Have a problem with a company? Just tweet about it or post on their Facebook page and poof–you’ll have answers in a matter of minutes when you might have spent hours in a phone tree hell desperately screaming “One! One! Yes! God, just let me talk to a person!” and mashing buttons. But is this actually a good thing for either consumers or businesses?

One of the reasons businesses are so keen to respond quickly to complaints on social media is that they’re easily visible to everyone. On Facebook they can be shared, on Twitter retweeted again and again. Companies don’t like negative publicity, so it’s in their best interests to shut up unhappy customers as soon as possible. But at the same time, they’ve already lost face because the complaint went public in the first place.

Usually when a complaint pops up on social media, it’s not the first issue people have had with a company. Usually their complaint comes because they’ve had an unsatisfactory first customer service experience with your brand. Maybe the manager in your restaurant didn’t care that the customer found a hair in their food, or maybe the phone representative couldn’t troubleshoot their issue. They’ve already exhausted initial channels and have gotten no relief, so they believe their only option left is to shout their dissatisfaction from the rooftops.

Even if businesses can resolve the customer issue on social media and even if the customer posts a follow-up note saying it’s been resolved, how many people are likely to retweet that? No, people like the salacious, the unhappy, the chance to commiserate. Even though the business has made it right, they don’t get credit.

So what can you, the business owner, do to avoid this state of affairs? Should you shut down your social media accounts because that way no one can complain to you? Absolutely not. Those social complaints are ways for you to see where the system has broken down. The customer should be helped quickly and fairly, but then your eyes need to turn to your own internal customer service processes and find out where the things broke down in the first place. If your first lines of customer service broke down, what caused that problem? How can you prevent it from happening, serve your customer better and keep the issue quiet in the future?

Let’s give an example. Two days after my cable was installed, my TV cable service cut out. I talked to a customer service representative via online chat and he told me their next available appointment was more than a week later. No amount of appeals that this was a brand new service would move the CSR. So I tweeted about it. They said they’d come the day after tomorrow. Only by publicly embarrassing the company was I able to get a reasonable solution to my problem. That’s not the way things should have to be.

Don’t ignore social media. Don’t be afraid to help people there. But ask yourself why customers felt the need to take their quarrel there in the first place. Provide better service in the first place and let everyone keep their dirty laundry off the Internet.

photo credit: mysza831 via photopin cc