Take a breath: how to deal with customer complaints on social media

No business owner likes customer complaints.

But a public complaint on social media? That can have a larger impact – and it can feel so much worse.

Customers with smartphones: sharing coverage of your venue
Customers with smartphones: sharing coverage of your venue

Yesterday I came across a story about a Sydney café owner and the colourful response to a complaint posted on the business’s Facebook page.

The customer’s complaint was six words; the response from the business was lengthy, fluctuating between reasonable and vitriolic, and full of emotion. It shared some frustrations about running a business and lashed out at customers who don’t take the time to share their feedback directly with venues while they’re there.

I don’t want to dwell on this one example of social media argy-bargy, but offer some broad tips when it comes to dealing with published customer complaints. These tips may seem like commonsense, but they’re very important especially in the heat of the moment when you may be feeling incensed.

Tips for dealing with complaints on social media:

  1. Take a breath.
  2. Don’t respond immediately. You may regret what you publish.
  3. Write a draft response first – on paper or in a Word document or whatever – but not on the platform. You might even want to write a mock angry response to let your emotions out. You might want to show your draft response to a colleague or friend or partner.
  4. Think of it in context. What platform did it appear on, and where? On a Facebook Page for example, one fan-initiated comment does not get sent to all fans of your page – it appears in the Recent Posts by Others panel (see below). You may be the only person who ever reads it. Was it a complaint directly tweeted to you? How many followers does that person have, and was the tweet phrased so it would reach them or just you?
  5. How you respond will reflect on you perhaps more than the original complaint. Be diplomatic, generous, interested and tactful.
  6. If the customer is wrong, diplomatically put forward your side of the story. Don’t be afraid to correct them – nicely. They might have confused you with another business, they might have published incorrect pricing or menu details for example. But be succinct. If you find yourself ranting about supplier prices, your employees, the state of the economy … it is definitely time to stop typing.


The 'recent posts by others' panel on a Facebook business page
The ‘recent posts by others’ panel on a Facebook business page

Also remember:

  • This happens to a lot of organisations. It’s the social world we’re dealing with. It’s not just you. In your personal life, you probably value other people’s reviews and recommendations.
  • An occasional bad review can lend more veracity to your good reviews  – there’s balance on your page and you’re clearly not censoring or stacking feedback.
  • Other people will look at the overall context of published reviews on your social media accounts – and they will make up their own minds. One of the things they’ll take into account is how you’ve responded to complaints in the past.
  • Most people can spot unreasonable gripes and whingers. They’ll be on your side – just make sure to keep them there by demonstrating your empathetic customer service skills.

Have you ever had someone complain about you online? How did you deal with it?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Agreed. The owner of the cafe needed to walk away and calm down. One small bad review amongst (what he claims) to be a majority of positive reviews doesn’t warrant a response like this. All they’ve done is draw attention to the situation..

    1. Prakky says:

      Yes – he alludes to his good reviews. Now some of that is tarnished.

  2. Sam says:

    That photo is gross haha!

    1. Prakky says:

      Haha! I wondered if you’d notice Sam. (I also wondered at first if you were a person complaining about the blog post as a joke).

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