10 Steps to handling customer complaints via social media channels

I don’t know about you, but when a company is bad at handling customer complaints, i.e. my complaint, it’s not in me to drop it.

I often take my frustration online where said company can’t hide…

Twitter and Facebook are my helpful enablers.

Now it’s got to be said: when I have used social media to make my point, none of the companies used the opportunity to turn me into a raving (in a good way) fan of theirs. Some have tried, but most – especially South African companies – have absolutely no clue.

It’s a good thing I happen to understand what the root cause of their problem is (untrained employees and a lack of effective business processes) so that I don’t take it personally, but let’s be real here: most people who complain and get no joy will simply walk away, with a lingering bitter taste in their mouth, never to be seen by said company again.

As a business owner, how are you doing with handling customer complaints via social media channels? When customers speak about your service to their family and friends, are they boasting about your great service, or are they spewing bitterness about how you handled their complaint?

In this article, learn the steps of handling customer complaints via social media, so that word spreads about how brilliant your brand is.

And leave a sweet taste on the tongues of your customers…

Step #1: Set up the complaint handling process

Do you have a social media complaint handling process, or do you deal with virtual gripes willy-nilly?

To handle negativity effectively, you need to have a process in place that gets followed by your team with precision.

For instance, questions you many want to brainstorm are:

  1. Who on your team is in charge of handling negative complaints and comments on Facebook and Twitter?
  2. How will that person know when someone has made a grievance online?
  3. How will that person deal with it?
  4. And when they’ve dealt with the issue, what then?
  5. How will your brand use the complaint for continual service improvements?

CTA for handling customer complaints processStep #2: Create customer service standards

Define your customer service standards. What this means is that the people in your company need to know how to deal with customer complaints.

For example, how long should it take before someone responds to online negativity in whatever form it comes? Is it OK to let the griper stew for an hour, 3 hours or 24 hours?

How should the responsible person respond? How much authority does the staff member have to make decisions that may affect your bottom line?

Step #3: Don’t dilly-dally

Be fast to acknowledge negativity on social media channels. Most people won’t expect you to have immediate answers or solutions, but they just want to know they’ve been heard.

But most companies do not hear the voice of their customers. Why do you suppose sites like Hellopeter are doing so well? Because it’s a place dissatisfied people go to in order to feel heard.

Generally, when someone receives a fast acknowledgment of their complaint (if it’s personalized, not automated that is), they will simmer down faster.

Step #4: Be transparent

We all make mistakes and most of your customers know that companies make mistakes too. It’s easy to forgive a transgressor who admits they were wrong.

Please don’t remove a bad comment – that kind of makes you look guilty by default. Anyway, people know that companies mess up no matter how sterling they are; it looks more credible to have a negative comment here or there, so long as it is responded to by the company and not left hanging.

Step #5: Take ownership

Whoever manages your complaint handling needs to make the problem their own, and find a solution that will satisfy the complainant.

“Ag sorry hey” just doesn’t cut it.

Think of ways to turn the negativity into delight. It encourages customers to spread the word about how you handled their complaint.

The better the solution, the better word-of-mouth advertising you’re going to receive.

Step #6: Take it off the public platform

While you need to acknowledge the negatively online, take the discussion offline as soon as possible.

Step #7: Personalize it

Don’t use automated, generic one-size-fits-all comebacks. Tailor your response for the individual so that he or she feels heard. I.e., base your acknowledgment on what the person has said.

For example: the negative comment reads like this:

“I have tried contacting ABC Company for the last 7 days and they just don’t get back to me”.

An effective reply to that would be:

“I am so sorry you haven’t been able to get hold of us. We’re normally very prompt. I will have to check what went wrong and get back to you. In the meantime, what was the reason you wanted to get in touch? I would like to help you.”

Step #8: Implement an escalation & continual improvement plan

When you’ve handled the complaint, what then? Most companies would leave it at that. But use the negativity for continual improvement by setting up a customer complaints and compliments process.

Step #9: Follow up

It’s a great idea to follow up after the issue has been dealt with and the dust has settled.

It tells the person that as a company, you encourage customers to speak up and voice their dissatisfaction, and that you actually do something with what they tell you. This will make your customers want to provide feedback more often, which is what you want (yes, you do because without their input, how will you know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong?).

Step #10: It’s not about you

Don’t make the mistake of taking negativity personally, even when the customer rants at “you people”. It’s directed at the company as a whole, even if the customer is displaying anger towards you.

Rationally speaking, he is targeting his anger towards you as the company representative, but not towards you as a human being.

Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you.


It’s easier to be like the ostrich and bury your head in the sand, but if you do, you are missing out on two major opportunities for your business:

1) To create a raving fan out of a disgruntled customer and
2) To use the feedback for continual service improvement

It’s a good thing that your customers complain! Encourage it.

CTA for handling customer complaints process

What is your experience with complaint handling? Have a story you care to share? Do so in the comments below.

Author: Claire
Not just a writer, Claire specialises in increasing your website traffic and online sales through the use of smart, search engine optimised content that is targeted towards a certain audience. She specialises in compiling online content for SaaS, Telecoms, small business and marketing. Claire comes from a background in marketing and service operations analytics focusing on the customer experience.