By Princess Jones

There was a time when customer service complaints came in over the phone or in person. You’d handle the problem and what happened there stayed there. And even when it didn’t, it traveled as fast as word of mouth instead of the speed of a tweet. But in an age where it’s easier for someone to upload a pic, make a post, or write a tweet than to come to you directly, you have to be prepared to handle customer problems in a public arena.

Step 1: Listen

The first step to taking on any unhappy customer, whether in person, on the phone, or online, is to listen to her concerns. Sometimes, just having someone stop what they are doing and listen to your problem goes a long, long way.

If you’re reading a post, tweet, or review, read it carefully several times before you respond. Ask for more information if you need it. Allow the customer to tell you what happened and even how they feel about it before you make any statements.

Step 2: Cut the Defensiveness

Your business is your baby. You put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It can be very hard to hear someone criticize it. You may find yourself bubbling with excuses and attacks to level back at the critic but fight it. Remember that the best thing for you, your business, and your disgruntled customer is to resolve this as quickly as possible. If you want to do that, leave your defensiveness at the door.

Step 3: Take It Private

Once you’ve acknowledged the problem and stamped out any defensiveness in your response, it’s time to get to work. When the outcry has happened publicly, your first priority should be to take it private.

Reach out through private message to get an email address or phone number where you can contact the person making a complaint. If that’s not possible, just respond to the comment publicly with an offer to help. If they are interested in resolving the issue, they will gladly offer it. And you’ll do a much better job of handling this if you don’t have the entire Internet interjecting in the conversation.

Step 4: Resolve It

Now it’s time to resolve the problem. In most cases that’s going to be a refund or credit but it might be a replacement product or service. Be sure to process it as quickly as possible. Every moment your angry customer has to wait for it is a moment they are still being a negative ambassador for your brand.

You might also need to issue an apology, depending on the situation. Just make sure that it’s frank and genuine. Acknowledge your culpability without being tempted to throw in what you think the customer did wrong. Reiterate your business’ mission to provide quality products or services. Your apology will definitely have more weight to it if it comes personally from a key employee. That could be a manager or the owner. Just make sure that it’s clear the issue was escalated in some way.

It’s also so important for you to follow-up with your disgruntled customer after they have received whatever resolution you’ve agreed upon. Use your discretion on the time span, but I wouldn’t recommend more than a week after they’ve received their refund/credit/replacement. Make sure that they are happy with the resolution and listen to any suggestions they may have about the way the situation was handled.

This may seem like going above and beyond the call of duty but that’s what such a public situation calls for. Remember if you turn a vocal hater into a fan, they’ll be just as vocal in your favor.