A friend of mine who runs the social media function of a major public agency in Baltimore (she asked not to be named) has discovered the secret of turning complaints on Twitter and Facebook feeds into kudos. It helps to understand that her agency gets a lot of feedback from its correspondents. About 50 percent of the comments are queries, about 25 percent are complimentary and the other 25 percent are complaints. While handling the queries and compliments is pretty straightforward, the complaints are often challenging and vitriolic. Because my friend represents an organization of several thousand employees, her answers need to be measured, helpful and thoughtful. Here’s her checklist for answering Tweets that are clearly meant to provoke a defensive or angry response.
1. Remember that people just want to be heard. Accepting their point of view while resisting the urge to tell them that they’re wrong is often enough to allow the correspondent to “get it off their chest,” without their feeling that they need to escalate their complaint.
2. Stick to the facts. They’re hard to argue with, even when there’s a high emotional charge to the complaint.
3. Don’t admit doing anything wrong unless that’s clearly the case. You don’t need to admit wrongdoing to project empathy for the complainant’s point of view. If your organization IS in the wrong, however, acknowledge it and put it behind you.
4. Offer to fix the issue if that is possible. If not, tell the complainer what you’re going to do to alleviate their pain.
5. Prepare to lose the battle to win the war. Resist that snarky answer, apologize if necessary, let the person who took the time to write know that you took the time to really listen.
Here’s another way to look at it. If you have a good relationship with your spouse, consider whether you’d answer your wife or husband the way you’re responding to that Facebook or Twitter post. If that’s the case, chances are you’re on the right track. My friend recently told me the story of a man who complained via Twitter, but she handled his case so well that he ended up tweeting, "Let's never go to bed mad." Sounds like a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.