Could a social media customer service crisis happen to your company? United Airlines seems to be in ongoing hot water with consumers this month, after video showed up on social media of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight and a scorpion fell from the overhead bin and stung another passenger a week later. The stories are appearing and re-appearing in consumers’ social streams and Twitter is lit up with memes and suggestions for new mottoes for the airline.

So what should you do if you experience a service misstep that catches fire on social media and you’re embroiled in a full-on customer service crisis?

Get in front of the crisis with a video message.

If the company CEO (or alternate senior executive) is trained for media appearances – and they should be – shoot a video as quickly as possible. Distribute it via email and social media. This face-to-face approach creates connection. At the end of the video, give consumers a way to share their opinions with you directly.

Apologize immediately.

Making a preliminary apology, even when you don’t know exactly what happened, can be very effective for calming down angry consumers. Acknowledging the upset is critical. For example, try something like this:

“This was an upsetting event. It was not the experience we want for our customers. I apologize on behalf of <company name>. Right now we are reaching out to the customer involved and investigating the details around this incident. Please know that we are taking this matter seriously and will update you in the next few days. We’re going to do everything we can to ensure something like this never happens again.”

Be transparent.

Consumers want to know if this customer service crisis is a result of how things are done “behind the scenes.” Explain what you know and what you’re doing to prevent it from happening again. If you don’t know exactly what happened yet, say that. Once you know what happened and how you’ll prevent it from happening again, share that, too. Keep in regular communication with your audiences so they know that you care.

Include all the players on your customer service crisis management team.

You do have one, don’t you? Crisis management requires input from a variety of stakeholders and experts. For example, public relations will bring a different point of view from legal, which will be different from that of someone from consumer services. Bringing together a diverse team with varied experience helps ensure that you don’t just come up with any response, you come up with the right response.

Solve the problem.

When a customer service crisis happens, it points to a problem that needs a resolution. Conduct a thorough investigation and use the results to institute targeted service training and/or new customer-friendly procedures.

What about you? Do you have an emergency response team in place? Have you discussed how you would manage a social media uproar?

 

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