Handle Complaints via Private Messages rather than asking Customers to shout

If you upset your partner by forgetting a birthday, would you ask them to tell the neighbours by shouting from the bedroom window? Not likely! But that is exactly what most businesses are doing with their social media accounts.

Have a quick check on your own company's "Contact Us" page to see if it directs customers directly to public platforms like Facebook and Twitter? If so this article will explain how to handle complaints via private messages from start to finish as frequently as possible. We will also explain how to move public complaints to private messaging efficiently.

Dealing with disgruntled customers privately in this way gives you the opportunity to turn detractors into promoters before they air their grievances in public!

How most businesses handle customer complaints on social media today

Customers looking for the “Contact Us” page on your website frequently have a problem or complaint of one sort or another. There may be some value in handling problems in public, in terms of demonstrating your business’s prowess in social customer care. But that is a dangerous game to play. It only takes one slip or one deranged customer to offset all the previous good work.

In order to demonstrate my point, I have provided a few examples of how this can play out. Rather than picking on one company, I decided to pick on a sector — supermarket chains. We are based in Dublin, Ireland so I have provided links to the “Contact Us” pages for the 5 biggest supermarket chains in the country by market share:

All of these supermarkets send the customer from their "Contact Us" page to their public page, which results in posts like the ones below. Note that nearly every time a complaint is made, the retailer then asks the user to send a private or direct message (PM/DM).

Complaining in public on social networks

As you can see, there is very little benefit to the company in having this type of content posted in public.

This means that negative interactions are handled in public, but the positive piece is done in private via PM/DM. Where's the sense in that? 

Reviewing the posts in more detail might explain part of the reasoning behind this approach. In at least one of the examples above, the customer received compensation for their troubles and mentioned the receipt of a voucher in public. You would think this would be a positive thing for the brand. But when other customers noticed they had received less for similar complaints, that resulted in more negative sentiment. Seems like it is difficult for the business to win!

Trends in customer contact channel preferences mean the situation is only going to get worse if positive action is not taken.

Consumers under 35 are much less likely to choose the phone (<15%) or email/contact forms (<20%) as their preferred customer contact channel. 

That means contact via social channels is going to increase unless businesses give customers an alternative option.

The alternative — handle complaints via private messages

In the last 12 months, both Twitter and Facebook have made it very straightforward to bypass public posts/tweets and have your customers provide feedback in a private one-to-one message. WhatsApp is also likely to enter the fray later this year.

This is the future of customer service.

Facebook and Twitter have also streamlined the way you can take customers from public posts to private messaging. Rather than asking your customer to figure out how to send a DM (follow us and we'll follow you back etc...) you can now send them a link/button that will automatically bring them into a private conversation.

So how do you go about moving your customer service from public social networks to a private messaging focused model?


Step 1. Ensure your Facebook and Twitter account settings allow customers to message you

Reviewing business Twitter accounts it is clear that some haven't enabled the "Receive Direct Messages from anyone" feature. There really is no good reason for any business to have this option disabled. The goal of tweeting should always be to engage customers and direct messaging is a great way to do that.

Twitter direct message setting

A similar option on Facebook "Allow people to contact my Page privately by showing the Message button" has the same effect. And just like the Twitter option, it also adds a message button to your profile page to make it even easier to handle complaints via direct messages.

Facebook direct message settings


Step 2. Replace links to your Facebook page or Twitter account on your "Contact Us" page with a Facebook Messenger "Message Us" or a Twitter "Direct Message"  button.

Instead of sending customers to your public accounts to complain, you should now send them straight into direct messaging.

Twitter and Facebook have published clear explanations on how to add such buttons to your site, so I am not going to rehash it. The buttons could look something like the following.

buttons to handle complaints via private messages

In our experience, customers will start messaging you almost immediately after a button is published, but the more prominent they are the better. You could go one step further and use a widget that incorporates these channels. See this page for a demo of ours.

Step 3. Send customers who post or tweet complaints a"Message Us" or "DM Us" button in your public response.

To add a "Send a private message" link to tweets you need to create your account specific link using this url:

https://twitter.com/messages/compose?recipient_id={your account’s numeric user ID}

More information is available here and you can see what it looks like below.

handle complaints via private messages

On Facebook you can simply add a short Messenger link to a post to achieve the same result. Create your short m.me link using this URL formula:

http://m.me/PAGE_NAME, (where PAGE_NAME is the handle of the Facebook page)

Regularly adding these buttons to your tweets and posts will encourage customers to go straight to the private messaging channel for future contact.


Step 4. Most importantly, be responsive.

One of the reasons people use public channels is that they feel it is the best way to get a prompt response. You need to change that perception by being very responsive to private messages. If you are not then customers will move back to the public elements of social networks and you will be back to square one.

Facebook has a responsiveness indicator built into your business page and your Messenger account. If this indicates that the business is not responsive, chances are customers will go for the more impactful public channel instead.


Step 5. Use a tool to manage all these interactions.

Unless you are a small business with limited contact of this sort, you will struggle using the Facebook and Twitter backends to respond efficiently. The native backends do not cater very well for multiple agents and the constant switching between accounts increases the chances of errors being made. Agents also have to deal with tweets on Twitter, posts/comments on Facebook and direct messages on both platforms, not to mention the imminent arrival of WhatsApp into business to consumer messaging.

I am obviously biased (ServiceDock handles this type of contact), but I suggest trying out a few free trials to see what tool works for you and then start really pushing engagement.

About the Author: Oisin Ryan
Oisin is the Founder and CEO of ServiceDock, which is a Customer Experience Management platform for Multi-Location Businesses

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