National Clothesline
Handling complaining customers
Some of your customers complain, but the vast majority simply take their business elsewhere. And the millions, or billions, of lost revenue are rarely recovered.
More and more consumers are now using social media to interact with companies. Yet most customer complaints, questions and comments remain unanswered by those companies.
Social media is an empowering channel for consumers and gives many of them a voice, because they wouldn’t otherwise have the time, resources or energy to actively log complaints through traditional channels.
Accordingly, social media now plays a unique and increasingly critical role in protecting both brand equity and customer loyalty.
Complainer personas
The customer complaint comprises distinct complainer personas. There are generally five types of complainers. To understand how social media comes into play, let’s look at each complainer type and how to respond to it via social media.
1. The Meek Customer generally will not complain.
Your response: The Meek Customer will only post or comment on Facebook or Twitter when she has really been pushed to the edge. A simple and public “I am sorry” will usually rectify the situation and turn the meek consumer into a passive advocate for your cleaner.
2. The Aggressive Customer readily complains, often loudly and at length
Your response: Always take this consumer offline via direct messaging or email. Listen completely and ask, “What else?”
Agree that a problem exists, and indicate what will be done to resolve it and when. If you solve the problem for this customer in a quick and efficient manner, you are likely to have a vocal and prolific advocate in all social channels.
Dangerous response: Don’t be aggressive in return. The Aggressive Customer does not respond well to excuses or reasons why the product or service was unsatisfactory.
3. The Big Tuna Customer expects the absolute best and is willing to pay for it. They are likely to complain in a reasonable manner, unless they are a hybrid of an Aggressive Customer.
Your response: The Big Tuna is interested in results and what you are going to do to recover from the customer service breakdown.
Always listen respectfully and actively, questioning carefully to fully determine the cause of the problem. Quickly and publicly acknowledge the issue online and then go offline to correct the situation.
Like the Aggressive Customer, the Big Tuna customer is not interested in excuses, and is likely to purchase additional products and services if treated well online and offline.
4. The Opportunist Customer’s goal is not to get the complaint satisfied but, rather, to win by getting something the customer is not entitled to receive. A constant and repetitive “not good enough” response to efforts to satisfy this customer is a sure indicator of an opportunist.
Your response: Remain unfailingly objective. Use accurate, quantified information to back up your response, whether publicly on Facebook or Twitter. Be sure any adjustment you make is in keeping with what your cleaner would normally do under the circumstances.
Consider asking, “What can I do to make things right?” after the first “not good enough.”
These types of customers are very likely to want to take conversations offline, because in most cases the community will step up and defend your cleaner if the opportunist is obviously trying to get something for nothing.
5. The Chronic Complainer Customer is never satisfied; something is always wrong. This customer’s mission is to whine. Yet, she is your customer, and as frustrating as she can be, she cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Your response: Extraordinary patience is required, and a dialogue with should never take place through social channels. Listen carefully, completely and never get angry. A sympathetic ear, a sincere apology, and an honest effort to correct the situation are likely to be the most productive.
Unlike Opportunist Customers, most Chronic Complainer customers will accept and appreciate your efforts to make things right. Most of the time, they want an apology and will appreciate it when you listen. Overall, they tend to be good customers despite constant complaining) and will tell others about your positive response to their complaints.
Customer interactions via social media
Social media differs from more traditional media in that interactions with customers are direct yet widely visible to others. Therefore the potential for massive reputational impact is very real.
The cleaner who truly grasps that fact, and therefore uses customer service professionals to interact effectively with customers, will win the customer retention race.
No matter what the customer type, keep these rules in mind when interacting with them via comments on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels:
Be human. Tell them your name, show them your profile, and always address them by their name.
Show empathy. Saying “I am sorry” both publicly and privately goes a long way. Your legal team may object to your doing so, but it’s critical that you validate the feelings that the customer is having at that moment.
Answer within minutes, not days, particularly on weekends.
Set up an approval process and build trust internally. Empower your team to answer questions quickly with pre-approved content and tools that enable approvals to be handled through multiple channels.
Whether meek or aggressive, customers are more empowered than ever to write reviews, tweet, or post to your Facebook wall, and they expect you to listen and respond.
For many companies, social media is an added responsibility on top of what is an already very long list. But ignoring or minimizing its importance can have disastrous consequences. Taking just a few minutes to respond can move the needle on positive customer engagement and, ultimately, retention.

Neil Schroeder has been in the marketing industry for the past 15 years. He is president and creative director of the Golomb Group, developing direct response, social media, in-house promotions and web site campaigns for drycleaners throughout the nation. He can be reached by phone at (800) 833-0560, by email at neils@golombgroup.com or on the web at www.golombgroup.com.