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With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it is more vital than ever before to make sure your customer service (both online and offline) is at the top of its game. With this being the biggest shopping season of the year, brands can’t afford to handle negative feedback without a strategy. A Google study reveals that nearly one-quarter of consumers will rely on social networks during their seasonal shopping adventures.

As more companies adopt social media, they must respond to negative comments on their digital platforms gingerly. In fact, most Americans already expect companies to have social outreach strategies that (appropriately!) manage customer feedback. A study by NM Incite shows 47 percent of U.S. social media users actively seek customer service through social media (a.k.a. social care).

Here are some don’ts and do’s to keep your company on the nice list with shoppers this holiday season.

DON’Ts

Let’s say you’re an ecommerce clothing company, with the Twitter name “@Style_Outlet,” and a Twitter follower (we’ll call her “@AnnMarie165”) sends the following message:

@Style_Outlet The color from my new oxblood leather jacket bled all over my skin! I’m never buying anything from you again :(

This clearly does not look flattering for your brand among anyone who follows @AnnMarie165 or searches for your company on Twitter. But there’s definitely a WRONG way to handle the situation. Stop immediately if you’re thinking about doing one of the following:

1. Deleting negative feedback.

Deleting a comment on your Facebook Page is only acceptable if the message contains inappropriate language or lewd comments. (Brands don’t even have the option of deleting @mentions on Twitter or +mentions on Google+!) Consider all social comments as set in stone, and take the appropriate steps to turn any negative press into something rewarding. You should always acknowledge all feedback, both good and bad. The post is already “out there,” so people have already seen it. Also, the disgruntled fan (or ranter) will get more irate if his feedback is removed.Don't Delete Social Comments

2. Ignoring the message.

Brands that ignore complaints violate Customer Service 101 and avoid rectifying the issues at hand. Anne Marie’s coat caused a mess for her, and if @Style_Outlet didn’t realize this was a problem, the company should consider how many other people might have a similar experience (and complain about it online). If the brand is aware of an issue, ignoring related comments fails to reflect that any effort is being done to overcome the challenge.

3. Responding defensively.

Your Twitter, Facebook and other social profiles are not battlefields! A defensive response will beget more negative engagement and highlight the ongoing issue. Leave the fighting to James Bond. Not only is arguing with the customer not professional, but without them, you would not have your business. Treat social fans with respect and they’ll do the same to you.

So this is what not to do. But what can you do?

DOs

1. Stay calm.

When seeing the feedback for the first time, do NOT respond right away, but give yourself a few minutes to regain composure so you can avoid committing Don’t #3. Remember, businesses receive negative feedback all the time and not every brand that is hit with some harsh criticism goes bankrupt. Here’s an example of one (of many) rants against Southwest Airlines, and its business is more than fine.

Social Southwest Blog2. Acknowledge the feedback (whether it is your company’s fault or not). 

Do this publicly as it shows your customers that you pay attention to issues that arise on social media and you work to ensure they get resolved. In the case of @Style_Outlet, a sample response could be:

@AnnMarie165 We are sorry this has occurred. Please DM us so that we can resolve this.”

Be aware that if complaints happen on Twitter, you need to follow the complaining user so he or she can DM (a.k.a. Direct Message) you. This function can only work if both Twitter users are following each other. (On Twitter, a Direct Message is a private exchange, unlike an @mention, which is a public message.)

3. Apologize if the wrongdoing was your company’s fault.

Offer a solution if the negative feedback was warranted. Also, a special offer, like a coupon or gift card can help retain customer loyalty. If your company is not at fault, still offer a general apology for any perceived dissatisfaction. Also, get more details as to why the customer was angry and then troubleshoot a solution.

As 71 percent of Americans who experience great social care (customer service through social media) are likely to recommend a brand based on their most recent experience, (compared to 17 percent of customers who have a negative experience!) it’s imperative for marketers to keep these Don’t and Do’s in mind. It doesn’t matter whether followers are acting “naughty” or “nice” this season.