
  • . The most important thing is to be present on social media, and show you are receptive to honest feedback. When you’re available to talk to in an open way, people are less likely to gossip behind your back.

  • Choose the right social networks. Choose the right social networks to see where your customers hang out and offer feedback. Obviously Twitter and Facebook are important, especially for big name brands. But remember the review social network sites in your niche too – particularly Trip Advisor for restaurants and hotels.
  • Be good at customer service. Making customer service a top priority for all your staff, both online and face to face, means you’re less likely to provoke customer complaints in the first place. If your business has a culture of quality customer service, this will permeate your social media strategy too. As Micah Solomon says:

“What makes you great at social media and online customer service are very often the same skills that made you great before Facebook (sorry: The Facebook) was even invented. In other words, social media is a dramatic amplifier of the positive, and of the negative—and if what you do for customers in your business is positive enough (great product, great problem resolution process, consideration of the emotional aspect of every interaction with your customers), the word can get out on a much bigger scale than ever before.”

  • Listen and apologize. Show you’re listening to customer feedback by responding to complaints and – at minimum – offering an apology. Where possible, go further in resolving the complaint for the customer.

Here’s a good example. Scott Stratten of unmarketing complained on Twitter about Delta’s airline staff gruffly pushing in front of him in the line for airport security. A few minutes later, Delta tweeted Stratten, apologizing for the behavior of their staff. That made Stratten happy:

“In 20 minutes I went from irate to smiling.”

Truth is, the conversation on social media isn’t completely out of your control. You’re not sitting in the command console, but you do have a social media voice. And if you play this one right, you’ll be a brand customers will love.

There are no better brand evangelists than unhappy customers turned into happy customers.

I’ll give the final words to Anthony Leaper:

“If you can discover and address an Irritated Customer’s concerns quickly and effectively, then you have a singular opportunity to convert an Irritated Customer into a Delighted Customer. Their delight, particularly if seen by many in the social media world, may move thousands of people into the column of potential customers who are now predisposed to consider your services—when they may have been on the fence before.”

David is Social Caffeine’s acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

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