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Got customer complaints? Three strategies for PR pros to leverage to help brands

illustration of online customer reviews

Brands come to PR and comms professionals for their expertise or a variety of issues. One of the most common is customer complaints.

This is the time you do want to read the comments.

On social: Handle it before it becomes a crisis

Customer complaints on social media are a normal part of doing business. While it may seem like a long road from a customer complaint to an all-out crisis in communications, brands have to quickly assert control to avoid a simple complaint from going viral and turning into a free-for-all.

Ideally, the brand’s social team will have comprehensive monitoring and tracking set up around their brand so they can catch brand mentions early — even if they aren’t direct mentions — and react based on the strategy the PR team has helped develop and implement.

Review the brand’s existing crisis communications plan to see if it can be built on or if it needs to be completely scrapped and updated — it might be so dated social media isn’t mentioned.

Some things to consider:

  • Monitoring and tracking should include all relevant brand handles as well as branded hashtags, common misspellings of the brand and non-direct mentions (someone types a brand name without tagging their actual handle).
  • Brands need to empower their social and customer teams to de-escalate situations — without going up the corporate ladder — before they become a crisis situation. Create a doc of standard responses and resources for social FAQs, but have decisionmakers in place for when the situation requires more than the standard response.
  • Decide on the chain-of-command for an escalating crisis: Who gets contacted, and how? Is this different after business hours, or on weekends or holidays?
  • Advise a social team to use a sense of humor to de-escalate a situation when possible, as long as it still fits with the overall brand voice

screenshot of ASOS Twitter post

Tip for monitoring and tracking: While software from Cision can definitely take the headache out of monitoring and tracking, brands with limited budget can set up columns for monitoring in TweetDeck, sign up for the free version of Mention and turn on alerts for both desktop and mobile apps.

A majority of crisis comms situations start on social and/or escalate there, so it’s an important part of any overall comms strategy.

On review sites: Never seed fake reviews

Customers like to share what they love — or hate — about a brand and its products on review sites. Like other user-generated content, review sites are a significant part of the decision-making process for a lot of consumers, so comms teams often encourage customers to leave reviews.

That’s a strategy worth promoting. The comms team can advise a brand to send follow-up emails after purchases asking for reviews, incentivizing the process with a coupon code or special sale to those who follow through. The brand needs to emphasize it is looking for honest reviews, and even if the customer didn’t like the product, he or she will still get the promised coupon code or discount.

Never, ever seed fake reviews, whether from customers or employees or anyone else. It is almost always revealed by someone involved, and it’s always more difficult to rework a brand’s image and rebuild trust than to avoid a crisis situation in the first place.

screenshot of Reddit forum about fake Sunday Riley product reviews

Research also shows that negative reviews can actually be a boost for a brand, while all-positive reviews read as fake.

On blogs or other earned media

Brands today need to have an earned media management strategy in place, and it’s the comms professional’s job to help them establish one.

screenshot of the definition of earned media management

Start with these questions:

  • What metrics mean success to the brand or brands you’re working with?
  • What measurement systems are currently in place and how well can they “talk” to each other?
  • What is currently reported on and how often?
  • Are teams across departments working together and reporting on numbers to reach the same goals?
  • Can you measure earned media’s contribution to revenue?

The last question is the most important; with this information, PR and comms pros can prove their value and help the brands they’re working with do the same.

If you need help putting an earned media strategy together, let us know!


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