Dealing with customer complaints on social media

Key points
  • Today’s customer is also a potential reviewer and social media provides a chance to provide negative as well as positive feedback
  • It’s imperative to invest the time to moderate posts and respond to complaints
  • You need to identify whether the complaint is genuine or fake before you can follow up
  • Complex complaints require apology and investigation and often you can rectify matters by inviting disgruntled customers to enjoy a complimentary meal    

NEGATIVE CUSTOMER COMMENTS on social media platforms can certainly be bad for business – but you can make matters even worse by not responding appropriately.

Unfortunately, the best way to respond to complaints isn’t always easy to judge. If they’re posted on your business’ Facebook page, you’ll be able to delete them – but doing so, even when they are clearly unreasonable, can be seen as censorship, while leaving them up can give others the impression that you don’t care about your customers and aren’t interested in rectifying problems.

A growing problem faced by foodservice businesses in dealing with complaints is trying to decide whether they’re genuine. Fake reviews - sometimes posted by rival businesses to damage the competition - have become so commonplace that Restaurant & Catering Australia has pushed for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission to introduce greater regulation of online review platforms.

The ACCC itself has also recognised the seriousness of the issue, with an entire section on its website on managing online reviews which covers both the genuine and fake/misleading variety.

What’s important to remember is that today, every customer is also a potential reviewer – and that while social media provides an avenue to promote your business, it also offers disgruntled customers a chance to spread negative feedback about it.

While it’s often a challenge for foodservice businesses to invest the necessary administration time into moderating social media posts and responding to complaints, it’s becoming increasingly important to do so.

Responding promptly to complaints or bad reviews is essential, as is striving to identify as early as possible whether is genuinely from one of your customers. You can do this by making contact with the customer, acknowledging their complaint via a personal address (calling them by their first name shows you are treating them as an individual, not a generic customer) and asking them:

* Where and when they bought food from your establishment

* Who served them and the nature of the problem

Once you have established that the customer complaint is authentic, the next step is to respond with an apology about the fact that the customer wasn’t happy with the food or service they received.

Simple complaints, such as waiting too long to be seated or served, can often be resolved simply by saying sorry and explaining that staff shortages or an unexpectedly busy service period were to blame.

More complex ones, such as those involving a wrong order or a staff member being rude or unhelpful, will require further investigation. In these cases, ask the customer to provide all the relevant details and then tell them you’ll talk to the staff member involved to get their side of the story.

Remember that when dealing with customer complaints, the promptness of your response, your ability to remain polite and helpful, and a sincere tone can go a long way to rectify the problem.

It is also often helpful to take the conversation offline – that is, to provide the customer with your email address so that further followup can take place in private, away from social media where others can see the discussion.

When you have identified the reasons for the customer’s unhappiness and that their complaint is valid (and sometimes it will turn out to be the case that your staff have done their best and the customer was simply difficult and/or unreasonable), you can ask the customer to give you a second chance – perhaps via a meal ‘on the house’. This gives you the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.