We all strive to have a perfect day, sell the perfect product, say only the right things. Unfortunately, despite all our greatest intentions or efforts, things do happen. Ralph Savage , Business Journalist, PR Professional and Visiting Lecturer at UCLAN shared an article recently via LinkedIn: Social Media: Squeaky Clean Image . He inquired if anyone had any thoughts on this issue, stating/asking: "It's probably time for companies to have a policy on dealing with customers spouting off in chatrooms/twitter/facebook and so on isn't it?"
I reflected and, having recently encountered a situation which touched on this, I wanted to share my response.
As we become more active on social media, I think that it is important to actively analyze the potential for situations that could be damaging to our company's image. This is good business practice in any circumstance. On the same token, if we run our businesses with integrity, commit to upholding strong service values and ethics, then negative feedback or situations like this will not receive the buzz or attention feared - they may in fact turn into opportunities. Opportunities to show real situations and how they are favorably resolved - all in the public eye.
The world is not a perfect place , so how can we expect the social media stage to be? We have been dealing with responding to issues all along, now it is simply a matter of adapting to a new stage.
In my opinion, to succeed at this, the company's reputation, product & service need to be strong enough that the occasional outcry won't create a ruckus. Instead, readers will follow with interest.
Response has to be immediate and also in the public eye, so that the record is set straight.
- If you know your company is having a service issue, address it proactively and let others know what you are trying to do about it. This way, if a situation comes up, you have already put it on the table.
I think that, as an organization, you also need to make a decision about when you can focus on social media. If you have a failing product line, or a servicing issue, then perhaps it is not the best move to put yourself out there. Build your core first. Make sure you are operating to your standards, then promote. That’s the most proactive action anyone can take. Anything else is simply bad business.
We recently had our first "angry fan" on our Facebook page. A client who had been denied a claim found us on Facebook and aired a very nasty commentary regarding our service, making reference to how unfair the insurer was and how mistreated he had been by our brokerage. Naturally, this post was not only alarming, but disheartening. We now had an angry follower, who was potentially risking our image.
In addition, a second issue became evident: We had left ourselves open to some very negative publicity on our fan page. We were not prepared because we had not foreseen that our clients would use our fan page to generate such harmful publicity.
A bit of background on the issue. This client was upset that his insurance claim requesting removal of mould and its subsequent damage had been denied. He was now faced with full repair at his cost. Insurance is meant to cover sudden and accidental damage. Mold is certainly not sudden, and in his case would have taken months to develop. It is important to note that no insurer in any available market would have covered it. His frustration and anger at the denial of the claim was misdirected. He hadn’t accepted our initial response or explanations and therefore he used another means to restore equity: he attacked our public image.
I think that this is a good time to reflect upon the idea that if we, as relationship managers, set up strong and clear means to handle complaints, and we handle them effectively within that structure, the client may not feel the need to find another way.
This is how we handled our situation.
Fortunately we monitor our pages regularly throughout the day and evening. We were able to see the post within about 2 hours of it appearing.
We decided that, since the bad publicity had already gone out, we needed to control the situation in the public eye...not sweep it under a rug.
- The president of our company replied to his post with a detailed explanation and addressed all items the client brought up. The reply was professional and genuine. We took responsibility for the situation, yet made it clear what the actual situation was. (This is where integrity and always operating by your values comes in to save the day).
- We contacted the client by phone and directly addressed the situation. We also let him know that we had responded to him publicly.
We successfully managed the public relations challenge presented by this client. We were happy with our reaction and public response, but still had to evaluate this new social media threat and come up with a plan.
We asked ourselves, how did we leave ourselves open to this? Had we not seen this post in time, great damage could have been done.
We reviewed the settings available on our Facebook pages and made some changes controlling how users could interact with our page.
We closed off the ability to create new topics on the wall (disabling broadcast to all our followers in their news feeds). However, we maintained the ability for fans to comment on all posts. We took more control of our page and its capabilities (advice: know your social media tools) - something that we should have done from the onset.
This experience had taken us by surprise; however, it gave us a great learning experience and opportunity. We now have strategies in place to manage our social media and we make sure to be proactive in controlling how our various efforts are managed and promoted.
We are a third generation family run business. Although we have grown over the past 85 years to a point that we do not/can not run like a small "mom and pop" shop, we maintain those values in what we do every day.
We live by referral. Having lived through this situation, I believe it was the fact that we maintain our values and always strive to do our best for our clients that saved us.
By handling situations immediately and in a straightforward, honest way, I think we can all sleep better because we believe in the way we do business and in our products & services. When service issues come up, we can have faith that the disaster will not spread like fire because we will step up and do some quality crisis control.
- We need to implement Social Media Policies within our firms, keeping in mind they must be tailored to our products and services.
- We need to know the tools we are using and make sure that they meet the objective of what we are trying to achieve.
- We need to have integrity. Provide good service and support to our clients every day. Recognize that this is the core of our business.
The world will always have complainers, you can't control the world. You can take control of your world and how you approach situations and respond as an organization.
Ask yourself: What is our approach going to be? Align it with your values.
If we focus on this, maintain service levels, and product integrity, then social media will support continued success and what we do in a very positive way - every time.
Be true to your values, and this is what you will be known for.