charlie chaplin in the lion cage

By Ekaterina Walter, {grow} Community Member

We read about how to turn happy customers into brand advocates, but what about the unhappy ones? There’s no point in investing time and effort into a brand advocacy program to activate your current customers when you still have detractors focusing on service or product issues that need to be resolved.

There is always a chance that things slip out of control for even the best-managed companies, but the strategy to deal with the problems can make the difference between a marketing nightmare and an opportunity to win new fans.

The Retail Consumer Report concluded that of the consumers who received a reply in response to their negative review 33 percent turned around and posted a positive review and 34 percent deleted their original negative review. In addition, 85 percent of these consumers said they would be willing to pay more (anywhere between 5-25 percent over the standard price) to ensure a superior customer experience.

It is my belief that you can turn the more vocal negative consumers into loyal customers – it is all in how you handle it. Let’s look at some examples and tips.

1) You must monitor

Many large companies such as Gatorade, Dell, the NFL, and the Red Cross have social media command centers to monitor perception of their brands in real time, follow trends, conduct conversations, and resolve complaints. Smart companies, small and large, also invest heavily in reputation management strategies, realizing that it only takes five minutes to ruin a reputation they have been building for years.

Tip: Even if you are a small business, make sure you spend time monitoring the digital conversations about your brand and understand the public perception. Perception = brand.

2) Have the right people in place

Even more important than the technology behind those command centers is the attitude companies take towards social media. Sometimes, things go wrong. Customers complain, staff screws up, a joke at your expense goes viral … But the way brands handle these disasters can make all the difference. Some brand have made their image worse via a response, but many have shown a capability of turning the situation around to their advantage – and win fans and positive publicity at the same time.

Tip: Always be honest, human, and authentic in addressing issues/concerns/mistakes. And most importantly, please hire an experienced community manager who knows your brand, your community, and how to engage your customers.

3) Be humble and human

It’s all too easy to post something on the wrong account, or to post something publicly that should be in a private message, but sometimes a social media mistake can cause serious red faces all round.

The following tweet went out from the Chrysler account:

chrysler tweet

(Image courtesy of Janrezab.com)

Clearly, this wasn’t an official tweet – someone had posted on the wrong account but it was wrong on so many levels: the f-bomb, the disrespect to their home city of Detroit, and the damage to their “Imported from Detroit” marketing campaign, to name a few. But rather than apologize, their initial response was to blame somebody else and said their account had been compromised, which just made the error look worse. A sensitive, well-explained post on their official blog finally addressed the issue, but there’s a lesson there about admitting to human error – and about ensuring that official and personal accounts are never able to be mixed up.

Tip: Admit you are human and that you make mistakes! People want to know that brands are human and that there are real people behind those cold corporate logos.

4) Diffuse with humor

Social media has the power to magnify mistakes and mistakes can happen to even the most social media-savvy organizations:

red cross tweet

(Image courtesy of Mashable)

The Red Cross resisted the temptation to panic, and instead sent a follow-up tweet acknowledging their mistake: “The Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

The tweet hit the right tone, and their use of humor and humility enabled the brewery mentioned – Dogfish Head – to turn the mishap into an opportunity to ask their followers to raise money for the American Red Cross using the hashtag #gettngslizzerd. The charity’s quick-thinking actions helped to turn a marketing slip into a fund-raising opportunity, thanks to a generous brewery!

Tip: It’s okay to laugh at yourself. A seemingly horrible situation can be turned into a great engagement opportunity (if executed tastefully).

5) Be quick about it

Zappos has built its brand on authentic customer service. Take a look at Zappos’ Facebook page for a master class in social engagement. Zappos responds to customers in a human and friendly way, and even when someone has a complaint, they are able to address it on the spot – and win more love from their fans. The brand takes customer care to the next level, and addresses any issues publicly and speedily. By showing their company commitment to service consistently and in the moment, they demonstrate the qualities that have earned them raving fans.

Tip: By responding quickly and professionally you demonstrate the qualities that earn loyalty from your existing customers, Focusing on the happiness of your current customers draws new customers through recommendations, positive word of mouth, and true passion toward your brand.

I’ll end this post with one more admonition — resist the temptation to delete or ignore negative comments. Respond to them in a genuine way, and others will see that good customer service really matters to you. I would love to hear about your best examples of brands who are skilfull at turning problems into opportunities. What is your experience on this issue?

ekaterina walterEkaterina Walter is the Co-founder and CMO of Branderati, a firm building influencer advocate networks. She is the author of Think Like Zuck and lists chocolate, books, fashion, and travel among her interests.

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