Managing disgruntled customers

Social media

A little less than a decade ago customers were not able to express their views about service delivery in public spaces in a way that would prompt a response from organisations that would have been caught out of line as far as excellent customer service is concerned. Customers would find it difficult to express their reviews about the service they would have received and get their concerns heard or reach key people who would sanction adequate actions to be taken in responding to resolving their queries. This was fundamental because communication was largely one way with few-to-no options for organisations to receive customer feedback. 

However, the advent of the internet and the use of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram as well as LinkedIn, among other popular sites, has changed the narrative as customers now have a voice and platforms to launch their positive as well as negative feedback.

These platforms have since cemented the old adage that says a customer is a king in that they have made customers not only kings, but kings with a plethora of options and choices to choose from.

Today’s customers receive an insurmountable amount of advertisements from brands that are chasing customers in a fragmented market place and this has made competition to be quite immense as competing brands come up with marketing strategies and initiatives to provide better product options.

Whilst social media has given power to customers, its existence has somehow been a thorn in the flesh for organisations that have not set aside strategies and or trained their internal stakeholders to manage customers who air their grievances and express their displeasures through social media channels.

Some market leaders with a quite impressive market share have been caught off guard in this regard and have failed to handle disgruntled customers let alone convincingly respond to them online. In a recent incident that went viral on Twitter and Facebook, a popular and widely followed talent search, blogger and artist promoter bought fast food at a restaurant that happened to have not been properly cooked and prepared. The blogger went on his social media accounts to express his dissatisfaction about the meal that he had been served.

This has become a popular and immediate action that today’s customers engage in as they seek to get compensated with products that offer value for money. The blogger’s post was immediately picked by an organisation that is a direct competitor to the former and was offered a meal and naturally as expected other competing brands followed suit in a bid to steal the limelight as well as appear to be better service providers. All these actions by these competing brands were deliberate and were one way or the other intended to lure and appear to many of the blogger’s followers as caring brands that offer a better and appealing option.

In my personal observation, I have seen this as a worrying trend where organisations use their social media suites to manage an unhappy customer who would have expressed their negative views using social media. I have seen organisations making fast paced efforts to silence the victims of poor customer service delivery by giving them product replacements, grocery vouchers and posing for photos with them. It appears to be a great public relations routine that puts a pause to online brand naming and shaming but, what about those customers who would have been served the whole time who may not have gone on social media to launch their complains, what about all those customers who would have been served the same batch of products that did not perform as expected and what about those who would have been served the same poorly prepared meal portion and never speak out but simply walked away and switched to competition. One individual commented on the blogger’s post and said that they received a similar kind of a not-so-well prepared meal from the same outlet 4 years ago and that was the last time they bought a meal from that outlet. This means they may have silently switched to competing brands.

All these questions raise a need for change of strategies in managing disgruntled customers and come up with lasting solutions that allow organisations to retain customers because competing brands are on high alert for any lapse in service delivery and are ready to pounce and offer a better and affordable quality service, that’s how brutal the market place is.

Once a customer posts negative views about how they have been poorly served, organisations need to go beyond responding with promises to compensate them with a better service and should rather relook into the whole value chain system with a view of tracing all activities that happen at every touch point. Dealing with one unhappy customer and posing for photos with them is equal to dealing with just symptoms and not the root cause. 

Revisiting the value chain activities and tracing the weak links in the system eliminates the recurrence of the same poor service offering. Revisiting the value chain involves the creation of finished products right from the preliminary designs and supply of raw materials to the arrival in the customer's hands. It requires employees to avoid making decisions alone at every step of the process. This will help to protect the image of the brand and spare it from having to go on social media now and again for a public relations exercise that could have been avoided as well as increase chances for an organisation to retain customers and have positive online reviews.

Recently, another social media user posted a complaint about a local organisation in the insurance and risk management sector on her Twitter account and the post went viral attracting massive scrutiny of the terms and conditions of the business. Dealing with customers, both current and potential who are armed with social media, requires an organisation to avoid responding in haste. There is a need for an organisation to coordinate with every one of its functions and formulate a sound, acceptable and realistic response which is aimed at educating, correcting, reminding as well as informing the stakeholders on the position of the organisation regarding the criticism.

Also, when organisations are faced with such criticism there is a need to let the right people or function respond to such issues. Having the higher offices of an organisation become the first respondents to such critics is too risky to the brand image and reputation as they may not respond in an expected or satisfactory manner and once they miss it in their responses the whole organisation is said to have failed. If a function that is lower than a higher office takes care of the issue in terms of responding, and the market reacts negatively to the response it then gives room for higher offices to show up and correct whatever would have been initially mis-communicated and not vice-versa. 

Another way of managing disgruntled customers is by adjusting your mindset. Once you become aware that your customer is not happy, you should prioritise putting yourself into a customer service mindset. This is done by setting aside any feelings that tell you that the situation is not your fault, or that your customer is missing important information on the critics that they have raised. Adjusting your mindset gives total focus to the customer as well as the critics at hand. Once this is done there is a need to offer a solution and use proper communication channels to make the solution known to your unhappy customers. There are various ways of doing this.

For example, an organisation can communicate the solution through a campaign that is aimed at addressing all the key points of criticism that were collectively raised on social media. The last step in managing disgruntled customers is to leave channels for feedback open. After a social media backlash, some organisations block individuals so that they do not have access to tag, comment and respond to their posts. This should be avoided as it exposes an organisation as one that does not accept criticism and one that is not equipped with strategies to handle customer grievances.

Mutsikwi is a marketing professional and he is currently the public relations and marketing officer at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz).

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