PR Week recently reported that more companies are increasingly using social media “to mend damaged reputations”, perhaps because that same social media makes reputation threats in general, and customer complaints in particular, more visible.
When customer complaints arrived by phone or mail companies would not always respond quickly, if at all. In Australia, unanswered complaints to ISPs and mobile phone companies appear to be increasing, while in the UK there are reports that complaints made by phone and email are ignored, despite rapid responses to sales enquiries.
It’s a different story on public platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
When responding to complaints, companies still need to treat their communication with common sense – and they definitely need to address the issue. Ignoring it or trying to cover it up can backfire. However, delivery is just as important as the message. After Domino’s suffered negative publicity from an infamous employee video, the company released a YouTube clip in which its president apologised for the incident. There was praise for this “swift, smart and strong” response, but Adweek reader McMatt commented that “the scripted, cue-card approach really kills any personal connection to the brand”.
Of course, the popularity of both the complainant and the company can have an impact on the effectiveness of the message. After being removed from a Southwest Airlines flight, director Kevin Smith immediately discussed his experience on Twitter, resulting in several apologies from the Southwest Airlines Twitter account. Stephen Fry took offence at a Daily Mail article, leading a campaign for censure from the Press Complaints Commission, although some thought that it signalled a shift towards the evils of social media. Even Facebook itself caved to pressure from groups unhappy with its latest privacy policies.
As a result of the growing visibility of complaints, most large corporations have concentrated on responding through official corporate accounts: Toyota and what was viewed as mainly positive information of its Prius recall, furniture store Habitat’s apology for spamming and PR firm Ketchum for insulting a client’s hometown.
In at least one case, however, official accounts have caused the problems. Worth noting, though, that Vodafone UK’s quick response to an offensive tweet was widely praised, possibly bringing more positive attention to the firm than if the whole incident had never happened.