Do’s and don’ts for customer service—social media style

Customer Service
Social media offers businesses a good pulse of those customers who are both engaged and tech-savvy, but on the flip side, it’s very public, which isn’t always the best way to have difficult conversations.

What are best-in-class retailers and other businesses doing to respond to customer service complaints over social media? Here are some straightforward do’s and don’ts to better manage service issues in a public forum:


  • Understand the trade-offs. Social media is very timely and provides a good pulse of those customers who are both engaged and tech-savvy, said Ross Moser, SVP and GM of Portfolio Businesses for Survey Monkey. “On the flip side, it’s a very public channel, which isn’t always the best solution for a difficult conversation with a customer.”
  • Seek to understand. “First, determine whether the complaint is valid,” writes Peter Gasca, small business consultant and contributor to “If it comes from a customer or client, then it is important that you respond.”
  • Take it offline. “If the complaint is [from] a legitimate customer or client, and you have contact information, pick up the phone and deal with it directly,” advised Gasca. “Nobody needs to see your ‘dirty laundry’ spread all over social media.”
  • Respond carefully. Validate the concerns expressed, be accountable, provide directions on how to resolve the complaint (partly for the benefit of third parties) and communicate the resolution, Gasca advised. When responding to an angry comment, try to find a high (or higher) road, wait to send your response for awhile after drafting it to make sure you’ve “cooled off,” and have a trusted friend or colleague read it before sending.
  • Respond quickly. “It’s challenging for big brands to do that,” said Jonathan Barouch, founder and CEO of Local Measure. Timeliness helps a customer feel heard, understood and respected, even if they don’t get their ideal outcome, Moser said. “That tends to get you to a relatively good place.” Respond just as quickly elsewhere. 
  • Be clear about where customers can get the best support. “For us, it’s through our help center, which allows us to know who the customer is [and] what type of package they have,” said Moser. “And it allows us to dig into their account very easily, which is hard to do based on their Twitter handle or Facebook name.”
  • Be authentic, genuine and transparent. Write back personally and sign off with your own name, so people know whom they’re talking to, Barouch said. If you’re not transparent, “social media will find a way to ‘out’ you,” said Sarah Burke, content manager for Spokal. “Customer service creates stories that end up being word-of-mouth marketing. It’s funny that you have to keep mentioning it, but you have to be human.”
  • Respond publicly when you’ve resolved a complaint privately. “Even if you’ve solved the problem with a customer in a private channel, the public perception may be very different,” Moser said. This is advantageous “especially if the outcome is positive,” he said.
  • Subtly cultivate ambassadors. Customers sometimes ask, “What can I do to tell people [about a positive result]?” Moser said. “We sometimes say, ‘There’s no responsibility on your part, but if you want to follow up [on social media], we’d love that.’ ”

RELATED: 29% of consumers pick chat as preferred customer service channel


  • Seek lengthy or complicated resolutions on social media. “Going back and forth 10 or 15 times probably does more damage [to the brand],” said Barouch. “We like to see our clients taking those conversations offline.”
  • Respond too quickly. “It is incredibly important, especially with the lightning-fast speed at which messages can propagate through social media, to respond promptly,” Gasca writes. “If responding quickly means not taking your time to fully understand the situation, however, your response may reflect the unpreparedness.”
  • Rely on automated responses. While it might seem like a good way to ensure timeliness, a shiny, happy autoresponse can sound silly and make the situation worse after a customer rants and raves, Burke said. A canned generic response can backfire, turning a customer off rather than resolving the issue.
  • Be defensive. “Just admit what you’ve done, say ‘I’m sorry’ and rectify things as much as possible,” Burke said. “People get sensitive and make excuses, but that’s not going to go down well. It creates a tension and has a rippling effect. [Third parties] end up taking sides.”