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Reputation management 101: how to handle pissed off customers

Reputation management 101: how to handle pissed off customers

We should’ve seen this one coming.

What happened?

A combination of several internal factors set the scene for this whole situation. Some people in the company I worked for intentionally overpromised our clients – regarding their return of investment. Other employees had simply been overly optimistic about the estimated delivery time of products for end users.

We had business clients not seeing one single promised ROI improvement. We had customers still waiting for their products more than half a year after they had paid for them. Needless to say, both of these groups were royally pissed off.

They needed to vent – and vent they did. This spread not only across social media, but on review sites, to printed press, and TV as well.

This was, by the way, at the same company where this debacle played out, and at a time when social analytics tools fell quite short in every respect, with the exception of publishing functions and playing up vanity metrics.

Since the delivery was in many ways out of our control, there were quite a few people who were understanding, and showed their support for the situation the company was in. So we had discussions going on – mostly via Facebook, plus various review sites – with two clear sides. One that was accommodating, and one that was bashing us.

What did you do?

We couldn’t do any real sentiment analysis of the media and social conversations going on to distinguish the haters from the lovers. This was challenging, as you need to address the first group carefully, while acknowledging the second group who’ve been taking your side – without contaminating the discussions themselves. So trying to define our online community, both advocates and badvocates, was virtually impossible, apart from grabbing a few screenshots here and there. To further complicate matters, this meant that our brand reputation management efforts were incredibly time consuming.

Of course, not all the issues described in this post could have been solved by simply implementing a social analytics tool, but it would have made the pace, timing and scope of the damage control a whole lot easier – not to mention cost-efficient.

How did it turn out?

As with all storms, this one settled eventually, with a mammoth effort from our Communications Director, CEO, as well as client and customer compensation. The long term effect, however, was that our brand reputation was really tarnished. This was reflected in what would evolve into consistently negative feedback across brand reviewing sites, blogs and our own social media channels. Credibility had taken a huge blow, from which the company was to have a hard time recovering over the following years – eventually leading them to close shop.

Lessons

Ensure that you have a proper analytics tool capable of categorising your community – according to the sentiment of their discussions. See to it that you can present brewing scenarios to your CEO in an easy, visually comprehensible way, to enable clear action points that not only involve the communication department, but sales, customer service and management as well.

See also our other relevant Reputation Management 101 articles, e.g. "how to deal with email shitstorms" and "how to handle email fraud".  

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