I’ve been approached at several recent speaking events by businesspeople eager to become engaged with social media but afraid of the repercussions of negative comments or complaints. It’s not unusual for executives to see the negative potential of any new technology or initiative before considering its vast potential, so I thought I’d clarify what I told them.
If your business engages in unethical or inappropriate behavior, then you have legitimate reasons to worry about the potential negative impact of social media since social media doesn’t camouflage your true identity, it reveals it.
However, if your concern centers around the potential reaction to typical business slip-ups and oversights, then you really have nothing to worry about as long as you demonstrate immediate empathy and care for your clients. And when you make a mistake, as everyone does, follow these simple, proven rules:
1) Apologize. If you screwed up, simply acknowledge your mistake and say you’re sorry. We all make mistakes every day. And we deal with companies that make mistakes every day. We understand that mistakes are inevitable. However, we expect that if you make a mistake that you will acknowledge it and proffer a sincere apology. Your apology isn’t an invitation to sue you or embarrass you, it’s simply an acknowledgement of societal norms that require the acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions.
2) Resolve to fix the mistake. The apology is a great start, but the problem still remains. You screwed up. You sent the wrong product. You didn’t deliver your proposal on time. You overcharged on your invoice. Whatever you did (or failed to do) still needs to be corrected. So, step up and tell them how you intend to fix the problem and ask them if that effort is satisfactory.One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is offering a solution that benefits them, but not the client. If you failed to deliver your product on time, it’s your responsibility to overnight the product, to get it there as fast as you can. I don’t care if you have to eat the extra shipping costs. I expect you to do the right thing, even if it’s inconvenient or expensive. That’s how you show you really care about fixing your failure.If you offer to fix the problem, and your client says “that’s not good enough,” then you’ve got to work with the client to determine exactly how you can make things right.
3) Fix it. Steps 1 and 2 are actually pretty easy. You say you’re sorry and offer to fix the problem. The tough part is actually fixing the problem since this is your final chance to ensure that your relationship isn’t significantly harmed. If you promise to overnight a spare part, you’d better make sure that the part is put in a box, is properly labeled and is handed off to FedEx. Don’t delegate, do it yourself.
4) BONUS STEP: Follow up. Once you’re sure that the problem has been resolved exactly how you promised, make a follow up call (not a tweet or email) to let your client know how important they are and to demonstrate your care and concern. I know that your first reaction will be to ignore the problem rather than revisit it, but you’ll actually enhance your reputation by confronting it, ensuring that it’s resolved and proving your value as a reliable and caring business partner. Pick up the phone.
Typically, it’s best to take the conversation off-line while you’re addressing a client’s problems. After you reach out to them online to let them know that you heard their complaint and that you want to take care of the problem, suggest that they contact you through a Twitter direct message, an email or a phone call so your conversations and ultimate problem resolution remain private.