So you've taken the social media plunge and begun interacting with your customers online. You've started answering their questions and helping them solve their problems. You're also working to make amends to dissatisfied customers. That's great, but you need to remember a key point: social media is a public venue. This dictates how you respond.
What do I mean by this? You may not want the full details of your customer's situation to come out online – and for that matter, your customer might not want that either. And this could be true for perfectly innocent reasons. As Mike Moran notes in a piece for Search Engine Guide, “If you are providing medical care, personal care, or financial services, you don't want any client-specific situation anywhere in public. Not only is it a disservice to your client, sometimes it is against the law.”
What do you do in a situation like this? You ask your client or customer if they're willing to discuss the issue offline. Tell them you would like to continue to assist them via email or phone or in person. Many social media sites offer their own form of private messaging attached to the site; use this to arrange a more private session. Once that's done, post to the public thread of your discussion with your customer that the matter is being handled privately, offline. That way, anyone reading the public exchange will know that you're not ignoring your customer.
If you're not in the fields of medical care, personal care, or financial services – and I would cautiously add the legal field to that list – then the matter is more complicated. How do you practically manage a conversation in social media, where the whole world can eavesdrop and chime in? Moran notes that “You want to leave the best possible impression with that customer” as well as “with all of the onlookers in that very public social media venue.” Consider the details of the situation. Would they be uncomfortable for you or your customer to discuss in public? If so, you'll want to offer to move the discussion offline.
That's not the only situation in which you might want to move the discussion out of social media. Social websites aren't the best places for long exchanges about sensitive personal matters where emotions run high; things have a way of escalating. Moran notes that “If you can't provide a detailed but reasonable answer in a single response,” you might want to ask the customer to contact you offline. If they take you up on it, be as patient and gracious as you can, and work hard to solve their problem – because they just might return to the original public thread afterward to tell everyone how it went. “Just be as reasonable as you can be,” says Moran, “and if the customer remains unreasonable, you're at least doing the best that you can.” Good luck!
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