Response Etiquette for Public Customer Comments

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Nothing can derail a perfect day in the contact center like a public comment from a customer calling your company out for a feature or service that you lack or something you failed to do. 

Whether it’s on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube, Instagram, or some other public forum, a good public rant is almost sure to get the attention of everyone in the company. And guess who’s going to handle the complaint if the CEO personally brings it to the attention of the contact center? I’d say the leader of the contact center is likely to be heavily involved if not directly handling the issue themselves. 

Situations like this are definitely enough to raise the collective blood pressure in your contact center. Allow me to share such a situation that occurred earlier this year.

A customer called us out on YouTube

Several months ago I received a message from a member of our marketing team alerting me to a comment we had received on one of our YouTube videos. They asked if I wanted to respond and I obliged. Here’s what the customer said:

Having a customer service number to contact you would be nice.  I can’t find one even though you have a good knowledge base. Have you forgotten customer interaction is needed sometimes?

For a bit of context, it is true that we don’t publicly post a contact phone number on our website — but we do call customers if they ask for it. I realize there may be varying opinions about this practice, but for a small business, it’s never trivial to add another support channel. That’s mostly a topic for another post.

After giving it some thought and some internal investigation, here’s how I responded:

Hi [Customer], Jeremy here. (I’m the guy in the video) While our preferred method of talking with our customers is by email, we recognize that sometimes a phone call is a more effective means of communication. Please feel free to reach out to our support team and include your number and a member of our team will reach out to you.

And finally, my favorite part of this exchange is how the customer responded:

Thanks, I managed to find an answer in your FAQ.  Keep up the great service!

So in the end, the customer didn’t need a phone call. They were able to find the answer all on their own. And we got a “THANK YOU!!!!! :)” response at the very end of the thread. I love a good 180-degree turnaround and so did all of the eyes at my company that watched this interaction play out.

What we can learn from public customer comments

Yes, these sorts of situations put all eyes on the contact center — and with that may come a level of discomfort. But what if we instead relished the spotlight and showed our true strength to the rest of our organization? We are experts at connecting with customers and solving their issues. Here are my five takeaways from this experience.

1. Learn about the customer and attempt to address their issue privately

When a customer calls you out publicly, the last thing you want is a shouting match. The internet is watching and they will never forget how you handled this. Do what you can to find the customer in your system and see if you can first resolve their issue privately. If they ask for a phone call, give them a call. I find that most customers only take to public channels after trying to interact with us privately first.

2. ALWAYS respond publicly

Yes, some folks are trolls, just hoping to get a rise out of you — but these folks are the minority. Most people who complain publicly have a genuine concern. Here are three considerations as you respond:

  1. When you don’t know who the customer is – In this case, I wasn’t able to identify the customer so I attempted to move them to a private channel with my public-facing response.
  2. When you were able to identify them and resolve their issue privately – In cases where you’re able to address their issue privately, thank them for collaborating with you on a solution. In many cases, you’ll want to do both steps one and two as part of a complete response. 
  3. When you aren’t able to resolve the customer’s issue or it’s too late and they’ve taken their business elsewhere – It’s OK to acknowledge publicly that you weren’t able to resolve the customer’s issue or you weren’t able to accommodate their desired timeline. 

No, you won’t always be able to perfectly wrap up the situation but you should still respond publicly regardless. The internet assumes that you are just like all other unresponsive companies, so prove them wrong.

3. Take the high road

There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with or insulting the customer. In your response, focus on what you can do. Regardless of how angry or insulting the customer has been, stick to the facts, use empathy, and stay positive. You may be able to turn more customers around than you think. If you’re not sure if you’ve properly taken the high road, have a colleague review your response before posting it.

4. Be a human

I chuckle a bit when I consider that, even though the customer wanted a phone call, they were able to solve their problem using our knowledge base. Customers are leery of before forced to interact with a bot or a web page — especially when they suspect that the company has replaced all of their human employees with bots. With a well-written, human response, you ensure the customer that they will never be hung out to dry when the self-service options fail.

5. Get your entire team on board

The last thing I observed from this situation is that I as the leader of our contact center took control of the situation. In some cases, that’s a good thing because I’m the person who’s ultimately accountable for the support we provide to our customers. 

But I also recognize that this would have been a great opportunity to respond as a team and help others in our company build their comfort in responding in these situations. My challenge to myself as a leader is to collaborate with and trust my team to do the right thing and respond intelligently. This practice will only make us stronger.

As I conclude, responding to customers who call you out publicly can be a scary thing. Everyone is watching. But have no fear. Instead, take a deep breath, aim to solve the customer’s issue, and respond publicly with a thoughtful, human reply. Do those things and you’ll find that most situations end positively. 

This article was created as part of the Vistio Knowledge Collective.

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