I've wanted to write a post about customer service via social media for a while now, and it just so happens that last week I stumbled across a personal story from a friend, and eventually found myself involved to help that friend get assistance from a brand's social team with an issue her client had experienced. The experience is summarized below, along with 3 lessons from the experience that your brand can apply today!
After having watched my friend Jennifer try in vain for a couple of weeks to reach out to HostGator via their Facebook page, I decided I should intervene and try to put some pressure on HostGator to respond to the issue. Up until this point, I had seen her comments being ignored and even deleted without response. So, after watching her latest comment be deleted, I reached out to HostGator in the same thread, mentioning that I was interested in writing a blog post about customer service through social media, and that I was also interested in understanding why HostGator felt it was appropriate to remove comments from customers who were seeking help related to issues they had experienced while relying on HostGator.
Sean, the Social Media Manager at HostGator, was very open to the discussion and transparent about their reasoning. They had found that many of the upset customers they reached out to in the past did not usually follow up with their suggested support channels, as such, they did not always reach out to help customers with complaints. After a fairly lengthy discussion on the matter, Sean told me that he heard what I was saying, and that while he didn't want to turn the HostGator Facebook page into a forum for venting, that HostGator would adopt a new policy of responding to 100% of complaints they received through Facebook. Together we found a simple solution for referring customers looking for support to automatically send a direct message to the HostGator Facebook page for further assistance, making the process easier to manage without cluttering up the page's Timeline. You can find the discussion in its entirety on the HostGator Facebook page and at my Storify feed of the original conversation.
Overall, I have to say that my experience with Sean was a positive one. Though I didn't agree with all aspects of Sean's philosophy on managing online communities, I was pleasantly surprised to find him so open to suggestions and new ways to improve both their customer support experiences on Facebook as well as HostGator's internal processes. I can also say that after a follow up look at their Facebook page that it seems Sean is fully committed to his efforts to help 100% of customers who reach out via Facebook.
What can your brand learn from this experience?
1. Always put your customers first. When we have to deal with upset people who are often just looking for a place to vent their anger and frustrations, it can be easy to forget that the people on the other end of the keyboard are your customers, and they are upset for a reason. If you can offer your assistance with a legitimate issue, that is your opportunity to resolve the issue and retain a customer. Even if they're just venting, you can still offer your apologies for the issue and ask how your company could make the experience better for them next time.
In any case, your customer is reaching out because they want to be heard, so make sure they feel like you're listening and doing your best to offer a solution right from the start. Even now, after Sean's willingness to help, due to several failed attempts at getting help across multiple channels, including Facebook initially, Jennifer remains skeptical that anyone at HostGator cares to help resolve her issue. Had her post been responded to sooner (and without the need for my intervention) she would have probably felt very differently, and this could have gone a long way towards clearing up any misgivings Jennifer had about continuing to refer her clients to HostGator in the future.
2. Never delete negative comments. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but deleting negative feedback doesn't make the issue go away. Persistent customers will continue to reach out, just as Jennifer did. If they're already reaching out because of a bad experience, having their posts or comments deleted won't help them feel any better about the situation. Eventually, someone will notice the negative feedback is being deleted. It may look bad to have negative feedback on your brand's social properties, but it looks even worse for that feedback to be deleted. Instead, take the opportunity to turn a customer's negative experience into a positive one. Your customers will appreciate your extra effort and it makes your brand look great too!
3. Be open, responsive, and accountable to feedback. Even though I feel like HostGator's efforts to resolve Jennifer's issue prior to my intervention in this case were lackluster, Sean was very open to our suggestions for improvements and to helping Jennifer resolve the issue her client had experienced. When I first approached the situation I was unimpressed, but after interacting with Sean he did a great job of turning that impression around with his openness and responsiveness (he even continued our discussion into the weekend!). By the time the conversation was over, I was thoroughly impressed with how Sean had handled the situation after my initial contact and his willingness to commit to making improvements in the way future issues were handled. Sean turned a very negative experience into a good one, and I'm glad that more of HostGator's customers will get to experience his knack for this going forward!
More than anything you should always treat customers who are sharing their thoughts, looking for help, or just looking for someone to listen to their complaints in the same way you would want to be treated were you in the wronged customer's shoes. Don't treat anyone in a way that you would be upset to be treated, and you'll have a solid foundation for providing a great customer support experience through your brand's Facebook Page or other social media channels!
Disclosure: HostGator is not a Thought Labs client, but they are sending me a t-shirt as a token of their gratitude for the time I spent discussing this issue with them and working towards a solution for Jennifer and future HostGator customers. Jennifer and her company, Eco Office Gals, are not clients of Thought Labs, though she is a personal friend and my wife has worked with her on multiple web design projects.