Usually I am helping businesses to plan for or deal with a social media crisis. Recently I found myself involved with one from the consumer side. It was a very quirky response to a very common social media occurrence. Here are 5 key learnings for other businesses!
Often small businesses don’t think they will face a social media crisis. If you aren’t a big brand, why would you get that kind of attention? The kind of crises that happen in small business are generally due to poor customer service or miscalculated offers, where the demand cannot be met.
Quirky Bubba recently found themselves in a very unfortunate situation due to poor service and a very poor understanding of how customers expect service through platforms like Facebook. It is a common situation, that was dealt with poorly and escalated well beyond what the business owner anticipated. I am sharing this case study in the hope that other small businesses can learn from it.
A mother in my Facebook mothers group, had an issue with a cot she had purchased. The slats fell out when the side was being put up. A potentially very dangerous situation, had her daughter been inside! She contacted the company and was told that they would replace the faulty parts. She requested a refund. The company then went silent and refused to answer emails. In desperation, the mother wrote a post on their Facebook page, with a picture of the cot, asking for someone to contact her about a refund. It wasn’t rude, however her comment was deleted and she was banned from the page.
This is where it went downhill fast for the business and one poor choice, escalated into a fully fledged social media crisis.
The mother posted her picture and a brief story into the Facebook mothers group (there are almost 300 in this group Australia wide). It didn’t take long before the mothers collectively organised themselves and offered to post on the Quirky Bubba page in the hope of helping her get a response. Hundreds of comments went onto the page. Each was deleted and the user banned.
The business owner then made a statement on the Facebook page and within hours there were hundreds of comments. It escalated very quickly and anything negative about the company was immediately deleted and the user banned from the page. Any comments in support of the business were left, leaving a very one sided record of events.
Eventually even the statement by the business owner was deleted, as the comments couldn’t be controlled. All commenting features were switched off, leaving the business with a Facebook page that will never produce quality outcomes, unless people can engage.
The image and comments were shared thousands of times on people’s personal profiles. It was shared into every parenting and mothers page that I am a member of. It just keeps showing up. I recently had dinner with someone in the child protection industry and they asked if I had heard about it. News has travelled far and wide.
There are many more details in this story and really, they are not so important. What is important for other businesses is how to avoid this situation. It could so easily have been avoided. Here is why:
1. Good customer service is paramount: this would never have happened in the first place if the business had taken care of the customer in a timely and satisfactory manner. Customers with genuine complaints generally just want their issue dealt with. They are not setting out to negatively impact a business. Serve people properly and they won’t feel the need to take it public.
2. Don’t delete and ban: when doing social media customer service training with companies, we talk about ‘the good, the bad but not the ugly’. If you want to use these platforms to market your business, then you need to accept that people will also use them to access customer service. It doesn’t work to have one without the other. So, you need to leave the good and the bad comments. Deal with the issue at hand, resolve people’s issues and you have the opportunity to convert them to a fan. Delete and ban them and you will surely turn them into a foe.
Wouldn’t you rather they engage on your business page and give you an opportunity to resolve it, than to share it in other places where you have no ability to respond or take action? You CAN delete ‘the ugly’. Comments that are rude, offensive or harassing in nature do not need to be tolerated. You might find a customer complaint confronting, but if it isn’t abusive, you should not delete it. Try and work the issue through. If you end up with a satisfied customer, you can always ask them to delete it later…..and they generally will.
3. Be factual and concise: it can be hard as a business owner to not take these things personally, especially when hundreds of people get involved and all have an opinion. In the face of criticism online do your best to take the emotion out of it. If you get defensive, emotional or try and retaliate, it generally only escalates the situation and you end up looking bad. Be factual. It is ok to respond if the facts are incorrect.
4. Get the details right: make sure that your spelling and grammar are correct and focus on the small things that make a difference. Like getting the person’s name right!! This business owner had many typos and errors in her post and consistently called the customer the wrong name. Even when she was corrected by numerous people, over and over. Those little things make a world of difference. If your community are jumping up and down about something you’ve done, don’t give them more fuel to throw on the fire!
5. Take screen shots: I would venture to guess that the business owner in this situation didn’t take any screen shots as she was too busy deleting and banning. It is really important to have evidence of what was actually said and how things were handled, in case the situation is taken further. And remember…..other people take screen shots. For example, I have every part of this interaction in screen shots, as I could see exactly what was happening at the very beginning.
6. Close the loop: once you have resolved the customer complaint, whether it has been online or offline, always go back and close the loop. You might want to say something like ‘Thanks for your time on the phone today John. I am glad we resolved your issue. We look forward to your ongoing participation in our Facebook community.’ That way if others come along at a later date, they can see that you have dealt with the issue and not just ignored it.
7. Apologise if necessary: sometimes a genuine and authentic apology is all that is needed. Don’t do this for the sake of doing it, but do it because it is the right thing to do and you care about your customers. If people feel that you have acknowledged their situation and done something about it, most are more than satisfied with that outcome.
In a very short period of time, the customer got her refund. The business owner also followed up and offered her a free replacement. Unfortunately in this situation it was way too late. The posts on others pages are still circulating and for a while, when people ask ‘Have you heard of Quirky Bubba? What do you think of their cots?’, this is the story that will be told.
There were also many people who were looking to buy a cot at the time, who saw that unfold and changed their mind.
I believe that if businesses are going to use these free platforms to market their products and services, they need to take responsibility and provide service to their customers, not just broadcast marketing messages. That is not what social media is about.
Interestingly enough, we have all been unblocked now…..but how many will go back and like a page that shut the door when someone had an issue.