We've all seen it in one online place or another. An irate customer posts a poor review on Yelp or launches a Twitter tirade against a business, only for the targeted party to make a public response. Sometimes it goes well and everyone ends up happy. Other times, it leads to a meltdown.

Addressing customer complaints is now a major arm of any companies' social media strategy. But sometimes, businesses cross the line. Things get said that shouldn't be said and a company ends up with egg all over its face. You really don't want to have to deal with that sort of situation.

Luckily, Peter Gasca has a great piece up at Entrepreneur right now with suggestions for how you can avoid becoming the next major social media pariah. It all starts with checking your ego at the door:

"For many entrepreneurs, a complaint is often taken personally, so the inclination might be to fire back an equally angry or passive-aggressive retort, or to delete the unwelcome message altogether.

This will only make angry customers angrier and more likely to take the “fight” to other platforms."

You may remember this story from last month about an upscale hotel that saw its Yelp reputation tarnished after news got out that it levied fines to wedding parties in the event of a poor review written by an attendee. An angry internet horde quickly descended on the Yelp page to air its grievances. The hotel's rating, and therefore one of its major marketing tools, was decimated within hours. This all could have been avoided if the owners hadn't let their egos dictate business strategy.

Instead, Gasca recommends approaching complaints and criticism with a degree (or at least an air) of understanding. If you feel a comment necessiates a response, you can either try and take the conversation out of the public eye via direct message or phone call, or you can post a public reply while making sure your tone is courteous and empathetic. Never blast someone online, especially while logged into an official company Twitter account. Also, don't just delete complaints without addressing them. These are textbook strategies for escalating an unwanted situation.

The best types of responses are ones that take accountability and offer a suggestion for mutual reconciliation. You should equip angry customers with the essential tools by which they can achieve satisfaction. Pacify them with your professionalism. Devote yourself to fixing the problem and then reopen communication when the problem has been fixed. Your Twitter or Facebook page represents the voice of your brand. Don't let the mouth spew anything that will reflect poorly on the face.

Sometimes though, situations arise where it's in a company's best interest to tactfully vent frustration online. Gasca recommends an approach similar to that of Liberty Bottleworks, a company that last year saw its deft response to an unreasonable customer complaint go viral on Reddit. If you're in the right, stand up for yourself while communicating your message and explaining your company's ethics. 

Just remember: we live in an age of intense scrutiny. Don't give the public any reason to draw unwanted eyes to your business. Do establish a protocol for maintaining a helpful and courteous online presence.

Read more at Entrepreneur

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