When disaster strikes, you need to know what to do. Having a viable social media contingency plan for your franchise is going to be your saving grace...
Don't be the company that has a knee-jerk reaction to a serious crisis. Don't be the brand owner who responds with a ranting tirade about a customer's personal habits when faced with a bad review.
Stay on top of any social media crisis with smart management.
And use tried and tested techniques to lay out an effective online reviews contingency strategy:
1) Always a deliver a timely, relevant, customised response
Perhaps the absolute worst thing you can do when trying to manage a social media crisis is to provide a stock response:
One that doesn't take the customer's experience into account. One that is rigid. Uncaring. Impersonal.
Just like in the offline world, your goal in customer service should always be to put your customer first. Make sure you listen to what your aggrieved client has to say, so you can do what you need to do to put things right.
The best way to do this?
Even before giving someone the chance to take things up and spread their disaffection online, make sure that any customer can address their concerns in person before leaving your physical store. This isn't always possible - some customers will always prefer to contact you from behind the safety blanket of their keyboard...
But by having a clear and non-threatening complaints procedure you will help to head off many problems. As soon as the issue becomes an online one though, your system should have processes which confirm that the customer is happy with the way that their problem is being dealt with.
The old cliché that the customer is always right has still got some life in it yet.
2) Respond quickly yet thoughtfully, and follow your system
Though it can be tempting to fire off a quick and even heated response to customer online criticism, taking a little time to consider your what you're going to say is always going to pay dividends.
It's important to act quickly when resolving negative reviews though, which is why you should have a system in place. This should consist of at minimum:
- Your negative review responsible person or team
- The length of time you've told your customers you'll respond to complaints in (your negative review response time)
- Data gathering and collection plans, so you can find out exactly what happened from those involved
- A clear vision of your brand voice and how it will be used in review management
- It might not be possible to plan for every bad situation that might arise, but by having a system like this in place you make it possible to manage poor feedback in a consistent and brand-appropriate way.
3) Monitor everything at all times
Because otherwise, how will you know that a situation is even developing?
The staff members who are responsible for monitoring your franchise reputation online should be aware of this key responsibility. They should know which channels they should be monitoring (hint: it's all of them) and at which times they should be watching (hint: that's all the time!).
By giving yourself as much awareness of a problem as possible, you give yourself more time to reflect and give a careful, personal response to the situation.
In addition to simply regularly Googling your own business to see if there are trending stories, there are several review management and tracking tools you can set up to assist you. Google Alerts is among the most popular of these. There are various pieces of social media listening software available too. You should also have an RSS feed set up and keyed to certain relevant search terms.
4) Don't be the voice of the corporation
Your brand voice and values should be present in every part of your operation, including your negative review engagement strategy.
That said, adopting an impersonal "corporate" tone will almost certainly be the wrong strategy for dealing with any negative feedback.
This is linked to Point #1 - you always want to send a personalised response to any given negative feedback. This doesn't mean you need to "get personal". It means you need to listen to what your customer has to say and respond in an understanding, human manner.
Getting a response which could have been delivered equally well by an answering machine or robot is not the reason people tend to use social media.
5) Don't get distracted from focusing on the issue at hand
Though it can be tempting to try to draw attention away from negative coverage, or to talk up another area in which you've been doing really well to attempt to compensate for bad mentions - don't.
It's a similar idea to that which we'll consider in Points #7, #8, and #9 below:
Your focus should be on communicating with...
- In the case of a bad review, primarily this one specific customer about their specific experience (as well as everyone else who has seen the review)
- In the case of a reputation crisis, primarily all of your customers and community (as well as everyone who could possibly have seen the press coverage)
You need to respond in a way that's in keeping with the ideas which we'll discuss in the above-mentioned points, and you need to stay on-point and on-topic while you do so.
6) Strive for consistency
When you're trying to create a globe-spanning franchise brand, this is a valuable lesson:
Be consistent in every part of your operation.
People come to your franchise because they "know" the kind of customer experience they'll receive.
The same is true when responding to negative feedback, or even a reputation crisis. You need to be consistent in your responses and the way you deal with issues. Because if it's one thing that consumers don't like it, it's the feeling that someone else got a better deal than they did.
Your online reviews contingency strategy for your franchise will be key to delivering this consistency. By ensuring that you, and the parties within your franchise that are responsible for review management, always deliver a response within the same guidelines - even if that response is personally tailored to each situation - you make sure you deliver the same consistent standard of service.
7) Never argue, get angry, or be unprofessional
You've put a lot of hard work into building your business. When someone attacks it, your initial reaction may be to tell them that they're wrong in no uncertain terms.
Things can quickly get out of hand, however. We've all seen the viral news stories that result when a business owner responds with an angry or abusive rant at a customer who has criticised their service.
You do not want to be one of those.
In short, no matter whether emotions are running high in your crisis management office or not, you always need to reply in a way which is calm and professional. The exact phrasing can be tailored to match your brand voice, but the overall impression that anyone reading your response should gain is that you are:
- In control of the situation
- Responsive to what your customer has said
We'll go over a few finer points relating to how to do that below...
8) Always be truthful, open, and transparent
This is another time when you're going to be really pleased you've built your business on a basis of delivering a consistent, high quality customer experience.
Because as long as you know that your employees and franchisees know to act in a certain way, you can always be confident that when the truth comes out, you'll be in the same position you always are:
One that's consistent with your usual strong brand values.
Another positive effect of having a strong, customer-focused brand is that you'll have built a community whose immediate negative post reaction will naturally be to defend your usual good practices. It might be difficult to understand or surprising if you haven't experienced it before, but by acting consistently and correctly in your actions, you're building loyalty amongst your community.
9) Say you're sorry
Most complainants want one thing above all else:
For you to acknowledge what they're saying.
The easiest way to do this is to apologise. This is particularly important when you or a member of your team has made a genuine mistake. Ever heard the piece of leadership advice which tells you to apologise once, loudly and clearly, when you realise you've made an error?
This is the perfect way to think about owning up to your mistakes online. You need to clearly acknowledge that you know a mistake has been made and say what you're going to do to rectify the situation.
In the event of a true franchise reputation management crisis, you also need to try and make sure that your response is publicised at a level where everyone who came into contact with the initial bad press can see what you've said and are doing about the issue.
This dissemination of information should always be a part of your community response management.
10) It might not be all bad - why not take advantage of it?
It might sound unlikely, but a bad review can actually sometimes be a good thing.
Not only does it throw your long history of positive reviews into the spotlight, and cause your community members who are fans of your brand to step forward to defend you, but it can also showcase the great way that you deal with any customers who haven't had the perfect experience with your franchise.
Your crisis management team should always have a system in place, a social media plan B, and a framework for how they'll deal with a crisis. But could you not go further?
Perhaps a new promotion to say sorry and encourage all your customers to come back and use you again? Maybe a new offer or campaign which makes the lessons you've learned from your feedback a central feature?
The online world might have thrown you a curve ball, but if you've got the right systems, attitude, expertise, and creativeness in place...
You can knock that ball out of the park.
Go Beyond a Viable Social Media Contingency Plan For Your Franchise
Having a strategy is one thing, but how do you put it into practice?
You need specialists with the expertise and experience required to monitor, respond to, and handle all bad reviews and crises.
Local Fame has an expert team ready to get started on boosting your franchise's online reputation today.