How to Manage Customer Service and Your Reputation Online

How can your company monitor what customers (and competitors) are saying online about your brand and effectively deal with a crisis sweeping the Web at digital speed?

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Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reporter Urmila Ramakrishnan recently interviewed me, Weber Shandwick's Greg Swan and Leslie Gaines-Ross, and Network Solutions' Shashi Bellamkonda for an article on how to manage online reputations. Marveling at the speed of today's online crises, I told Ramakrishnan, "when another terrible shoe drops, it's tweeted about within seconds, blogged about within minutes and goes to media outlets within 60 minutes." Customer service has now become the primary, indispensible tool to head off a potential crisis before it explodes on computer screens across the country. I know this first hand.

A Case Study in Customer Service Online

A few months ago, I witnessed an example of how corporations can leverage customer service via Twitter to head off a media firestorm. Trapped in a national airlines' plane on the runway, herded off that plane en masse and then abruptly forced without explanation back onto another plane for yet another long delay – my fellow passengers and I were stewing in rage, with some business travelers actually snarling like caged animals. I fired up my iPhone and tweeted out a furious 140-character critique of the airline.

Within minutes, the airline had: a) responded to me with an apology, b) made an offer to make good with a discount, and most importantly, c) asked to move my conversation with them off-line to a toll-free number. It was amazing and fiendishly successful. As a result, I will fly their occasionally unfriendly skies again.

Top Tips for Managing Your Brand Reputation Online

In the Business Journal article, Ramakrishnan makes five suggestions for companies to manage customer complaints and other feedback online:

  1. "Set up a monitoring system. If you know what people are saying about your company and products, you will now how to respond."
  2. "Know that not everyone is going to write good things about your company online. Know who it is and what’s important to your bottom line."
  3. "Have a protocol system in place so you can respond as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible in case of a PR crisis."
  4. "Have a social media policy for employees. Make sure they know that it exists and what it means."
  5. "Engage directly with customers. Use online platforms that are relevant to what your company does — it can be as simple as a website or as in depth as a Snapguide. Don’t be afraid to use it to drive conversation and build a following."

For more tips on crisis communications in the age of Twitter, read our PR agency's May 2012 Minnesota Business article.

What is your company doing to align its handling of customer complaints with the management of your brand’s reputation?

About the Author

Paul Maccabee

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  Crisis Communications

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